État Indépendant du Congo

Colonie du Congo

République du Congo

République Democratique du Congo [ I ]


République Democratique du Congo [ II ]

Chiefs’ Badges

Secessionist States


Sud - Kasai




On the territory of todays’s Congo the mediaeval Empire of Congo was situated which extended also into the district of Congo in today’s Angola. It was founded by nations migrating about 1400 into these territories from the south-east. Around the actual Congo were five more or less autonomous kingdoms:

Ngoyo, Kakongo en Loango (on the territory of the Republic of Congo), the Matamba district in Kwango, and Ndongo situated at the Kwanzi-river. The rulers of these empires recognized, be it mainly formally, the authority of the  Manikongo, the Emperor  of Congo.

The Portuguese discovered the empire in 1482. In 1490 they send missionaries and craftsmen. The Congolese pretender  Nzinga Mbemba was baptized in 1491 and received the name Alphonso. He ruled from 1507 until 1543 as Dom Alphonso I. He aimed at an European inspired administration and maintained good relations with the king of Portugal. In his quality of Manikongo he bore a coat of arms granted to him by the Portuguese king. This was registered in 1541 by Antonio Godinho in the “Livro do Torre do Tombo” (today in the archives of the same name in Lissabon) [1]. See: Angola.

In 1876 the International Africa Company was founded to explore the river Congo. This company, later known as the International Union of Congo became the foundation of the state founded in 1885 by king Leopold II of Belgium. For this state the name “ÉTAT INDÉPENDANT DU CONGO” (Congolese Freestate) was adopted.

In an act of 28 November 1907 King Leopold II ceded the freestate to the Belgian government. The constitution of the colony was the law of 18 October 1908, known as the  Charte Coloniale”.


After WW II, following a series of riots and unrest, the Belgians realised they could not maintain control of such a vast country. They announced on 27 January 1960 that they would relinquish control in six months. The Congo was granted its independence on 30 June 1960, adopting the name “Republic of the Congo” (République du Congo). As the French colony of Middle Congo (Moyen Congo) also chose the name Republic of Congo upon receiving its independence, the two countries were more commonly known as Congo-Léopoldville and Congo-Brazzaville, after their capital cities.

Unrest and rebellion plagued the government until 1965, when Lieutenant General Mobutu, by then commander in chief of the national army, seized control of the country and declared himself president for five years. Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire

By 1996, tensions from the neighboring Rwanda spilling over to Zaire resulted in a rebellion against Mobutu by Tutsi militias in November 1996.

The Tutsi militia was soon joined by various opposition groups and supported by several countries, including Rwanda and Uganda. This coalition, led by Laurent-Desiré Kabila, became known as the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL). The AFDL, now seeking the broader goal of ousting Mobutu, made significant military gains in early 1997. In May 1997, Mobutu left the country, and Kabila marched unopposed to Kinshasa on May 20. Kabila named himself president and reverted the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo had a transitional government until elections were held. A constitution was approved and on 30 July 2006 the Congo held its first multi-party elections since independence in 1960. On 6 December 2006 the Transitional Government came to an end as Joseph Kabila was sworn in as President.




État Independant du Congo


The Flag


When the “État Independant du Congo” was recognized by the great powers a flag was adopted on 1 August 1885, consisting of a yellow star on a blue field.


This flag was probably inspired on a flag depicted on an anonymous portolan from about 1492. The golden star on a blue field on this portolan is attributed to OVENI CIVITA MAGNA, near the river Niger and this city may be identified as today’s Benin city (Nigeria).





Å Anonymous Portolan, end of 15th C. Flag with five-pointed star (somewhat discoloured). Part of the Benin coast, the river Niger and the city of  Oveni.

