Post 250

Red Yellow Green: Reflections on the Flags of Africa


There is one country in Africa with a cross shape. Burundi has a white saltier, also known as the Saint Andrew’s cross. Scotland has one. Burundi’s flag has a green and red background, and in the centre of the flag, there’s a white disc. There are three stars, each with six points, shaped like the star of David, arranged on the disc. If you want religious symbolism, this flag is about as diverse as it gets, especially if you remember how much the Islamic countries liked to incorporate green and red. The big disc in the middle arguably has an Asian feel as well. So what happens to a flag that is everything all at once? I think it winds up with a bit of an identity crisis.


The flag of Mauritius has four colours. You don’t find very many flags with four horizontal bands in different colours like this one. I don’t mind it.

The flag of Botswana is a very nice blue, but running across the middle is a black stripe, bordered on the top and the bottom by white. Blue and white are such a great combination that even a big stripe of black isn’t enough to ruin it, as Estonia can testify. And in the case of Botswana, they have the best excuses ever for that black and white in the middle. It represents peace between races, and something else: the zebra. That’s cool.

Gambia’s flag has the same design as Botswana’s, but with different colours. It’s pretty good too.

Sierra Leon and Gabon both have really nice flags. They have refreshing and cheerful colours and just look plain smart. Sierra Leon has green, white and blue, and Gabon has green, yellow and blue.

That’s it for the ones without emblems. Things get more interesting when we move to the ones with emblems, but interesting isn’t always a good thing . . .


Rwanda’s flag isn’t bad. It has three colours and in the top right corner, there is a yellow sun which represents enlightenment. Should the sun be so far from the flagpole? What if the flag gets tattered, as many flags do? The first thing you lose is enlightenment.

Cape Verde’s flag has all the right pieces, but the arrangement is just ‘off.’ I have the urge to flip it the other way, so that the band is in the top half of the flag and so the circle of stars is in the centre or to the right or something.

Kenya’s flag is – whoa – what is that in the middle? A beetle? Okay. It’s a stylized Maasai shield and two spears crossed behind it. That one didn’t work out very well.

Ethiopia’s flag is strange from a colour point of view. The background colours of green, yellow and red are rather typical for Africa, but this one has a bright blue disc overlaid on the three colours, and in the middle is a stick-like star. The blue emblem is a relatively new addition, and although the star is supposed to testify to Ethiopia’s bright future, there is no bright future for those caught displaying the earlier version of the flag, which had no emblem. Various punishments await.

Malawi’s flag is a disaster. The top third of the flag is black and a red sun is rising in it. I don’t like red suns, especially if they rise in a black sky.

Speaking of suns, the flag of Niger has an orange disc in the middle, which represents either the sun or independence. I don’t think it’s good if your flag has a large circle in the middle for unknown reason.

Ghana’s background colours are red, yellow and green. In the middle is a black star. I don’t like black stars.

I want to say “Gambia’s flag has” but I see I should write, “The Gambia’s flag has.” That feels strange. The Gambia’s flag has red, blue and green bands separated by thin white bands. There are no surprises with this flag. Everything represents what you’d expect, but the red part represents the sun. The flag is fine and even likable.

Lesotho’s flag has nice enough background colours but something black and ‘interesting’ is in the middle. What is it? I’ll take a closer look and report back. Okay folks, it’s a hat. It’s a straw hat called a “mokorotlo.” Hmm. I suppose some places have crowns, and the Vatican flag has a bishop’s hat. I think the problem here, other than the fact that it’s rendered in black, is that you want something dignified for your flag, and folk symbols don’t always get you there. (Some animals, similarly, don’t get you there. A lion can look dignified, but a rooster won’t.) If you want to use folk symbols, I’d recommend incorporating them into a coat of arms style design, balanced with other objects from your kitchen and garage and cultural ceremonies.

Angola’s flag is red on the top and black and on the bottom, so it’s not off to a great start. The emblem here has three components, a star, half a gear and a machete (yes, a machete) arranged to remind one of the communist hammer and sickle. For a non-Islamic country, the flag sure reminds one of the Islamic flags.

Egypt’s flag is red on top, white in the middle and black on the bottom. Centred in the white band is the 1958 version of the golden Eagle of Saladin. I was surprised at how difficult it was to get basic information about this flag. I wanted to know, for instance, what the writing on the flag was, underneath the eagle. Finally, I found it. It says, “Arab Republic of Egypt.” The black band at the bottom of the flag represents the period of time when Egypt was under British control. Thus the Egyptian flag is one of many flags which incorporate symbols into its current flag which express negativity toward a past era. I don’t think that’s a good idea. It seems to me that any country or institution will undergo various hardships and struggles. Why memorialize these things and elevate them by giving them such prominence? Similarly, I have so often seen red on flags, with the idea that it symbolizes bloodshed on the way to independence. Is this a good idea? A country should be defined by what it is, and not by what it was against. Unity is one thing, but unity against an enemy of the time is another. If you knew nothing about history, you would imagine that England was the worst of powers, as you consider all the flags emphasizing their independence from it. Was England’s role entirely dastardly? Was the era under England entirely black? Egypt’s flag says that it was, but I believe that these ‘revolutionary’-style flags are sometimes designed in the heat of the moment, when recent losses and struggles are uppermost in the minds of those who decide on emblems and symbolism. But anyway, to return to Egypt’s flag, this eagle has a real Egyptian feel to it, by which I mean that it’s sculpted and stiff. Rigid animals are their forte. This art and this atmosphere are initially intriguing, pulling you in, until you realize that you really want to get out.

