This name is not really new; before the country was called Zaire, it had been known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1971 the country and even the huge Congo River were renamed Zaire by former President Sese Seko Mobutu. In 1997 General Laurent Kabila took control of Zaire country and returned it to the name the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which it held prior to 1971. A new flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo of was also introduced to the world.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the setting for Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, was called "Africa's most unstable country" in 1993. Their economic problems and government corruption required intervention from Western nations over the past few decades. The country is about half Catholic has 250 different ethnic groups within its borders.
There is inherent geographical confusion in this change due to the fact that the Democratic Republic of the Congo's western neighbor is known as the Republic of the Congo, a name which it has held since 1991.
Major differences exist between the two equatorial Congo neighbors. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is much larger in both population and area. The population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is about 69 million but the Republic of the Congo has a mere 4 million. The area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is over 905,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometers) but the Republic of the Congo has 132,000 square miles (342,000 square kilometers). The Democratic Republic of the Congo holds 65% of the world's cobalt reserves and both countries rely on oil, sugar, and other natural resources. The official language of both Congos is French.
These two timelines of Congolese history might help sort out the history of their names:
Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)1877 - Henry Stanley explores the region for Belgium
1908 - Becomes Belgian Congo
June 30, 1960 - Independence for the Republic of the Congo
1964 - Becomes People's Republic of the Congo
1966 - Mobutu takes control and the country becomes the Democratic Republic of the Congo
October 27, 1971 - Becomes Republic of Zaire
1996 - Mobutu is in Europe with prostate cancer so rebels, led by General Laurent Kabila attacked the Zairian army
March 1997 - Mobutu returns from Europe
May 17, 1997 - Kabila and his troops take the capital, Kinshasa and Mobutu goes into exile. Zaire becomes the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is worldwide confusion about the change
September 7, 1997 - Mobutu died in Morocco
Republic of the Congo1885 - Becomes the French territory Middle Congo
1910 - The territory of French Equatorial Africa is created, Middle Congo is a district
1960 - Independence for the Republic of the Congo
1970 - Becomes the People's Republic of the Congo
1991 - Name returns to the Republic of the Congo