Zaire refers to the former official name of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was used from 1971 to 1997. The name "Zaire" originated from the river Congo, also commonly known as the Zaire River during the colonial era. The term "zaire" can also refer to the currency that was used during the same time frame.
Geographically, the river Congo is a major river in Central Africa, flowing through the Democratic Republic of Congo and eventually emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. It is the second longest river in Africa and one of the deepest rivers in the world. The name "Zaire" was chosen by then-president Mobutu Sese Seko, who wanted to establish a new cultural and political identity for the country, distinct from its colonial past. The change of name reflected a larger movement towards African nationalism and cultural revitalization.
During this period, the currency of the country was also named the zaire. Introduced in 1971, the zaire replaced the Congolese franc as the official currency. The zaire was subdivided into smaller units called makuta, with one zaire equaling 100 makuta. The currency was used until 1997 when it was replaced by the Congolese franc once again, coinciding with the country's transition to a democratic government.
The word "zaire" has its origins in the Kongo language, which is spoken by the Bakongo people in Central Africa. In Kikongo, one of the dialects of the Kongo language, "nzadi" means "river". The word "zaire" is derived from "nzadi" and is the name of the Congo River, the second-longest river in Africa.
The name "Zaire" was first used by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century to refer to the Congo River. It gradually became synonymous with the entire region surrounding the river. In 1971, when the Democratic Republic of the Congo gained independence from Belgium, its leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, changed the country's name to Zaire, after the river. The country remained known as Zaire until 1997 when it was once again renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo.