- a large country in central Africa with a short coastline on the Atlantic Ocean; population 68,692,500 (est. 2009); capital, Kinshasa; languages, French (official), Kongo, Lingala, Swahili, and others. Also called Congo-Kinshasa. Formerly called (until 1997) Zaire.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was a Belgian colony known as the Congo Free State 1885–1908 and the Belgian Congo 1908–60. Independence in 1960 was followed by civil war and UN intervention. General Mobutu seized control in a coup in 1965 and changed the name of the country from the Republic of the Congo to Zaire in 1971. The country experienced a huge influx of refugees following the violence in Rwanda in 1994, and the first of three destructive civil wars broke out in 1996. Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 by Laurent Kabila, who changed the country’s name to the Democratic Republic of Congo