by Aly Jonas

Why do the two Congos have the same name?

Pourquoi les deux Congo portent-ils le même nom ?

Two countries for one name. Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa do not have the same flag, but they have shared a common name for many years. Originally, a prosperous kingdom...

Two countries, but a confusing name. It is difficult for some to differentiate between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo, which we also like to nickname Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville respectively, after the name of their capitals, for simplicity.

There was a time when confusion was impossible. First called Belgian Congo, between 1908 and 1960, the current DRC was renamed Zaire from 1971 to 1997. Nothing to do with the former French Congo, therefore, whose name changed in 1910.

To understand why these two countries are called Congo today, we have to go back to the 13th century. At this time, several political territories occupied the current territory of the two Congos, including Kongo, a prosperous kingdom which would therefore be at the origin of the name.

“Tuele ku Ngo”

But where does the name Kongo come from? Author of the “Dictionary of the origin of names and nicknames of African countries”, Arol Ketchiemen indicates that the name of the kingdom comes from an expression used by local populations who, in case of danger, took refuge with the “leopard”, the king of the territory. “Tuele ku Ngo”, they chanted – understand “We are going to the leopard”. A phrase which, shortened, would have given its name to the kingdom of Kongo.

The Kongo Kingdom is in the southern Republic of the Congo and the far west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But the territory also encroaches on current Angola and Gabon.

In addition to having given its name to the two neighboring countries, the Kingdom of Kongo was also at the origin of the baptism of the river which separates Kinshasa and Brazzaville. Formerly called Nzaï, it was renamed by Portuguese explorers at the end of the 15th century, Congo River. But the name Nzaï also remained important for a long time in the history of the region, since it was he who gave Mobutu the idea of ​​naming his country… Zaire.

An astonishing decision. Although he tried by all means to erase the traces of colonization, Mobutu opted for the name Zaire, which nevertheless recalled the arrival of Westerners in the region. It was not until 1997, and the arrival of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) and Joseph Kabila in power, that Zaire once again became the Democratic Republic of Congo, thus erasing the action of General Mobutu, who had nevertheless opted for the word Zaire, in the hope of avoiding any confusion between the DRC and the neighboring Congolese Republic.