Republic of Zaire
Between 27 October 1971 and 17 May 1997 the nation presently known as the Democratic Republic of Congo was the Republic of Zaire. Prior to 1960, it was a European colony known as Belgian Congo, but a series of regime changes after 1960 would lead to a rapid series of name changes for the nation, with Congo-Leopoldville, Congo, Republic of the Congo, and between 1965 and 1971, the Democratic Republic of Congo. A coup d'etat in 1965 brought Joseph-Désiré Mobutu to power, and in 1971 he changed the name of the country to the Republic of Zaire, from the Kongo word nzere or nzadi, meaning "the river that swallows all rivers."
Mobutu (who would eventually change his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga - conventionally shortened to just Mobutu Sese Seko) was a staunch opponent of Communism, a political view that would earn him the support of the United States. As head of state in a one-party system, Mobutu remained in power for many years, securing relative economic stability for the country at the cost of environmental exploitation, political repression, corruption, and a long list of human rights violations.
Between 1977 and 1978, exiled rebel forces living in Angola launched a military offensive into the Shaba (formerly Katanga) region of Zaire, hoping to revive the popular movement for an independent Katanga. Unable to quell the rebellion by itself, Zaire sought the aid of Belgian and French paratroopers who eventually routed the insurgents and returned the region to tranquility.
In the 1990s, demands for democratic reform that had been sweeping across Africa for years began to receive greater popular support in Zaire. Out of the early oppositionist movement had arisen rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who in November 1996 mounted an insurrection against the Mobutu government that has come to be known as the First Congo War. Caught up in the ethnic genocide that was happening in Rwanda at the time, the rebellion sprang out of the eastern region of Zaire and gradually spread across the rest of the nation. Under Kabila's leadership, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL), which combined local Zairean militias with Rwandan Tutsis (known as Banyamulenge), was the primary military force driving the rebellion, although considerable assistance was received from Rwanda and Angola (with some aid from Uganda and Burundi also). Zairean forces would in turn receive assistance from Angolan UNITA as well as the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda, but by May 1997 the battle to save Zaire was obviously lost. Mobutu went into exile in Morocco, and on September 7, 1997 Kabila proclaimed himself president (on the same day Mobutu died, ironically). Following this, the nation reverted its name back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Armed Forces of Zaire were known as the Forces Armées Zaïrois (FAZ) and consisted of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and several paramilitary organizations. In addition to a Special Presidential Division, the Army's ground forces consisted of the Kamanyola Division, 31st and 32nd Parachute Brigades, the 41st Commando Brigade (Kisangani), three Infantry Brigades, and an Armored Brigade. Zaire would produce some interesting and distinctive camouflage patterns during its tenure, but would also incorporate patterns from the old Belgian & French colonial periods.
Zairean Camouflage Patterns
- As an ex-Belgian colony, Zairean forces did make limited use of Belgian camouflage stocks that were left in country after the European power vacated. Most common were the brushstroke designs, worn especially during the early years of independence from Belgium. However, some examples of the Belgian jigsaw pattern have also been documented.
- One of the more interesting camouflage designs to come out of the 1970s period in Africa was the "leopard spot" design. Although also produced for Chad and Libya, Zaire had its own version that incorporated more browns and had an overall darker composition. This camouflage design has been particularly associated with the Kamanyola Division, and with various foreign units who went through commando training at the Centre d'Entrainement Commando at Kota Koli. Original versions of the design were reputedly produced in Belgium, but later uniforms were most certainly imported from Asian factories. This design would continue to be worn sporadically well into the 1990s.
- Borrowing heavily from the original jigsaw design of Belgium, Zaire also fielded its own version of the camouflage having black squiggles over green & dark brown organic shapes, on a pale green background. The pale green background and darker green organic shapes distinguish it from the Belgian versions.
- Another interesting pattern from this period was a leaf design with a unique color scheme, having smaller black shapes over larger reddish brown & olive green organic areas on a yellowish base. Most references attribute this pattern's use to the 41st Commando Brigade (Kisangani).
- Some use of the French lizard pattern camouflage was also seen in the FAZ, particularly among airborne units. Although many of the early uniforms were no doubt obtained from surplus French stocks, later models were reproduced faithfully by Asian factories on contact to the Zairean government.
- Presumably obtained through sources in Angola during the First Congo War (and possibly earlier), ex-Portuguese m63 vertical lizard pattern camouflage is known to have been worn by some units, in particular the early Parachute Brigade and some commando units.
- Worn by members of the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL) during the First Congo War, a copy of the US m81 woodland camouflage pattern was often documented.