World Facts

Which Country Was Formerly Called Zaire?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was officially named Zaire from 1971 to 1997.

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The Republic of Zaire was an independent state that existed in Central Africa from 1971 to 1997. It is currently known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Zaire was a one-party state that was governed as a totalitarian dictatorship by Mobutu Sese Seko who seized power in 1965 following a military coup preceded by a civil war. In the early 1990s, the Rwandan genocide destabilized eastern Zaire as rival factions began amassing weapons and preparing for ethnic violence. Laurent-Désiré Kabila waged an anti-government rebellion in 1996 forcing Mobutu to seek exile in Morocco. Kabila assumed power and restored the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Struggle for Independence

The Belgians colonized Congo in 1885 and formed the Congo Free State under the rule of Leopold II of Belgium. The state lasted until 1908 when its name was changed to Belgium Congo. The rise of Pan-Africanism and the quest for self-rule led to an armed struggle for independence in 1959 forcing the Belgians to the negotiating table. On June 30, 1960, the state declared independence as the "Republic of the Congo". Patrice Lumumba became the prime minister while Joseph Kasa-Vumbu assumed the presidency. A few months later on August 15, 1960, the French colony of Middle Congo gained independence and acquired the name "Republic of the Congo". The countries shared the name but were differentiated by referring to them by their capital cities. The latter became known as Congo-Léopoldville while the former was referred to as Congo-Brazzaville. After the departure of the Belgians, the country became unstable as tribal leaders gained popularity over the central government.

The Rise of Mobutu Sese Seko

Rebel factions in Katanga and Kasai revolted against the government seeking secession from the Republic of Congo. Kasa-Vumbu dislodged Lumumba from office in September 1960, but Lumumba declared the president's action unconstitutional resulting in a crisis. On September 14, 1960, Mobutu Sese Seko supported by the Belgians and the Americans executed Lumumba. In 2001, the Belgian Parliament found the country responsible for Lumumba's death and gave an official apology for its role. The western powers further supported Mobutu in the 1965 coup that overthrew Kasa-Vumbu. Mobutu assumed control and the country was subsequently renamed “the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

Africanization of Names

Mobutu sought to Africanize every name in Congo and eliminate traces of the Belgian colonialization in the country. On October 27, 1971, he changed the name of the state to the Republic of Zaire and that of the military to Zairian Armed Forces. He dropped the name General Mobutu and adopted Mobutu Sese Seko as his official name. Cities in the country were also renamed from Léopoldville to Kinshasa, Stanleyville to Kisangani, and Elizabethville to Lubumbashi. Mobutu remained in office until he was overthrown in 1997 by Laurent Desire Kabila who changed the name of the country from Zaire back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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