Let’s look at Libya. Red on the top, black next and green on the bottom. White star and crescent in the middle. Haven’t I seen this before?

Burkina Faso’s flag has a Christmasy feel to it: red and green with a normal-looking golden star in the middle. Nothing to complain about here. It’s distinct yet simple and rather cheerful.

Swaziland’s flag was interesting enough before the emblem arrived. The emblem is a black and white shield with a staff and two spears and some blue feathers. All of these over-sized items are shown horizontally. It’s as if the graphic designer just kept going and going and nobody had the nerve to tell him to stop.


Africa has a lot of chevron flags. Look at all these countries: Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Comoros, Democratic Republic of São Tomé & Príncipe, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.

Sudan’s flag is red white and black with a green chevron. It looks painfully similar to all the other flags with those colours in the Middle East.

South Sudan’s flag is similar to Sudan’s flag but it has small white stripes dividing the horizontal lines and a bright blue chevron with a tipsy yellow star on it. It really looks like the unsuccessful merger of two completely incompatible visual ideas.

Eritrea’s flag isn’t technically a chevron. It’s an isosceles triangle that extends from one end of the flag to the other. The red colour represents – you guessed it – blood from something at some time. You should take a look at this flag because it’s has a real optical-illusion feel to it. When you look at it, don’t you find that the fly side of the flag (on the right) appears to be bigger than the hoist side of the flag? The golden emblem of leaves looks quite good from a distance.

Djibouti has quite a good flag – blue and green with a white chevron. I don’t like stars in red (here it represents the blood of the ‘martyrs of independence,’) but at least it’s not an ocean.

If I ran a flag school, I think I might start with the flag of Comoros. It would be an example of a flag where many things were attempted at once with questionable results. It looks like a group project gone wrong. The colours don’t coordinate and the themes compete. Here are some stripes, here’s a chevron. Let’s add a crescent and some stars. Hmm, how shall we arrange them? I know! Let’s make them all in a column in a line. Hey! I know, I know! Let me talk, will you? The BEST. IDEA. EVER. We’ll put them in a VERTICAL LINE!!! We’ll stack ’em up and they’ll go from one end of the crescent to the other. We are AMAZING!

The flag of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé & Príncipe is just kind of ugly. Red chevron, two black stars on a green and yellow background. It’s as if they weren’t trying.

Mozambique. I took a look at this one and I can say that even when it’s only one inch across, it’s clearly a flag that didn’t work. Let’s go take a look. Hoo boy. Okay, so these folks are really into layering. On the stripes is a red chevron. On the red chevron is a yellow star. On the yellow star is a white book. On the white book is a black hoe. On the black hoe is a black rifle. Yes, I did write, “rifle.” It’s supposed to represent vigilance and defence. The word “symbol” here is quite a stretch. When you start including precisely shaped weapons, you’re making a catalogue and not a flag. Weapons are bad enough, but modern weapons are even less poetic. What’s the idea here? If you trespass against us, we’ll take our rifles and blam blam blam?

Zimbabwe has a very stripey flag, but I’m going to keep it here with all the chevron ones, instead of putting it into my special stripey flag category. On this white chevron, there is what looks like a yellow duck with front paws attached to some kind of rectangular base. That, my friends, is the Zimbabwe Bird. The flag features a drawing of this bird, based on an artifact found somewhere (presumably in Zimbabwe) at some time (presumably a while ago). If you want to know more, you’ve got Wikipedia.

South Africa isn’t exactly a chevron flag, but it’s got that kind of an idea. It’s has two lines coming to a point and continuing on together as one line. It is a colourful roadway sign, signalling that it’s time to merge. Put your turn signal on.

The people who made the flag for Equatorial Guinea were in the same class as the people who made the flag of Comoros. They had a lot of the same ideas, so maybe the class assignment required the use of horizontal bands, a chevron and stars. This group decided to place the stars in an arc along the top, and their big innovation was a tree in the middle. I’ll give the prize to this group, because the colours are more pleasing, the motto is solid (“Unidad, Paz, Justicia”), and the tree is likable enough.