The Arms


A few months after the adoption of the flag a coat of arms was granted by king Léopold II. [2]

The grant of the Sovereign King of the state seal was published in the “Bulletin Officiel de l’Etat Indépendant” n° 9 of 1886. The grant itself is not dated but, taking into consideration the date of its publication, it may be dated between 10 and 25 October 1886. The blasoning of the achievement on the seal is as follows:


D’azur à la fasce ondée d’argent, accompagnée en chef à dextre d’une étoile a cinq rais d’or, et chargée d’un écu de sable au lion d’or, armé et lampassée de gueules, portant sur l’épaule un écusson burelé d’or et de sable de dix pièces au crancelin de sinople posé en bande.L’’ecu, sommé de la couronne royale d’or, est suppporté par deux lions léopardés au naturel. Devise: «Travail et Progrès». Le tout placé sur un manteau de pourpre, doublé d’hermine, surmonté de la couronne royale”


That is to say:

Arms: Azure, a fess wavy Argent, in dexter chief a mullet Or, and an escutceon Sable, a lion rampant Or, langued and unguled Gules, on his shoulder a shield barry of ten Or and Sable, a crown of rue in bend Vert.

Crown: A royal crown.

Supporters: Two lions guardant, proper.


Mantle: Purpure, lined Ermine, crowned with the royal crown.


Correct  version of the Achievement of the Congolese Freestate, as blasoned in 1886.


The coat of arms of Congo is a combination of the flag with the star and a bar wavy representing the river Congo. The escutcheon shows the personal arms of Leopold II, who was of the house of Saxe, adopted by royal decree of 15 july 1880. The supporters are also taken from the royal achievement of Belgium.

On seals and coins the achievement of the Freestate is never depicted with the mantle, and we may conclude that the mantled version was the royal achievement for use by the king himself, and the lesser version was the achievement of state. Also, the supporting lions guardant, that is to say looking at the spectator, and proper, are most of the time depicted reguardant (looking backwards) and Or (gold). This version for example, can be seen on coins, minted in 1887. 

Also, the motto is written in black lettering on a white ribbon, or in golden lettering on a blue ribbon. As the original drawing of the achievement is lost, we do not know which combination is correct.


Common version of the achievement of the Congolese Freestate, the lions reguardant and Or. 

In the lower margin the coat of arms of Léopoldville adopted 10.08.1923. (Postcard)


The Congolese emblems after the Annexation by Belgium


After the cession of the Freestate to Belgium by the treaty of 28 November 1907 and the proclamation of Belgian sovereignty by law of 18 October 1908, ratified on 15 Novemebr of the same year, the national emblems of Belgium became the national emblems of the Colony of Congo too.

However, art. 35 of the Charte Coloniale provides:


Indépendamment du drapeau et du sceau de la Belgique, la Colonie du Congo belge peut faire usage du drapeau et du sceau dont s’est servi l’Etat du Congo.


(Apart from the Belgian flag and seal, the Congolese Colony may use the flag and seal of the Congolese Freestate.)

The preamble of the Charte, drawn up in 1901, underlined that art. 35  (renumbered in 1908 in art. 33)  was “particularly necessary in Congo, where the abolition of the flag of the Freestate, the only one known by the natives, will cause serious problems”. [3]

About the seal it was decided that it would be abandoned. The circular letter n° 175 of 28 November 1912  of Governor General Fuchs reads:


I have the honour to inform the officials and representatives that the seals to be distributed in the future for use in the Colony, will bear the coat of arms of Belgium instead of the coat of arms of Congo.

The existing seals will remain in use by the local services, the new rule will be carried out when new applications are required. [4]


However, forty-five years later, some authorities still used the old congolese seals


Even when the achievement disappeared from seals and stamps, badges and even from orders of merit, the coat of arms continued to be used by the government. It can be found on government publications, on its own or in alliance with the coat of arms of Belgium, with the two mottoes underneath and united under a single royal crown.


