The Leopard of Zaire: 1 Zaire (Zaire, 1977)-Founder's Article

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

This Zaire banknote represents the 2nd denomination of the Zaire "Series 1972". The first denomination being the 50 Makuta note, 1 Zaire was subdivided into 100 Makuta. All text is printed in French, a remnant of Belgian colonialism in Central Africa. Additionally this note precedes the rampant inflation the Zaire underwent later in it's circulation.


In 1967 the Zaire replaced the Congolese Franc, at a rate of 1 Zaire per 1000 Francs. The Zaire was initially closely pegged to the US dollar, at a rate of 2 Zaire per US Dollar. By December 1993, hyper-inflation had driven the Zaire to a rate of 110,000,000 Zaires per 1 US Dollar. Necessitating the abandonment of currency, in favor of the short-lived New Zaire (1993-1998).

The overall note feature elaborate intaglio engraving, expertly done by Giesecke & Devrient of Munich, West Germany. The observe prominently features Zaire President/Marshal/Chairman Mobutu Sese Seko (1930-1997), in his famous leopard skin hat. Notably nearly all Zaire note feature President Mobutu, often alternating between different personal aspects. Initial notes depict Mobutu the Colonel (uniform) and the Statesman (suit). This note introduces the concept of “Chairman Mobutu”, with his leopard skin hat and abacost tunic. Representing a form of unique formal wear, as part of his Authenticité campaign. Later notes focus on “Marshal Mobutu”, depicted him in full parade uniform.


To the lower left is the Coat of Arms of Zaire. It's banner displays the Zaire national motto Justice, Paix, Travail (trans. Justice, Peace, Work). The national motto was briefly altered, after the fall of Zaire (1997). Although has since been restored, in 2006. Replacing the motto Démocratie, Justice, Unité (Democracy, Justice, Unity). In addition, the Congolese/Zaire Leopard has been restored. Replacing the Lion as the national symbol.


Toward the note's lower right is a pouncing leopard. This feature is seen consistently on all Zaire notes, from 1971 onward. The observe's header translates to Bank of Zaire, the note's “One Zaire” value is displayed immediately below (center). Beneath the leopard (lower right), is a value box, stating the note's value a second time.

The reverse features a vignette with a number of symbolic elements, representing prosperity. To the left is a pair of polished ivory tusks. One tusk forms a bouquet of flowers, as a peaceful gesture. Although on closer inspection, the flowers are revealed to be coffee plants branches. A major cash crop in Zaire (Congo) and Africa in general. Notably the coffee fruits are depicted as green (unripe), this may be either a symbolic or artistic choice.


Behind the ivory tusk is what appears to be a Caloncoba fruit. This spiny fruit is often eaten by the African Forest Elephant and great apes, such as Gorillas. The symbolism may relate to the strength of such creatures. Or the tenacity required to eat such a fruit, symbolizing the ethics behind hard work.


This is further reinforced by the images to the right. To the immediate right is a coal powered plant, is conveyer can be faintly made out. Symbolizing the on-going modernization of the Zaire nation. Beside it a pyramid with a stairway and a small room at it's summit. The room at top representing a goal, that being national self-determination and modernization.


The vignette's text is similar to the observe, it states the note's "1 Zaire" value and the "Bank of Zaire". With additional number "1"s on each of the vignette's corners. Below is the Giesecke & Devrient logo and title. On the lower left is the "Bank of Zaire" logo, the coloration of engraving subtly shifts from rust orange (left) to lime green (right). On the upper left is a warning to counterfeiters, it translates to: "The infringer is punished with criminal servitude".


The watermark is a mirrored observe duplicate of “Chairman Mobutu”.

Additional Notes

  • This note's dimensions are 158 × 78 mm, making it slightly smaller than its 160 × 80 mm successor.

  • This note was issued 27 October 1977, the final year of its 1972-1977 printing run. It was succeeded by a slightly larger note, although virtual similar 1 Zaire note. Which was briefly printed from 1979-1981.

  • This note ceased being legal tender in 1993, due to adoption of New Zaire (1993-1998). Which itself is an obsolete currency, replaced by the Second Congolese Franc (1997). Itself inspired by the Second Congolese Franc (1887-1967), which the Zaire replaced.

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