Mbongi: an African way of governance that worked before the introduction of Western democracy

Inside the Ugandan Parliament is 2017 when lawmakers brawled over a bill that could create a president-for-life. Photo: Charlotte Cosset/AFP

‘Mbongi’ is the Kikongo (a language spoken in Congo) word that connotes the coming together of a community to dig up and conscientiously address the problems and challenges that the community in question may be faced with, in a humane and most importantly, an Afrocentric manner; a manner that is inuring to the benefit of each man, woman and child within the African community. This is the highest essence of that misplaced concept African states have now referred to as ‘Democracy’.

Modern Africa is often a stranger to itself, its so-called institutions are alien to it. The national economic disease spreading to many African states is not of African in origin. It is a disease generated by alien economic systems blindly adopted or being adopted by African leaders who have never sat inside an African ‘Mbongi’; a truly indigenous political institution.” – Fu-Kiau Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki.

The system of government referred to as ‘Democracy’ being practiced by majority of African states is a misplaced system which can best be described as a square peg in a round hole; the square peg being ‘Democracy’, and the round hole being those African states whose system of government and consequent socio-cultural organization rests on it.

The fundamental underpinnings of modern ‘Democracy’ within Africa take on the forms of organizing periodic political elections to put some self-acclaimed ‘leaders’ in power, as to whether they qualify or not given the portfolios they strive to occupy, how can that be ascertained?

There are usually two or more political parties involved in such political run for political power and as has been evident since it was instituted, only one of the contesting parties emerge ‘victorious’, whatever that means; for victory is not earned when a society is divided against each other on the grounds of ‘Democracy’ and the politicking mechanism associated with it. The political party whose campaign policies and campaign strategies prove ‘effective’ emerge as the ‘chosen’ cohort of men and women vested with that singular sacrosanct authority to lead the masses, but by whom were those powers vested in them, and to what degree?

The modern-day African ‘Democracy’ has suffered a reductionist attack as it has been reduced to a struggle for political power, with little focus on the ideal of governance and the well-being and welfare of the masses to whom the cohort of that political sect who wield political authority belong. It is a smokescreen and a shadow of the true essence of administrating an African community.

The ‘losing’ party and those citizens who associate themselves with it tend to sit back with arms folded, occasionally contributing their quota of blatant criticisms, and whose prioritized focus and contribution to the advancement of society’s interest entails putting in work but to chart new and elusive ways to win the next bout of elections. So with each passing generation, the African and his community are caught up in a self-replicating matrix of retrogression.

The political heads of those African countries trapped in this wave of stagnation have for some reasons best known to them found comfort in this entanglement and this has accounted for why Africa possesses wealth unimaginable but is still living in her dark ages so to speak.

The mechanisms and institutions with which a group of people are governed must be intrinsically derived from those rules of usage, communal conventions, customs, practices and beliefs by which they dictate the course of their lives and livelihood, as well as from ways by which they seek to expand the reaches of their spirituality and those impersonal bonds that identify them as a people. These are the fundamental ropes that bind a group of people together, defining their communal spirit; a force that must not be tampered with.

A system of governance for any African community must share in these core values of any group of people, otherwise they are doomed to tow the lines of degeneration; of their values, beliefs and any other thing they hold in esteemed reverence. There essentially is no progress in any given community if the ‘modus operandi’ underlying their governing wheel does not inculcate the socio-cultural milieu within which they find themselves.

The Mbongi, according to the esteemed Bantu-Kongo scholar; Fu-Kiau Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki is; “a common ‘shelter’ of very simplistic architecture that one finds in the middle of almost every village in the Bantu countries in general and in Kongo region in particular. The construction is the physical living symbol of one of the most powerful and most important African traditional political institutions.”

The ‘shelter’ of which Fu-Kiau speaks is that atmosphere of justice and harmony co-existing with the adoption of modes and mechanisms inspired by the deep-seated beliefs of a group of people. This is what makes Mbongi an indigenous African traditional political institution powerful and sacrosanct because any other system of governance whose ‘effectiveness’ requires by virtue of procedural necessity the division and segregation of a people with a common identity and within a common geographical enclave is not of their intrinsic interest, and this is self-evident. It is in the togetherness that progress will be born, for a people conditioned to rival themselves on political grounds are ones who are being played against themselves, and to their own detriment.

The Mbongi was located in the middle of the successful African village whose leadership mechanism was inspired by it. Within that ‘shelter’, the young and old alike sit together and engage in a constructive process of mutually inclusive dialoguing; family heads, leaders of initiated youth groups, trade unions and every single sub-community within the family is represented and their opinions incorporated in the decision-making and communal policy formulation process. mbongi

This system ensures that the leading elders act only in tandem to what is in the best interest for the people. Solutions are tailored towards reported and identified problems given the community in question and not carried out in the absence of their consent in the hopes that it may convey some remedial comfort to the ailing group only because the system of government avails it as one of the ‘viable’ means of tackling such problems.

The continent of Africa’s progress demon is the exodus from the arena of those deep-seated values, beliefs and institutions indigenous to us, to the embrace of some other culture whose basic fundamental principle of social organization, preservation of the communal spirit and communal progress is in dire contradiction to who we are as a people.

One size does not fit all, given the system of governance by which nations in Africa who refer to themselves as sovereign govern themselves. In the end, Africans are not ruling themselves though it may seem so, but are being ruled by the hands that crafted the system of government by which they are illusioned. However, we can and we must take back that power, and invest it into ourselves and communities, now!

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: June 11, 2020


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