In the last years of Belgian rule and just before the proclamation of independence (and maybe at the occasion of the World Fair in Brussels, 1958) the coat of arms, be it without its external ornaments, gained some popularity. A beautiful version by Franz Coray was published in Whitney Smiths’ “Flags through the Ages”. (Illustration below) [5]


République du Congo




A new flag for the Congolse Republic was adopted on 30 June 1960. It shows a five-pointed star and six smaller stars arranged along the mast, all yellow on a blue field . The stars symbolize the Republic and the six provinces: Equateur, Leopoldville, Kasai, Katanga, Kivu and Province Orientale.

On the coat of arms the smaller stars are arranged around the larger one. 


République Démocratique du Congo

30.06.1963 - 27.10.1971


A new flag was adopted 30 June 1963, it was:


Flag: Azure, a bend sinister Gules, fimbriated Or, in dexter chief a mullet Or.


On a shield this blason was used as a smaller or a provisional coat of arms


A national emblem was adopted on 30 June 1963. It was:



Emblem: A leopards’ mask surrounded bu a branch of laurel, an elephants’tusk and two spears in saltire, all proper. In base a green hill.

Motto: JUSTICE PAIX TRAVAIL (Justice, Peace, Work)


This emblem could be place on a blue shield. Like this:



A new national emblem was officially introduced on 1 August 1964. It was:



Emblem: A leopards’ mask surrounded by a branch of laurel, an elephants’ tusk and an arrow and an spear in saltire.

Motto: justice  paix  travail.


This emblem could be placed on a blue disc.


République du Zaïre

27.10.1971 - 1997


The national emblem of 1964 was continued for the Republique du Zaïre.


République Démocratique du Congo

17.05.1997 - present


On 17 May 1997 Laurent Desiré Kabila conquered the capital Kinshasa and proclaimed in a broadcasted speech the new République Démocratique du Congo.

A few days later, on 20 May, the flag of 1960 was hoisted in Kinshasa, by the embassies in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe.

The state-emblem was changed. [6] It was almost identical to the ancient emblem but the motto JUSTICE PAIX TRAVAIL was  replaced by a boulder.  Apparently this emblem was abandoned in 1999. Instead, a picture of the flag in the shape of a heraldic shield appeared:


Arms, 1999-2003


In 2001 a new state-emblem appeared, resembling a heraldic achievement. It was:



Arms:  The map of Africa seen from the Atlantic charged with an open book, and over all a rifle and adze in saltire all in light blue, white and black rendering; in chief a golden star radiant, and a bordure per fess of a cog-wheel and Azure, six yellow stars Or.

Supporters: Two lions.

Motto: PATRIE - LIBERTÉ - JUSTICE (Fatherland, Liberty, Justice).


It is not clear if this achievement was just a proposal or was officially adopted. As this achievement seems to be strongly inspired by the emblem of Moçambique of the time, this may be the reason why the proposal was not followed. Maybe, on the other hand, the achievement may have been officially adopted  but is not very well known because of the confused situation in Congo due to the civil war of 1998.

There is some discussion about this achievement on flag sites. [7]


Transitional Government

01.04.2003 - 30.07.2006




In the transitional constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo dated 1 April 2003 it is said that the coat of arms features a lion's head surrounded by two laurels with, in the center, three shaking hands ("Ses armoiries se composent d'une tête de lion encadrée par deux lauriers avec au centre des mains entrecroisées.").




Article 4


The Democratic Republic of Congo shall, within its borders of 30 June 1960, be an independent, sovereign, indivisible, democratic, social and secular State.

Its emblem shall be a sky-blue flag with a large yellow star in the centre and six small yellow stars all of the same size and set longitudinally along the side of the flagpole.

The national anthem shall be “Debout Congolais”.

The motto shall be “Democracy, Justice, Unity”.

Its currency shall be the “Congo Franc”.


Its coat of arms shall consist of a lion’s head framed by two laurel branches with hands crossed in the centre.


The national languages shall be: Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba.

The official language shall be French.

A new national emblem for the Democratic Republic of Congo was adopted in the Constitution of 18 February 2006.

