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The Kwango region was annexed in 1890 to the Congo Free State, becoming its 12th district. The border with Portuguese Angola, gradually determined through a series of bilateral agreements, crosses the former areas of the Kongo, Lunda, Yaka, and Chokwe kingdoms, and which are bound by cultural, historical, and commercial ties.
A far cry from the usual image of a monolithic land inhabited by the Yaka, Kwango is in fact a mosaic of peoples with sometimes-complex relationships. This interplay has brought forth an astounding cultural and artistic proliferation, the results of which will be featured in this book. Most of the objets d'art and musical instruments, often found nowhere else on the planet, belong to the collections of the RMCA.
The socio-political and administrative organisation of Kwango, from the creation of pre-colonial entities to the present day, gradually took shape beyond the reach of the peculiarities of this ethnic configuration. Recounted analytically using data from still-unpublished archive material, the tale of its creation describes the progressive elaboration of this structural institutional framework, especially from 1890. It highlights the persistence of strong influences from traditional powers, despite the colonial conquest's unrelenting attempt to disguise this. Its construction and socio-political – now in ruins – is both an asset and an obstacle to Kwango's development.
Today, Kwango continues to be counted among the poor regions that are unable to keep up with the pace of the decentralisation decreed in the 2006 Constitution. It had already suffered a similar fate in the early 1960s. Covering the southern portion of the current province of Bandundu, where it occupies an off-centre position, Kwango seems to serve merely as a passage for road transport between the city of Kinshasa, Kwilu, and the Kasai provinces in the east.
Kwango appears imbalanced on the administrative and economic levels owing to its shape and location. It has a small pocket in the northwest, close to the booming centres of development that are Kinshasa and Kikwit, and including its capital, Kenge; the rest of the district in the southeast is a large pocket dipping into Angola and exposed to that country's political events.
Absent on the industrial scene, Kwango earns most of its resources from farming, livestock, and harvested products. Supplying the capital has long been an economic valve for producers, and the rehabilitation of road infrastructure is expected to breathe new life into agricultural trade.
Finally, school and health structures have increased since the mid-1970s but remain fragile, marked by the political crisis and economic pauperisation that have struck the country. The socio-economic recovery of this area that has yet to display its full potential will depend in part on its capacity to catalyse its own strengths.
This book seeks to provide an analysis and overview of available knowledge on the current district of Kwango, in both the natural and social sciences, and in the wealth and complexity of these many dimensions.