Subdivisions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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DR Congo provinces, territories, and a few cities.

The Third Republic of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a unitary state with a five-level hierarchy of types of administrative division. There are nine different types of country subdivision in a new hierarchy with no new types but with two from the previous one abolished.

Under the Third Republic, established in 2006, the number of provinces has gone from ten to twenty-five. By fits and starts the number of towns that have been, or are in the process of being, upgraded to cities has also increased greatly.

Reforms to devolve powers to the provinces were completed in 2006, but devolution to more local levels have again been delayed when elections scheduled for 2019 were not held. Traditional authority continues to play a significant role in governance with traditional leaders leading many of the subdivisions at the lower levels.

Territorial organization[edit]

The hierarchy of types of administrative division in the Congo, as set down in organic law, is as follows:[1]
(French names in italics.)

  • Province
    • Territory (territoire)
      • Sector or Chiefdom (secteur or chefferie)
        • Grouping (groupement)
          • Village
      • Commune
        • Quarter (quartier)
        • Embedded Grouping (groupement incorporé)
          • Village
    • City (ville)
      • Commune
        • Quarter (quartier)
        • Embedded Grouping (groupement incorporé)
          • Village

So a province is divided into territories and cities; a territory into sectors, chiefdoms, and communes; a sector or chiefdom into groupings; and so on.


  • Kinshasa, as the capital city, has the status of a province with the subdivisions of a city. It is often referred to as a city-province.
  • The district and the cité, previously a division of a province and territory respectively, have been abolished. The cité has been replaced by the commune.
  • In the Congo a commune can now be an urban subdivision of a city, a country town, or in some cases a mostly rural area attached to a city.
  • An older term, collectivity (fr. collectivité), is sometimes used for convenience to refer to both a sector and a chiefdom.
  • Some collectivities are not a contiguous area of land but are made up instead of more than one unconnected area.
  • The grouping (of villages) and, at a higher level, the chiefdom are subdivisions led by customary leaders of traditional polities.
  • An embedded grouping is a grouping that has been absorbed into a commune.
  • A quarter has divisions but these are not set down by organic law.
  • There are uninhabited areas that are not part of any subdivision below a territory.

New subdivisions[edit]

New provinces[edit]

The Constitution of 2006 increased the number of provinces from ten to twenty-five. In the summer of 2015 the six largest provinces were split up into twenty-one new provinces. Together with the four unsplit provinces—Bas-Congo (renamed Kongo Central), Maniema, Nord-Kivu, and Sud-Kivu—they make up the twenty-five provinces listed in Article 2 of the Constitution.[2][3]

Under the old organization the six provinces were divided into districts and cities. The districts were further divided into territories. Each new province was created from the territories of one or two districts, adding any enclosed cities, and if needed giving city status to the new capital. So for instance, the new Lommami province was created from the territories of the Kabinda district of the old Kasaï-Oriental province, the city of Mwene-Ditu, and by granting city status to the town of Kabinda. See Table 1 for details on all provinces.

Table 1. 2015 Repartioning by district
Former province → Subdivisions of former province + New city = New province
District(s) City(ies)
Bandundu Kwango Kenge Kwango
Kwilu Bandundu, Kikwit Kwilu
Inongo Mai-Ndombe
Équateur Équateur Mbandaka Équateur
Mongala Lisala Mongala
Nord-Ubangi Gbadolite Nord-Ubangi
Sud-Ubangi Zongo Gemena Sud-Ubangi
Tshuapa Boende Tshuapa
Kasaï-Occidental Kasaï Tshikapa Kasaï
Lulua Kananga Kasaï-Central
Kasaï-Oriental Tshilenge Mbuji-Mayi Kasaï-Oriental
Kabinda Mwene-Ditu Kabinda Lomami
Sankuru Lusambo Sankuru
Katanga Haut-Katanga Likasi, Lubumbashi Haut-Katanga
Haut-Lomami Kamina Haut-Lomami
Tanganyika Kalemie Tanganyika
Orientale Bas-Uélé Buta Bas-Uélé
Haut-Uélé Isiro Haut-Uélé
Ituri Bunia Ituri
Tshopo Kisangani Tshopo
Kolwezi was a hybrid city/district made up of two communes and two territories. The territories were split off and the rest became the provincial capital.

