Mwami-Ndatabaye-Weza-IIIMwami Ndatabaye Weza III - King of Weza in DR Congo

Traditional Leaders in DR Congo

By Mugisho Theophile, Founder and Executive Director, COFAPRI

Exclusively Men

In the DRC traditional leaders are exclusively men. Traditional leaders existed in the Congo since long ago, with colonialism, after the independence, and even today, they still exist.

Traditional leaders in the DRC are men who originate from the King's (mwami) lineage. This means that they are members of his large family.

Their Role as Traditional Leaders

Their role is to preserve the traditions and customs and keep them alive from generation to generation. Based on the DRC national legislation, this provides a role for traditional leadership as an institution at local level on matters affecting local communities.

Traditional leaders also deal with matters relating to traditional leadership, the role of traditional leaders, customary law and the customs of communities observing a system of customary law. 

The DRC national or provincial legislation provides for the establishment of houses of traditional leaders; and national legislation establishes a council of traditional leaders.

Leaders are Not Elected, But Inherit the Role from Their Fathers

Traditional leaders are never elected but automatically inherit their father's roles when they die.

These are men who originate from the king (mwami) ’s lineage, which  means that the kings in the DRC existed since the period before colonization, centuries ago.

When the colonizers settled in the DRC, they met kingdoms and empires there. They were well organized ,though

they were dismantled by the colonizers because these kings were a real obstacle for colonizers. Some of those kings (traditional leaders) were killed awfully, or taken to unknown places because they were a real obstacle to colonizers.

When a king is born – “king” here means traditional leader or mwami, there are some myths and rituals about his birth.

This infers that the son who is born with some special signs is automatically a king. Some are born with no special sign, so the king decides on who among his many children will replace him once he dies.

All kings (traditional leaders) are polygamous and it is the first wife who is supposed to bear the next king.

But the king may decide to bestow inheritance upon the son born on any of his many wives.

So, if the king dies while his son is still very young, this son inherits the role along with his mother – here called the  mother queen, and a group of people from the king’s family, who will be helping to rule the kingdom until this child king grows up.

These people are men who are close to the king, they are the eyes and the ears of the child king. The other sons of other women may become enemies to this child, and it is up to these men guardians to defend him until he grows up.

This mother queen is very influential in the kingdom. The whole kingdom knows her, and she is the special adviser to her husband. She is the symbol of the kingdom as she is close to the king and she knows all the secrets of the kingdom and the king.

Myths and Signs

What if a traditional leader has more than one son? In this case, he chooses the one who will be his successor in case all of them were not born with a special sign telling he is the one to inherit.

Before inheritance, some traditional ceremonies are performed,  and all the people and leaders – traditional and political, in the area are invited.

When a traditional leader is born, there are some myths and rituals about his birth. It seems that if he is born with some specific signs, like sorghum in his hands, etc , this means that he comes to fight famine.

This actually gives him power over the people on his land. People love, trust and admire their traditional leaders  because they are believed to represent God on the earth. Their influence on the population is great.

Their Influence Is Powerful

Once they are for or against a political leader, they are able to make him go using his people or he can tell his people not to cast their voices in his favour. A traditional leader must come from the area he rules, but a political one may or maynot come from that area. Both leaders collaborate, however, the influence of the traditional one is far greater than the political leader.

Some traditional leaders try to listen to their people’s problems and find solutions together, but others do not..

Those leaders live – if not by exploiting their people, because they have to give to him every year some animals, food, or express their submission and support to the one who gave them the land on which they live and plough. It is this leader who is the owner of the land in his area.

The DRC institution, status and role of traditional leadership, according to customary law, are recognised, subject to the Constitution.

This is another factor that gives them more power and influence on people. A traditional authority that observes a

system of customary law may function subject to any applicable legislation and customs, which includes amendments to, or repeal of, that legislation or those customs.

Regarding the DRC justice, the courts must apply customary law when that law is applicable, subject to the

Constitution, and any legislation that specifically deals with customary law.

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