The colors and designs of any nation’s flag are never randomly chosen. They represent the triumphs and tribulations of history, the blood spilled for independence, the richness of a country’s agriculture, and its cultural heritage. In honor of national flag month (in the USA) here are 10 flags of eastern Africa that tell the story of each country’s nationhood.
The Eritrean flag is one of the newest in the world. When the Ethiopian-Eritrean Federation was established in 1952 after the British gave up control of the region, Eritrea hoisted its first flag. But in 1958, Ethiopia’s flag replaced Eritrea’s when one country annexed the other. In 1963 another fight for independence began and raged for 30 years. On May 24, 1993, the national flag you see above was adopted — the day Eritrea became an independent nation. The olive branch is a symbol borrowed from the U.N. flag, and the wreath is from the flag of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. Green represents fertility and agriculture; blue is the seas (especially the Red Sea); red the blood of martyrs; and yellow is mineral abundance.
Djibouti was the last country on the continent to gain independence from France. Formerly part of French Somaliland, in 1967, the colony was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas — the two main ethnic groups on the land. The national flag was adopted in 1977 based on a design used by the Liberation Front of the Coast of the Somalis following independence day (although the same flag had been used since 1972 by the African National Liberation Union). The Republic of Djibouti joined the U.N. on Sept. 20, 1977, and up went the flag. Green represents the Afar; light blue, the Issa; the red star stands for independence, and the white triangle stands for peace and equality.
Somalia’s flag was designed in 1954 by scholar Mohammad Awale Liban as an emblem for the Somali ethnic group. It was made in preparation for independence not yet achieved. The Somali Republic was formed on July 1, 1960, merging the former Italian Somaliland and the former British Somaliland. The colors pay homage to the U.N. flag in gratitude for its efforts to make Somalia a free country. The five-point white star represents different key regions where Somalis are found in Africa; the sky blue is the bordering Indian Ocean and the sky above.
Adopted on Dec. 12, 1963, Kenya’s flag reflected color choices by the Kenya African National Union, the leading political party after World War II that fought for Kenya’s independence. The party’s original flag was similar to the one above, minus the white stripes separating the solid colors, and with a white shield and spear central emblem. When independence from Britain was achieved on Dec. 12, 1963, the white stripes were added and the central emblem was modified with two spears and augmented to reflect the spirit of the Maasai people. The color black represents the people of Kenya; red is for the blood of humanity; and green is for honesty and peace. White binds them together, representing unity.
Adopted on June 30, 1964, the Tanzanian flag blended elements of the banners of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, representing the merging of the mainland (Tanganyika) and the offshore island (Zanzibar) into the United Republic of Tanzania. The flag of Tanganyika had two horizontal dark green stripes and an equal-sized middle black stripe separated by two thin yellow stripes. The Zanzibar flag was tricolor: the top sky blue, the middle black, and the bottom green. See how they’ve fused? Green represents the country’s natural lush vegetation, black is the color of Tanzania’s majority population, gold is mineral deposits, blue is lakes, rivers, and the Indian Ocean. The flag of Zanzibar, adopted in 2005, is the original design, although it manages to artfully blend in the Tanzanian flag on the upper left hoist corner.
This country is the first ever to hoist up an image of an AK-47 on its flag. Four centuries of Portuguese rule led to the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) forming a guerrilla movement against Portuguese colonizers in the 1960s and ’70s. The colonial flag was similar to the one above, minus the emblem. Upon independence on June 25, 1975, a modified version of this flag was lifted, the horizontal stripes now a dramatic diagonal cascade from the hoist side. In 1983, the flag you see here was made official, the yellow Marxist star augmented and the AK-47, peasant hoe, and book added. These were meant to embody education, the working class, and defense of the country.
The Malagasy rebels on the French-occupied giant island of Madagascar fought for liberation after World War II, using a red-and-white flag with blue stars. Prior to French colonization, the Merina Kingdom of Southeast Asia controlled Madagascar. Upon the Malagasy Republic’s autonomy on Oct. 14, 1958, the colors of the flag lifted reflected the history of the Malagasy back to Southeast Asia through the red and the white. Green commemorates the resistance by the peasant commoners to the French rule. The Democratic Republic of Madagascar, using the same flag, was declared in 1975.
The Republic of Seychelles is a chain of 155 islands off the northern tip of Madagascar. A struggle between France and Britain for the islands in the 19th century led to Seychelles becoming a crown colony for the British Empire in 1901, and independence was granted within the Commonwealth in 1976. A different flag was used for a year until the ousting of President James Mancham, and the Seychelles People’s United Party raised a red, white, and green flag. After a government shift in 1993, a less partisan flag (above) was adopted. The loud, diagonal multiple colors embody the government’s multi-party system.
Les Quatre Bandes –The Four Stripes — is what residents name the Mauritius flag. Like Seychelles and other Indian Ocean islands, this country was under both British and French rule for centuries. As with other colonies, the British Union Jack was set against a blue background with a specific badge to denote the colony of Mauritius. On March 12, 1968, the day the Republic of Mauritius became independent, the flag you see above became official. Yellow represents the light of freedom shining over the island; blue is the water of the Indian Ocean surrounding and hugging the islands; green is everlasting vegetation as a result of the beautiful weather, and red is in memory of the slaves, the colonized, and the freedom fighters. It is the only flag in the world besides the Central African Republic to use four equal-sized horizontal stripes.
This archipelago island nation between Madagascar and the African continent has a population of mostly African-Arab origin. It’s the only country in the southern hemisphere that is part of the Arab League, and 98 percent of the population practices Sunni Islam. The crescent/star emblem you see against the green background — a common representation of Islam — is found on the majority North African flags. Multiple variations of the flag were used before independence from the French in 1963. Subsequent coups and shifts led to the most current constitution being drafted on Dec. 23, 2001, and the hoisting of the current-day Comoros flag. The population of Cormoros was 717,503 in 2012, according to World Bank.