Original Research - Special Collection: New Landscapes in Identity

Navigating ethnicity, nationalism and Pan-Africanism – Kimbanguists, identity and colonial borders

Mika Vähäkangas
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 3 | a6620 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i3.6620 | © 2021 Mika Vähäkangas | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 15 March 2021 | Published: 06 July 2021

About the author(s)

Mika Vähäkangas, Center for Theology and Religious Studies, The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden; Desmond Tutu Centre, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town; Department of Practical Theology and Missiology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


The Kimbanguists, whose church is based on the healing and proclamation ministry of Simon Kimbangu in 1921 in the Belgian Congo, challenge colonially defined borders and identities in multiple ways. Anticolonialism is in the DNA of Kimbanguism, yet in a manner that contests the colonially inherited dichotomy between religion and politics. Kimbanguists draw from holistic Kongo traditions, where the spiritual and material/political are inherently interwoven. Kimbangu’s home village, Nkamba, is the centre of the world for them, and Kongo culture and the ancient kingdom form the backdrop of the Kimbanguist view of the new eschatological order to come. The reunification of the kingdom from the two Congo states and Angola will mark the inauguration of the new era. This will not, however, mean a splintering of the Democratic Republic of Congo but rather a removal of the colonial borders. That hints towards a Pan-African vision of a united Africa and even a universally united Black race that will play a central role in the eschatological salvation historical drama. The Kimbanguist vision also contains global dimensions, and their view of borders and identities is like Nkamba-centred ripples in water. This vision wipes away colonial borders and relativises ethnic, national and racial identities whilst strongly subscribing to a salvation historical narrative that places Africa and Africans in the centre.

Contribution: This article contributes to the study of nationalism as well as of African Instituted Churches. The analysis of how the Kimbanguists relate to (Kinshasa) Congolese nationalism, Kongo ethnic identity and Pan-Africanism as well as of their global missional views reveals layers and complex patterns of relationship between all these. What facilitates the simultaneous subscribing to all these layers is an openness of identities (Kimbanguist national, ethnic, etc.), as well as a tendency to see the world as consisting of interdependent areas and human communities with their holy city, Nkamba, in the centre.


Kimbanguism; African Christianity; nationalism; Pan-Africanism; decoloniality; Kongo religion; religion and politics; African Instituted Churches; borderscapes


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