New cities and communes[edit]

In June 2013 a batch of prime ministerial decrees was issued giving city and commune status to, and setting the boundaries for, a large number of former cités and other populated places.[4] According to the government's 2014 statistical yearbook the Congo would go from 21 cities and 227 cités in 2008 to 99 cities and 289 territorial communes in the reorganization.[5] However, in July 2015 the implementation of many of the decrees' articles were suspended following the failure in the National Assembly of an electoral bill based on the boundaries in the decrees.[6]

In order to pass a modified bill allocating seats for upcoming local elections, it was decided to suspend those articles that were contentious and to revert the affected communities to their 2006 administrative configurations. The articles granting city status to new provincial capitals—Boende, Bunia, Buta, Gemena, Inongo, Isiro, Kabinda, Kalemie, Kamina, Kenge, Lisala, and Lusambo—were not suspended and neither were those granting commune status to the administrative centers of the territories.[7]

Ultimately the planned for local elections never occurred, but the suspensions were not lifted until mid-2018 just months before the general election. The National Alliance of Traditional Authorities of the Congo protested this reinstatement as diminishing traditional authority and as a threat to national security.[8] In addition to reinstating the articles the government decided that disputes over boundaries would be resolved by an ad hoc committee and that the setting up of cities and communes would be prioritized with 18 cities in the initial phase.[9]

In 2019 mayors for the new cities of Uvira, Baraka, Kamituga, and Kasumbalesa were appointed.[10][11] The setting up of a city administration and those of its subdivisions can take years given the lack of local resources. For instance the town of Buta gained city status when it became a provincial capital in 2015, had its first mayor appointed in 2018, and by June 2019 its four communes were still not operational.[12]

Number of subdivisions[edit]

Table 2. 2018 Subdivision count by administrative level[13]
Level Total Breakdown
1st 26 25 provinces + Kinshasa
2nd 177 145 territories + 33 cities − Kinshasa
3rd 1,045 470 sectors + 264 chiefdoms + 311 communes
4th 8,471 6,070 groupings + 2,401 quarters
5th > 86,270 ~86,270 villages + ? quarter divisions

Table 2 is based on data compiled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) as part of organizing the election cycle of 2018. The count of cities only includes those currently represented in the national and provincial assemblies and not those that became cities after the organization of the elections. Thus, for example, the new city of Uvira is not counted as a city but as a commune in the table. This of course also effects the counts of city subdivisions such as communes and quarters.


The Constitution of 2006 and ensuing organic laws brought reforms to the governance of the subdivisions which are not yet complete. Table 3 sketches the envisioned governance by subdivision type and its current status.

Table 3. Governance of subdivisions after reforms in brief [14]
Level Type Leader Deliberative body To do
(May 2020)
Titlea Selection
1st Provinceb Governor elected by assembly Assembly of elected and co-opted (up to 10%) membersc
2nd Territory Territory Administrator appointed n/a
City Mayor elected by council Council elected by communal councilsd council and leader elections (leaders are currently appointed)
3rd Commune Burgomaster Council elected by voters
Sector Sector Chief
Chiefdom Chiefdom Chief by tradition council elections
4th Grouping Grouping Chief n/a
Quarter Quarter Chief appointed
5th Village Village Chief by tradition or other local practice
Notes: a) In French top to bottom: gouverneur, administrateur de territoire (AT), maire, bourgmestre, chef de secteur, chefferie, groupment, quartier, and village. b) Includes Kinshasa. c) Co-opted members are traditional leaders selected by their peers following strict rules including term limits. d) Each Communal Council elects four members of the City Council.

Uncompleted devolution[edit]

These reforms devolved powers to the provinces and, more modestly, to the cities and the subdivisions at the third administrative level.[15] They all were to have both an executive body with a leader and a deliberative body which was to elect the leader. The other subdivisions remained purely administrative in nature.

The Congolese voter would have a direct say in the affairs of the province by voting in a deputy to the provincial assembly which would then go on to elect the governor. The voter was also to have a say in more local affairs by voting in a councilperson to the local council which was then, except in a chiefdom, to go on to elect the local leader. If the voter lived in a provincial city they were also to have a more indirect say, again through the local council, in the composition of the city government.

Devolution to the provinces was launched with the 2006 provincial elections [fr] which elected the provincial assemblies of the eleven provinces. Similar elections for local councils have yet to occur. Thus, the effected subdivisions have no deliberative body and their leaders, as provided by law, are unelected and appointed from above. In this way a city mayor is much like a territory administrator. For now the Congolese voter does not have a say in local affairs.

