Why Are There Two Congos?
The Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbour, the much smaller nation named the Republic of the Congo, are both located in central Africa and share a name that is very similar. The two countries are sometimes distinguished by the names of their capital cities, Congo-Kinshasa and the far more popular Congo-Brazzaville.
Why Do These Countries Have The Same Name?
Well, the names and indeed the borders of the modern-day countries both come from colonial European times. The two countries were Belgian and French colonies, and the name Congo was independently used by both Belgium and France for their colony, named after the River Congo, which formed a large part of the border between the two colonies and today the two countries.
Although the name of the river was taken from the Kingdom of Congo, an African kingdom
which existed since the late 14th century. During the Berlin conference of 1884 in which the European powers divided the continent of Africa, Belgium and France were awarded the lands which today are the two countries of Congo.
Congo Free State
Well, the situation with Belgium was a little more complicated than that, Congo didn’t become a Belgian colony until 1908. Before that, it was known as the Congo Free State was a corporate state which was privately owned by King Leopold II. He convinced the international community that he should be the owner of the land because of the humanitarian work he was involved in and was not in it for profit.
However as it turned out, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. There were so many atrocities committed during his short reign that this period is sometimes referred to as the “Congo Horrors”. It was, for this reason, then he had to give up the colony, which was reluctantly annexed by Belgium.
The Smaller Country
The smaller country, the Republic of the Congo, was at the time known as French Congo, although this was later reorganised as part of French Equatorial Africa, and sometimes referred to as Middle Congo during this time. A third Congo—the Portuguese Congo—was now present. Today, this is Angola’s tiny exclave, which is cut off from the main country.
The European countries started decolonizing Africa after World War II and the founding of the United Nations. When both nations attained independence in 1960 and renamed themselves the “Republic of the Congo,” the name confusion became even further. Despite the fact that it was then Congo-Leopoldville and Congo-Brazzaville, the capital city was once again utilised to prevent confusion.
But Congo-name Leopoldville’s was changed to The Democratic Republic of the Congo, as it is known now, in 1964. Two years later, the nation’s capital was also transferred to Kinshasa, where it remains today. The government at the time wanted to distance itself from their colonial past.
After the first democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was detained and eventually killed, the nation was in upheaval during the first five years of independence, during what is now frequently referred to as the Congo Crisis. Mobutu Sese Seko, who had substantial support from the United States and Belgium, took control, erected a military dictatorship, and changed the nation’s name to the Republic of Zaire in 1971. The Cold War affected both Congos, although they ended themselves on opposing sides of the fight.
Following a coup led by Marien Ngouabi in 1969, the Republic of the Congo was transformed into a one-party communist state with the Congolese Workers’ Party as the ruling party. At the time, the country had strong links to the Soviet Union.
In the 1990s, both the People’s Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Zaire came to an end.
When Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 and the First Congo War broke out, Zaire collapsed due to instability in the region as a whole, primarily brought on by the Rwandan Genocide and the violence that spilled over as well as the refugees who fled the country. Zaire had previously been the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The People’s Republic of the Congo established multi-party elections in 1992, with the fall of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, changing their name and flag to what they are today.
So that’s how we ended up with two Congos, two European colonies that were both named after the Congo River, which was named after the African Kingdom of Congo.
Countries With Similar Names
Now, this isn’t the only example of countries having very similar names. We are stuck with Africa and have Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea. And it’s pretty much the same situation.
All were former colonies: French Guinea, Portuguese Guinea, and Spanish Guinea, respectively, all named after the general Western region of Africa known as Guinea. And of course, there’s also Papua New Guinea in Southeast Asia.
The island was named New Guinea as the explorers thought the locals resembled the people of the African region of Guinea, and one of the local names for the island was Papua, hence Papua New Guinea.
Now Guinea should not be confused with the completely unrelated Guyana. Where yet again we find a somewhat similar naming situation in South America. There were five European colonies in the region known as Guyana: Spanish, British, Dutch, French, and Portuguese Guyana. These became part of Venezuela, the independent country of Guyana, the country of Suriname, the overseas department of French Guiana, and part of Brazil.
Some Similar Countries
Other names that share a similar sound, such Austria and Australia, are just accidental, as are Niger and Nigeria, both of which are derived from the Niger River. However, both nations were amusingly named after points on a compass, although different points and in various languages. While Australia is derived from the Latin for South, Austria is derived from German for West.
The Republic of the Congo, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau is that they all have the same colours on their flag: green, yellow, and red.
Ethiopia, a nation that managed to avoid colonial authority by Europe, first employed the colours. Due of this, several newly independent African countries in the middle of the 20th century decided to adopt these colours as a sign of their independence from European dominance. This colour palette, which is shared by more than a dozen African nations, has come to represent Pan-Africanism—the oneness of people of African heritage.
The Final Verdict
The European colonisation of Africa, when the imperial European powers acquired control of nearly the whole continent largely for economic benefit, gave rise to the two Congos and, in fact, the three Guineas, as well as their names and international borders.
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