The constitution itself was adopted by referendum and promulgated by president Joseph Kabila. [8]


The article concerned reads as follows:




Chapitre 1er : De l’État et de la Souveraineté


Section 1ère : De l’État


Article 1er

La République Démocratique du Congo est, dans ses frontières du 30 juin 1960, un État de droit, indépendant, souverain, uni et indivisible, social, démocratique et laïc.

Son emblème est le drapeau bleu ciel, orné d’une étoile jaune dans le coin supérieur gauche et traversé en biais d’une bande rouge finement encadrée de jaune.


Sa devise est « Justice – Paix – Travail ».


Ses armoiries se composent d’une tête de léopard encadrée à gauche et, à droite, d’une pointe d’ivoire et d’une lance, le tout reposant sur une pierre.


Son hymne est le « Debout Congolais !»

Sa monnaie est « le Franc congolais ».

Sa langue officielle est le français.

Ses langues nationales sont le kikongo, le lingala, le swahili et le tshiluba. L’État en assure la promotion sans discrimination. Les autres langues du pays font partie du patrimoine culturel congolais dont l’État assure la protection.


That is to say that the national emblem consists of a leopard’s head guardant between an elephant’s tusk and a spear, resting on a stone.  The motto JUSTICE PAIX TRAVAIL (Justice, Peace, Work) in yellow lettering, is added on a red ribbon.


Æ See illustration in the head of this article


Presidential seal, 2013[9]


The Badges of the Native Chiefs


The necessity seems to have been felt to distinguish the native chiefs and officials by a badge or mark of distinction. This consisted of a medal pending from a necklace. The first badge was instituted by decree of 6 October 1891. On the reverse there was the Congolese star with the motto “TRAVAIL ET PROGRÈS” and on the obverse the legend: “ÉTAT INDÉPENDANT DU CONGO”/ “CHEFFERIE INDIGÈNE RECONNUE.

Medal as instituted 6 October 1891


By following decrees of 16 August 1906, 2 May 1910, 14 March 1935, 25 October 1941, 9 August 1945 and 29 October 1947  the legend on the obverse was changed, mainly by adding a legend in Flemish. By decree of  9 August 1945 the badge was changed thoroughly. On the obverse came the achievement of Belgium, and the obverse showed the Congolese star and inscriptions in french and flemish. For more details see: Kentekens voor Erkende Inlandse Hoofden. (in Dutch)


Medal as instituted 14 March 1935


The last change occurred at the end of Belgian rule. By decree  n° 21/222 of 29 May 1958 three new versions were instituted: The first with the Congolese arms in alliance with the arms of Belgium, with their mottoes and united under the Belgian crown, the second with the Congolese arms with crown and motto and the third with the crowned arms only. For the first time it was ordained that the ribbon should be red with black edges, and the motto in gold lettering (like in the achievement of Belgium).

These medals were for the native chiefs, the members of the Permanent Council and for the members of the Electoral Councils, as organized by decree of 10 May 1957, respectively. 


Secessionist States






After the proclamation of Independence of Congo itself, on 11 June 1960 a secessionist republic was proclaimed in Katanga. This republic lasted until 24 May 1963.

Katanga had a complete set of national symbols. The flag, adopted 29 June 1960 was divided diagonally of red and white, the fields separated by a green bend. In the lower corner there were three copper crosses, which were the traditional coinage of Katanga.

This flag, placed on a shield, served as the coat of arms of the Republic.


The coat of arms occurred also in the cap badges of the Katangese Army and Air Force and of the National Katangese Police. [10]





Katangese Air Force Wings







Å Katangese Army cap badge


Sud Kasai




On 8 August 1960, motivated partly by long-standing tribal rivalries, Luba chief Albert Kalonji (1919 - ) proclaimed the independence of the diamond-rich region of South Kasai as the Autonomous State of South Kasai, with its capital at Bakwanga. Kalonji styled himself as Chef Suprême du Peuple Muluba et Protecteur Incontesté des Tribus Associées à son sort (Supreme Chief of the Muluba People and Protector of the Associated Tribes) effectively President of South Kasai. 