Local council elections were scheduled to occur on 22 September 2019. In April of that year the League of Women Voters for the Elections met with the electoral commission and condemned the delay in starting candidate registration for the local elections.[16] In June, the League of Voters stressed the importance of these elections and asked President Tshisekedi to intervene to get the process going.[17] In August, a petition with two million signatures demanding that the elections be held was filed at the presidential palace. The signatures were collected within two months by the Catholic and Protestant Churches.[18] At the end of October the outgoing electoral commission presented their final report to the National Assembly. At this time their rapporteur said that organizing the local elections required a workforce of 650,000 and the allocation of considerable funds by the government.[19] Finally, in December President Tshisekedi declared that the elections would be held sometime in 2020.[20]

Traditional authority[edit]

Traditional leaders have a significant role in governing the subdivisions. At the first administrative level, 8% of all provincial deputies are co-opted traditional leaders.[21] At the third and forth levels they are the leaders of 25% and 70% of the subdivisions respectively. In 2018, 64% of the electorate lived in a grouping without counting those in embedded groupings.[22]

Traditional authority is recognized by Article 207 of the Constitution and a law defining the legal status of traditional leaders was passed in 2015. In addition to being official leaders of their administrative divisions, these leaders exercise customary authority – which can involve traditional advisory councils – in a way that is not contrary to the Constitution, the law, public order and decency. The leaders are also obligated to be apolitical.[23]

Although selected by local structures according to custom, traditional leaders can only exercise their authority if they are officially recognized and invested by the government. Failure of the government to do so can cause great resentment. In 2013 such a dispute over the leadership of a grouping eventually led, through an escalation of conflicts in 2016, to the Kamwina Nsapu rebellion.[24]

Related divisions[edit]

Electoral districts[edit]

Table 4. Electoral districts of the 2018 election cycle [25]
For the Districts are Total
in Provinces in Kinshasa Districts Seats
National Assembly territories and cities Kinshasa I-IV (city districts)a 181 500
Provincial Assembly communes 201 780
Communal Council commune 311 2,323
Sector or Chiefdom Council sector or chiefdomb n/a 734 7,334
Notes: a) Kinshasa I: Lukunga, II: Funa, III: Mont-Amba, IV: Tshangu. b) But seats are allocated by grouping.

Except for the four National Assembly districts in Kinshasa, all electoral districts in Table 4 are administrative divisions. The Carter Center expert mission report for the 2018 elections criticizes the use of these divisions for national and provincial elections as not meeting international standards for uniform allocation of voters per constituency. As example they contrast 27,228 voters per National Assembly seat in the city of Inongo vs. 128,699 in the territory of Lomela.[26]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Organic Law No. 08/016, Article 4.
  2. ^ Radio Okapi 4 Mar 2015.
  3. ^ Bouvier & Omasombo Tshonda 2016, pp. 47–49.
  4. ^ Journal Officiel 2013, Décret n° 13/020–13/030 du 13 juin 2013.
  5. ^ 2014 Statistical Yearbook, pp. 28–29, Tableau 1.2 and 1.3.
  6. ^ le Phare 23 Jul 2015.
  7. ^ Matotu 2015.
  8. ^ Le Potentiel 2018.
  9. ^ Décret n° 18/020; Arrêté Interministeriel n° 25/.../2018.
  10. ^ Balongelwa 2019.
  11. ^ Nzadi News 2019.
  12. ^ Okonda 2019.
  13. ^ Level 1–4 tabulated from data found at CENI maps; level 5 from CENI 2017, p. 55, Tableau 10
  14. ^ Constitution, Articles 197–8; Organic Law No. 08/016, Articles 6–92,126; Organic Law No. 10/011, Articles 4–32.
  15. ^ Constitution, Article 3.
  16. ^ Radio Okapi 4 May 2019.
  17. ^ RFI 21 July 2019.
  18. ^ RFI 17 Aug 2019.
  19. ^ Lubaki 2019.
  20. ^ Musau 2019.
  21. ^ 65 of 780 from Annexes p. 18.
  22. ^ 25,781,515 of 40,371,439 from Annexes p. 80 and p. 7.
  23. ^ Law 15/015, Articles 8,25.
  24. ^ CRG July 2018, p. 9.
  25. ^ Annexes, pp. 3,4,14,25,37,38,80.
  26. ^ Carter Center 2019, pp. 25-26.

Cited Works[edit]

  • "Loi organique n° 08/016 du 07 octobre 2008 portant composition, organisation et fonctionnement des Entités Territoriales Décentralisées et leurs rapports avec l'Etat et les Provinces" [Organic Law No. 08/016 of 7 October 2008 on the composition, organization and functioning of the Decentralized Territorial Entities and their relations with the State and the Provinces]. LEGANET.CD (in French). Archived from the original on 21 February 2019. Retrieved 11 Jan 2020.
  • Institut National de la Statistique–RD Congo (July 2015). Annuaire statistique 2014 [2014 Statistical Yearbook] (PDF) (in French). Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 March 2019. Retrieved 11 Jan 2020.
  • "Décret n° 18/020 du 30 mai 2018" (PDF). Journal officiel de la République Démocratique du Congo (in French). col 13-14. 59 (13). 1 July 2019. Retrieved 22 Jan 2020.CS1 maint: location (link)