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Despite its 58,141 km2, Mongala, with only three territories, is the smallest administrative group of the 26 provinces of the DRC as laid out in the Constitution of 18 February 2006.
Its organization reflects political and administrative considerations. Mongala thus stretches from west to east, the result of a desire to bring together a core of the Ngombe around Lisala and to include the Budja, established in Bumba territory, and traditionally related to the populations in Province-Orientale (Mbole/Mobango, etc.). In 1955, during the last major administrative reform of the Belgian Congo, Bongandanga was appended. This turbulent history expresses a disparate whole, which appears to be the effect of a geographic position that is a transition point in the confluence between the spaces for the Mongo, ‘people of the water', Ngbaka, Ngbandi, etc. and which makes it appear to be a gathering of peoples and territories marked by their dispersion.
The creation of Mongala implicitly raises the problem of identity, as the regional particularity of the district arose from two competitive relationships: the exterior one pitting the ‘locals' with the neighbouring ethnic groups, particularly the Ngombe with the Mongo; and the internal one, involving two dominant populations, the Ngombe and the Budja. While the tensions between the Ngombe and the Mongo emerged around political leadership in Équateur province at the time of independence, they find their roots in the rivalry between the Scheut fathers and the Sacred Heart missionaries. The various peoples of Mongala belong, in a broad sense, to the Bangala, a supraethnic identity based on the language used in trade by peoples living along the Congo river. Codified and spread by the school system, the language also widened in reach through the Force Publique.
From the outside, it shaped the identity of Mongala, an identity that would in turn overtake the Equateur province. Mongo identity acted as a counterweight to this success, by promoting the Lomongo language which was supposed offset the influence of Lingala.
Internally, differences hardened and affected even the organization of space. A rivalry was born between the Ngombe and the Budja and their antagonism was expressed symbolically in the opposition between their respective administrative centres. Lisala-the-bureaucrat, seat and centre of instruction and cultural influence, used familiar terms to address Bumba-the-trader and its surrounding farmland, the focal point of the populations and economic activities in the country's north.
An area dominated by forest and used in places for crop farming, its natural riches have always been coveted. Such riches made the region a site of still-controversial operations. Human activity there bears all the marks of a booming economy, for which Mongala paid the (human and environmental cost) already in the late 19th century. The scars of ‘red rubber' long remained fresh there, and recent campaigns against the desecration of forest seem to echo them, and also poke a finger into the sensitive topic of (forest) environmental protection. From way back in the past up to the present, the river and its branches are one of the – if not the major – elements of continuity in local economic changes.
Serving as the junction of several territories, Mongala's hydrographic network connects the province with the Equateur district and Kinshala, Sud- and Nord-Ubangi, Ituri and the two Ueles, from Aketi and finally, to Kisangani. Bumba and Lisala siphon off the agricultural surplus and forest products of their inland regions to send them via the river to neighbouring regions, or by road to the Central African Republic (via Akula-Zongo). Carried aloft by these natural pathways, Mongala is an important area of production, with its health currently in remission. This, combined with an advantageous geostrategic location, has made it the target of several governmental and private development programmes.