In 2015, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) expanded the number of its provinces from 11 to 26. Given the importance of ethnicity in Congolese politics, this paper investigates how this process, known as découpage, has affected the ethnic distribution of populations and governments by province, and the extent to which it has changed the autochthony status of provincial residents. The paper then asks whether the findings have implications for identity reconfigurations among the Congolese and for the foundations of the country’s political system.
The principal finding of the paper is that découpage has led to a process of provincial tribalisation across the country. This process has three dimensions. First, the new provinces are ethnically more homogeneous than both the previous ones and the country as a whole, which reduces the appeal of representativeness for larger groups and the claims for representativeness of smaller ones. Second, because of the limited supply of provincial positions and the ambitions of some dominant groups, provincial governments and assemblies tend to be even more homogeneous than the provincial populations, with some ethnic groups monopolising positions of power and access to resources. And, third, the multiplication of provinces has increased the proportion of people who are non-originaire of their province of residence by about four million nationwide, weakening their entitlement to representativeness.
Découpage has led to some reconfiguration of collective action by ethnic groups. Contrary to the predictions of constructivist theories of ethnicity, the limited supply of official positions in new provinces seems to be leading towards a concentration of tribes or tribal coalitions at the provincial level. While some ethnic groups have become politically and materially more vulnerable, others enjoy greater appropriation of the state and its resources, with a lesser sense of political alienation, which stands to boost the legitimacy of the state. Altogether, the changes brought about by découpage are of sufficient magnitude to question whether they are bringing about a new social contract based on local tribal monopolies. Either way, découpage has affected the very foundations of collective representativeness in Congo.