Zaire (1971–1997)
The new president had the support of the United States because of his staunch opposition to Communism. Western powers appeared to believe this would make him a roadblock to Communist schemes in Africa.

A one-party system was established, and Mobutu declared himself head of state. He periodically held elections in which he was the only candidate. Although relative peace and stability were achieved, Mobutu’s government was guilty of severe human rights violations, political repression, a cult of personality and corruption. (Mobutu demanded every Congolese banknote be printed with his image, hanging of his portrait in all public buildings, most businesses, and on billboards. It was common for ordinary people to wear his likeness on their clothing.)

Corruption became so prevalent the term “le mal Zairois” or “Zairean Sickness”, meaning gross corruption, theft and mismanagement, was coined, reportedly by Mobutu himself. By 1984, Mobutu was said to have $4 billion (USD), an amount close to the country’s national debt, deposited in a personal Swiss bank account. International aid, most often in the form of loans, enriched Mobutu while he allowed national infrastructure such as roads to deteriorate to as little as one-quarter of what had existed in 1960. Zaire became a “kleptocracy” as Mobutu and his associates embezzled government funds.

In a campaign to identify himself with African nationalism, starting on 1 June 1966, Mobutu renamed the nation’s cities: Léopoldville became Kinshasa [the country was now Democratic Republic of The Congo – Kinshasa], Stanleyville became Kisangani, Elisabethville became Lubumbashi, and Coquihatville became Mbandaka. This renaming campaign was completed in the 1970s.

In 1971, Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire, its fourth name change in 11 years and its sixth overall. The Congo River was renamed the Zaire River. In 1972, Mobutu changed his legal name from Joseph-Désiré Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (translated as “the all powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, shall go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake” ), although he only used the first three of his new names. Furthermore, he decreed that Christian names had to be Africanized and refused to allow Western-styled clothing to be worn by anyone.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Mobutu was invited to visit the United States on several occasions, meeting with U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In June 1989, Mobutu was the first African head of state invited for a state visit with newly elected President Bush. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, U.S. relations with Mobutu cooled, as he was no longer deemed necessary as a Cold War ally.

Opponents within Zaire stepped up demands for reform. This atmosphere contributed to Mobutu’s declaring the Third Republic in 1990, whose constitution was supposed to pave the way for democratic reform. The reforms turned out to be largely cosmetic. Mobutu continued in power until the conflict forced him to flee Zaire in 1997. Thereafter, the nation chose to reclaim its name of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, since the name Zaire carried such strong connections to the rule of Mobutu.