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 is Part Three of our slideshow series, which looks at the 12 flags of north Africa and how each one conveys the story of the country’s nationhood.
Adopted on Nov. 17, 1915 with just a plain red monotone, the Moroccan flag was originally very bold and simple. Today it has two colors — red and green — symbolizing Islam and the country’s foregrounding of religion. The Seal of Solomon — the green star with the black outline which represents the inextricable link between God and nation — was added after the sultanate gained independence from France in 1956, and Morocco became a kingdom.
There are varying interpretations about what the red, green, and white embody on the Algerian flag. Some say the white is for purity, and other say peace. The green is said to represent Islam, although another interpretation says that it’s the color of nature’s beauty. Red is the blood spilled by martyrs during Algeria’s fight for independence against the French. The star and crescent are common signs of the Islamic faith, and are also found on the Turkish and Tunisian flags (all three countries were affiliated with the Ottoman Empire).
Similar designs to Tunisia’s flag were used in 1835 by the Bey of the Kingdom of Tunis, and flown mostly on naval vessels. Very similar visually to the Turkish flag, the colors and the central symbols represent an Islamic heritage and reverence, although like Algeria, they point to the relationship Tunisia and the Ottomans sustained. The pentagram’s five points embody Islam’s five pillars. Red is the blood of martyrs, white is purity. When Tunisia became a French protectorate in 1881, the flag still remained, and upon independence in 1956, the flag continued to fly.
This flag looks like a blend of the previous three, right? Libya changed hands several times in the last 80 years, and its flag gallery reflects that. From the Kingdom of Tripoli to the colonization by Italy in the 1930s to the occupation by France and the U.K., the banners kept shifting, but one thing didn’t change: the crescent moon-star combination. When independence was final and the Kingdom of Libya was declared in 1951, the flag you see today became official. Then coups, merging with the Federation of Arab Republic, and Gaddafi’s regime resulted in four subsequent flag changes, until the civil war that started in 2011 restored the one you see here.
For 30 years, the kingdom of Egypt had a green flag with a white crescent moon and three stars embodying Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the country’s three main religions. When King Farouk was toppled in the revolution of 1952, a new flag with three colors and an emblem were carefully chosen. The free officers who created the new Arab liberation flag included the design for the kingdom’s flag, as well a larger version of the eagle of Saladin that you see miniaturized today. The flag changed two more times as political hands shifted. What you see today is a black band symbolizing the end of oppression, a white band symbolizing the bloodless nature of the 1952 revolution; and a red band reminiscent of bloodshed before that revolution.
The flag of this country, which is also known as the Arab Republic of Saharawi, looks like a blender mix of the other flags you’ve seen. It bears the mark of Islam. While the banner without the emblem is the exact same flag of Palestine and Jordan, this was apparently unintended. The colors are, however, the official pan-Arab hues, each one representing a certain Arab dynasty. After Spain withdrew its colonial forces from the country, the flag was raised on Feb. 27, 1976. The majority of Western Sahara territory is occupied by Morocco.
Mauritania’s flag was adopted on April 1, 1959 — the year before its independence from France. The design was issued and implemented by former President Moktar Ould Daddah. The green, as it goes, conveys that Mauritania is indeed an Islamic republic. The gold of the classic Ottoman Islamic symbols (pointing upwards this time) represents ties to Pan-Africanism. Gold also conveys the color of the Sahara sands. This particular shade of green is said to symbolize growth and the future.
Formerly named Upper Volta and sporting another flag, Burkina Faso underwent a coup in 1983 that brought Thomas Sankara into power, and the country was established, along with its flag. On Aug. 4, 1984, the new flag of this small, impoverished country reintroduced colors that show unity with Pan-African aspirations, mostly inspired by the flag of Ethiopia. Most Pan-African colors pay homage to Ethiopia’s flag because it represents to them a break from colonization and a newfound independence. The red stands for revolution, and green embodies the natural resources of the land.
Sudan’s flag shows the colors of the Arab liberation, but uses less significant Pan-Arab colors than other countries such as Yemen, Egypt and Iraq. The red stripe here embodies Sudan’s struggle for independence, the white stands for peace and light, and the black literally means means “black” in classic Arabic. The name “Sudan” is derived from the Arabic word “sauod” meaning blacks — an indication of the skin color of the inhabitants living in the region, according to AncientSudan.org. Finally, the jutting-out green triangle symbolizes Islam, as well agriculture, which embodies prosperity. Sudan had a different flag when it gained official independence from Egypt and the U.K. in 1956. The flag you see here was adopted on May 20, 1970, designed by Abd al-Rahman Ahmad al-Jali.
This boldly tri-colored flag is nearly identical to the flag of Romania, save for a slightly darker blue in that of Chad’s. The flag was adopted in 1959, and the autonomous republic established a year later. Two of the three French “tricolores” are blue, symbolizing sky, hope, and agricultural prosperity. Red represents bloodshed for independence. The red and the yellow, which embody the sun and the desert, also stand for pan-Africanism. Despite multiple political upheavals since the ’60s, the flag of Chad has never changed.
The top orange strip is meant to represent the savannah grasslands in the northern part of Niger. White, as always, is purity, although some claim it is the Niger River. The grassy green is supposed to convey hope and fertility, especially of the southern regions of the country. The circle in middle is, you guessed it, the sun — independence. Niger’s has been flying unchanged since the West African republic’s liberation from France in 1961.
Most similar to the flag of Guinea, except the color order is reversed, this is another example of pan-African colors. The original ensign was developed in 1959 when Mali was integrated into the Mali Federation with Senegal and the Sudanese Republic, looking the same as above except with a black human stick figure called a “kanaga” dancing in the middle. In 1961, after independence from France and the withdrawal of Senegal from the Mali Federation, the kanaga was deemed unfit for the Islamic faith, which forbids images of human beings.