Kingwengwe Kifofo (circa 1875-August 1961) was a forceful Pende chief who tried to protect his subjects against political domination by the Europeans. At the same time, however, he encouraged his people to accept the benefits of Western education and to take advantage of new commercial opportunities made available by the introduction of the colonial system.
Kingwengwe Kifofo succeeded Gandanda to the throne of the Musanga Chiefdom 120 km (75 mi) south of Kikwit, following the Pende revolt in 1931. Gaining traditional election early in 1932, Kingwengwe received a government medallion and was invested into the colonial administration on October 8, 1934 when Assistant District Commissioner Vandevenne was traveling in the Pende lands on a political study mission. He was officially reinvested on December 17, 1936 when the earlier December 5, 1933 decree concerning “native districts” was put into effect in the Pende lands.
Kingwengwe proved to be a great chief whose fame reached beyond the borders of his chiefdom. Loved and respected by his own people, he was feared by the outsiders, both white and black. Kingwengwe was one of the rare African chiefs capable of standing up to the whites. He flatly refused to attend the convocations called by the territorial agents, arguing that, as a great chief living on his own lands, it was not fitting to run to men who were merely visitors in the territory. He further objected to becoming the government’s tax collector for the area. On many occasions, he advised territorial agents that, as strangers in the region, they should actually pay him tribute.
Finally, in 1937, he came into open conflict with the territorial agent, Flament, over the issue of tax collection. On January 9, Flament ordered Kingwengwe to collect taxes and to submit regular reports on the 25th of each month. When chief Kingwengwe categorically refused, he was summoned repeatedly to convocations between January 25 and March 11. Although at first the chief made no response, when he received the fifth notice, he sent Flament a letter stating he would not tolerate future appeals and expressing his desire to remain independent. Surprised by the behavior of the chief, Flament asked his superiors to depose and banish Kingwengwe. The colonial authorities, however, rejected Flament’s petition for fear of risking a rebellion from Kingwengwe’s people. Thus, the government could only withdraw the chief’s salary and bonuses and attempt to ignore him.
In October 1940, the Assistant Territorial Administrator Douhet, newly arrived in the region, sought to force Kingwengwe into submission by calling him to appear at Kobo. Chief Kingwengwe sent a messenger advising the assistant administrator to come to the chief’s capital at Musanga-Kifwameson, and stating that, as a great chief, he would not come at the beck and call of any little foreigner. His pride wounded, on August 23, 1941 Douhet sought to eliminate Kingwengwe’s office by creating a new political unit, the Bwele-Lufuku Sector (present Kobo zone) out of the chiefdoms of Musanga and Ndala. Furthermore, Douhet refused to recognize African officials of the former Musanga Chiefdom. When, on October 21, 1941, Albert Mabaya was elected unanimously as chief of the sector, Douhet categorically opposed his investiture only because Mabaya was a subject of Chief Kingwengwe. On August 13, 1942, to further humiliate Kingwengwe, the colonial authorities designated Jean Kapita of the Ndongela clan to act as provisional chief of the sector, and on March 31, 1943 they chose Sengula Lumanda of the Nzemba Munene clan to exercise the functions of assistant chief of the sector. Both belonged to the chiefdom of Akwa Ndala.
Chief Kingwengwe accused the colonial authorities of having usurped his power by conferring it upon strangers. He vehemently contested the legitimacy of Kapita’s power, because, as a member of the Ndala clan, Kapita belonged to a family considered as clients or tenants on Musanga lands. Chief Kingwengwe organized an active opposition against chief Kapita and against the newly-created sector.
Suddenly, the assistant chief of the sector, Sengula Lumanda, contracted pulmonary tuberculosis, and died in November 1944. Then the chief of the sector himself, Jean Kapita, was stricken with pleurisy and died on December 23, 1944. Popular opinion attributed the deaths to the magical powers of Chief Kingwengwe and his former notables, who, it was believed, cursed the two usurpers. The territorial authorities, and in particular Assistant Territorial Administrator Gomez, who was in the region in November-December 1944, listened attentively to these rumors and sought to chastise Chief Kingwengwe. Fearful of inciting a general rebellion by arresting and exiling Kingwengwe, the officials merely dismissed him from the execution of his chiefly duties as an invested government functionary. The decree, dated February 7, 1945, stated that by his hostile attitude regarding Jean Kapita, he impeded the smooth operation of the sector.
Despite this decision, Chief Kingwengwe continued to exercise his customary power and to lead his people in resisting European exploitation. Despite the open hostility of the colonial authorities towards him, Kingwengwe was able to take measures, both directly and through intermediaries, to insure that a Musanga native succeeded Jean Kapita. Thus, on October 20, 1945, Fumu Vincent, was provisionally appointed to fill the post of chief of the sector. He was finally confirmed on May 24, 1948, thus ending a long dispute between Kingwengwe and the territorial authorities. Several years later, with the approval of the Administrator Caps, Chief Kingwengwe was restored to his official duties.
Despite his strong opposition to colonial policies, Chief Kingwengwe admired certain aspects of Western civilization, especially education. In 1935, the territorial agent of Gungu reported that he was amazed to see literate children in the chiefdom. Not only had Kingwengwe urged all the youth to learn this “marvel of the whites,” he, himself, learned to read and write. The primary school built in his capital was one of the most prosperous pre-World War II establishments in the Pende territories. Kingwengwe worked closely with the Catholic missionaries of Kisanji, 150 km (90 mi) south of Kikwit, to develop primary education in the Upper Lufuku River region. In addition to encouraging education, he urged all his subjects to earn money by cutting palm nuts, the principal commercial crop of the region. He also was the first chief of the Gungu territory to own a bicycle. The Nsu brand, which he purchased, became famous in the Kobo sector, as many people imitated their chief by buying an identical bicycle.
Chief Kingwengwe Kifofo spent the last years of his life working to ensure that the rights he had won for the Musanga prevailed in the entire region between the Bwele and Longele Rivers. A good part of this region was inhabited by ‘tenant’ clans, or clients who, occasionally, with the blessing and sometimes with the complicity of the Europeans, attempted to gain power at the expense of the established Musanga elite. When Kingwengwe died in August 1961, he was followed by Musanga Gafugusa, who came to power after a long conflict over succession.
Sikitele Gize a Sumbula
Archives of the Gungu Zone, Political File of the Kobo Sector.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire. Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.