The many names of the DRC

Posted: February 28, 2013 in Congo

By Natalie Bush

I mentioned this topic in a previous blog, but I think it is important to cover it more in depth to better understand the history of Congo. The Democratic of Congo has undergone several name changes since its establishment.

In 1855, King Leopold II formally acquires Congo territory as his own property, naming it Congo Free State. Then in 1908, Belgian parliament takes over Congo Free State and renames in Belgian Congo territory. June 30, 1960 Belgian Congo gains independence, becoming Republic of Congo.  Five years later, Joseph- Desire Mobutu the president, Joseph Kasavubu, and establishes a one-party system. To distinguish the Republic of Congo from the former French colony, Mobutu changes the country’s official name to Democratic Republic of Congo (Stand). While this is currently the official name, the country undergoes one additional name change before returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo name.

With Mobutu as president, in 1971 the Democratic Republic of Congo is renamed the Republic of Zaire under the President’s command. In addition to this, the huge Congo River was even renamed the Zaire River (Wikipedia). This was the country’s fourth name change in 11 years, its sixth in total.  Most of our generation learned the country was named Zaire from school textbooks and maps when we were in elementary school.

Mobutu continued in power for over twenty years. The United States supported him because he opposed Communism leading Western powers to believe this would make him an obstacle to Communist schemes in Africa. However, Mobutu’s government was guilty of severe human rights violations, political repression and corruption. For example, Mobutu demanded his portrait be hung in all public buildings, most businesses and on billboards. Corruption became so prevalent the term “le mal Zairois” (translating to “Zairean Sickness”), meaning gross corruption, theft and mismanagement was reportedly coined by Mobutu himself (Wikipedia).

Conflict finally forced Mobutu to flee Zaire in 1997. General Laurent Kabila took control of Zaire and returned it to the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo, since the name Zaire carried such strong connections to the rule of Mobutu. A new flag was also introduced to the world.

An article published on May 31, 1997 in the LA Times, acknowledges the name change by stating, “The Times will adopt the new name, beginning with today’s editions. The country will be referred to as “Congo” (LA Times).




LA Times

Public Service

The official flag of Zaire

The official flag of Zaire courtesy of Public Service


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