On 12 April 1961 an assembly of notables invested Kalonji's father with the traditional Luba imperial title of Mulopwe. The new Emperor then conveniently abdicated in favour of his son, who thereafter ruled South Kasai as Emperor Albert I Kalonji.

After a bloody four-month military campaign during which thousands of civilians were massacred, troops of the Congolese central government reconquered the region and arrested Kalonji on 30 December 1961. The wily Emperor soon escaped however and managed to maintain a government that lasted into October of 1962.[11]


The national emblem of the State of South Kasai is known from the frontispiece of the Constitution de l’État Fédéré du Sud-Kasai. It consists of a triangle enclosing the letter “V” and the motto LA VERITE AU SERVICE DE LA JUSTICE (The Truth in the Service of Justice) and a leopard’s head  afronté below. [12]


Æ See illustration in the head of this section


Such a leopard’s  head looking through a “V” also appeared on stamps issued by the new state.



The President’s seal was inscribed  “V Mulopwé du Sud-Kasai” within the legend CABINET DU PRÉSIDENT ALBERT KALONJI DITUNGA.

President’s Seal


The flag of this ephemeral state was adopted 6 September 1960. It consisted of two stripes green and red, and a yellow “V” of Victory, reaching to the upper and lower sides in the middle.





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© Hubert de Vries 2008.12.03. Updated 2013-04-11

1 Godinho, Antonio: Livro da Nobreza Perfecao das Armas dos Reis Cristaos e Nobres Linhagens dos Reinos e Senhorios de Portugal. Livro da Torre do Tombo, 1541.

[2]  The following paragraphs are a translated and abridged version of the article of  Roger Harmignies: Les Emblemes de l'Afrique Belge. In: Belgique Outremer. Dec. 1958, pp. 787-788 & 793-795.

[3] ….  « particulièrement nécessaire au Congo, où la suppression du drapeau de l’Etat Indépendant du Congo, le seul que conaissent les indigènes, ne pourrait se faire sans des sérieux inconvénients ». The prestige of the congolese flag was such that in 1899, with the insurrection of the Batatela, its leader Piani Kondolo used a flag with the yellow star on a blue field, surrounded by a bordure of red, white and blue. (Preserved in the Musée Royal de l’Armée, Brussels).

[4] J’ai l’honneur de faire savoir aux fonctionnaires et agents que la chose concerne que les sceaux qui seront expédiés dorénavant pour les besoins de la Colonie porteront les armes de la Belgique au lieu des armes du Congo. / Les sceaux qui existent actuellement continueront à être employés tels quels par les services locaux; la nouvelle mesure ne sera appliquée qu’au fur et à mesure des envois en suite de réquisitions pour besoins nouveaux.

[5]  Smith, Whitney: Flags through the ages and across the world. Maidenhead, 1975.

[6]  The accepted opinion is that the flag of 1960 was restored on 20 May 1997. A week later a  Décret-loi de la République Démocratique du Congo, signé par le président auto-proclamé Laurent-Désiré Kabila et entré en vigueur le mercredi 28 mai 1997 was issued but this had no dispositions about the flag and emblem.

[7] The original image was posted by Jaume Ollé on the Vexillum list on 30 Dec 2001, the source being a postage stamp.

[8]  An official  copy is on the site of the presidency of the Republic.

[9] Wikipedia

[10]  Retrieved from: , 2007 (obsolete)

[11] A portrait of a Luba Emperor in Lanié, Daniel: African Kings. Berkely, (1991) 2000. Pp. 134-135.

[12] This emblem and the seal below from: Kalonji Ditunga Mulopwe, Albert: Congo 1960. La sécession du Sud-Kasaï, la vérité du ulopwe. L'Harmattan, Paris 2005.