In 1960, the King of Belgium went to Léopoldville to give his blessing to the independence of the Belgian Congo. The country thus became the Republic of Congo. Despite the holding of democratic elections during that first year of political autonomy, the history of the country was never peaceful since that time. Indeed, tensions rapidly built up between some of the ex-colonizers and the new government, leading up to the secession of the provinces of Katanga and South Kasai. After that, the democracy was torn apart by internal struggles for power, between the different parties that had walked the path to independence. After a coup d’Etat in 1961, the general Joseph-Désiré Mobutu took the command of the country, and eliminating his opponents one by one, he became the de facto leader of the Republic of Congo in 1965.
Mobutu was a terrible dictator that was only removed from power in 1996, remembered in part for his leopard-print hat and for being one of the richest men in the world. Nevertheless, there was one very interesting feature during his time in power: the policy of “Authenticité” (meaning “Authenticity”), that wanted to re-enshrine the African heritage. Trying to move away from the European influence that had marked Congo in the last centuries, Mobutu decided that he wanted Congo go back to its African roots and establish a national identity for the country. Thus, starting from 1971, the Congo and its river became known as “Zaire”, name that started to figure in all world maps. The names of all cities that had a relation with the colonizers were also replaced by African names, and the same happened with all historical buildings. Mobutu himself changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko, and all Zairian citizens were legally forced to use their “Zairian” names. The currency “congolese franc” became the zaire, and even the use of suit and tie was banished to the profit of the “Abacost”.
Nevertheless, Mobutu himself ended up by putting an end to the policy of “Authenticité” in 1990, period in which his rule was highly weakened by the end of the Cold War and his poor economical choices. Indeed, the policy had been accompanied by a nationalization policy that was initially successful but eventually pushed the country into a disgraceful economic crisis. Zaire became the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997, after the fall of Mobutu and the end of the First Congo War.