Ethnicity and Language in the Run-up to Congolese Independence in the 1950s: Ba(Ki)Kongo and Ba(Li)Ngala

Margot Luyckfasseel, Michael Meeuwis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Abako (Alliance des Bakongo), one of the main political parties rallying for Congolese independence in the late 1950s, started off as a linguistic-cultural movement to promote the use of the Kikongo language and Kongo identity in Leopoldville against a dominance of the Lingala language and “Bangala.” In reaction to this, members of the “Bangala” elite also organised themselves, after which a series of ideological confrontations between “Bakongo” and “Bangala” intellectuals ensued. Tracing back Abako's transformation from cultural movement to political party, we describe how, in pre-independence Kinshasa, politics was ethnicised and ethnicity was politicised along this Bakongo–Bangala and Kikongo–Lingala divide. We analyse how the initial entente between Abako elites and colonial missionaries in favour of Kikongo morphed into a hostile, anti-colonial discourse as the struggle for independence reached its height. This Congolese case shows how, as the decades of colonial decay progressed, the nexus between ethnolanguage and colonisation inevitably also became one between ethnolanguage and anti-colonisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-104
Number of pages19
JournalLanguage Matters: Studies in the Languages of Africa
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Kinshasa
  • language ideology
  • ethnicity
  • Colonial history
  • Belgian Congo
  • independance


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