Romania had a flag which was blue, yellow and red, and it did not have any emblems on it. However, during the Communist era, the flag was changed. The flag was changed so that there was an emblem in the centre. It had that emblem from more than forty years, from 1948 – 1989. I mention this because it means that when Chad chose a flag for itself, in 1959, the plain blue, yellow and red flag was not being used. I’m on Chad’s side on this one. A country cannot reserve for itself all variations of a flag. I sympathize with Romania in wanting to return to its pre-Communist flag, but it wasn’t available by 1989. By 1989, Chad had been using the flag for thirty years. A solution? Romania has a horizontal version of the blue, yellow and red flag in its history; it could return to that one.

The flags of Guinea and Mali are so similar that it’s a shame. Green yellow red yellow green. It’s not a good idea for one region of the world to use the same colour scheme over and over again, whether it’s those colours, the black, white, red and green combination or the red, white and blue combination. It becomes both boring and confusing.

Ivory Coast’s flag is, admittedly, different from Ireland’s flag. For one thing, the colours are in a different sequence. Ireland had it’s flag beginning in 1922, and Ivory Coast chose its flag in 1959. The visual impact, however, is the same. The other consideration is that flags are meant, for the most part, to be seen from both sides, which means that they can look even more similar to each other in some contexts. It’s too bad that Ivory Coast couldn’t have chosen something different.

Nigeria has green, white and then green again. It’s a unique flag, surprisingly, and it’s really quite fine.


Algeria’s flag is green on the left and white on the right. A red star and an excessively pointy crescent are in the middle.

Like many African countries, Cameroon has a green, red and yellow flag. A yellow star is in the middle. What can I say that I haven’t already said? In the context of all the flags so similar to it, this flag is forgettable.

Oh my! I actually didn’t see this coming. The flag is Senegal is almost exactly the same as Cameroon’s! It’s green, yellow and red (as opposed to green, red and yellow) and it has a red star in the middle (as opposed to a yellow star). Cameroon got the better deal here, because a yellow star is always better than a red one. On the other hand, are there any winners when everyone appears to be imitating everyone else?


The flag of Seychelles is wild. From the bottom left corner, there are five ‘rays’ shooting outward, widening as they do. It’s not visually appealing.

In 1963, the Democratic Republic of Congo brought in a diagonal stripe, with an accent colour of yellow on each side of the stripe. These accent colours give the flags a finished look. In 2006, the country moved to a very bright shade of blue, unfortunately. The deeper blue looked more mature and dignified, and provided a more fitting background for the star.

In 1964, Tanzania’s two states merged and they adopted a similar style of flag. This one has a blue and green background and a diagonal stripe going from one corner to the other. The stripe is black with yellow accent stripes on each side. Black, as you should know, is difficult to work with (black goes well with, um, black), and when it is adjacent to certain colours, it can produce a negative visual result. Black with white can work, and blues and greens can have a softening effect on black. However, the combination of black with hotter colours (red, orange and yellow) can look downright alarming, as makers of traffic signs and warning labels realize.

The flag of Namibia, adopted in 1990 upon Namibia’s independence, seems to be an imitation of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s, but the diagonal line is noticeably wider, which makes the diagonal line seem to be more of an interruption of the background (or even a cancellation of it). It has a stencil-style sun in the upper left corner.

The flag of the Republic of Congo (yes, this is a different country from the Democratic Republic of Congo) has the same old green yellow and red. I suppose having these colours on a diagonal does make them more interesting, but after seeing that colour scheme again and again, one almost wouldn’t mind seeing a duck instead.

I’m kidding.

Ducks don’t work on flags.


Central African Republic has four horizontal stripes, but what makes this flag different is that there’s a vertical red stripe going down the middle, which has the effect of slicing those four horizontal stripes into eight rectangles.

Togo has five stripes in alternating green and yellow and since the colour theme of Africa is green, yellow and red, I am sure that you can guess the colour of the canton in the upper left. Yes, indeed, it is red. For five additional points, can you guess the shape of the emblem on that red canton? Yes, indeed, it is a star.

Liberia’s flag reminds me of the United States’ flag, and a bit of reading shows me that this was done deliberately. Back in 1822, the American Colonization Society was involved in setting up freed slaves in Liberia. Those freed slaves wanted to show their ties to the United States, distinguishing themselves from Liberians born in Liberia. This flag shows those ties. I’m not a big fan of these acorn-from-the-tree flags because there are enough colours and design possibilities that a new nation should be able to devise something unique. Close duplication drags down the flags of both countries.

Uganda has a stripey flag with a chicken. Or wait. A rooster? No, no, silly! It’s a gray crowned crane. Oh. Okay, so it turns out that cranes don’t work on flags either. They’re better than rifles, but putting a bird (or any animal, for that matter) into stylized flag lingo is not easy. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s easier to fail than to succeed. In any case, Uganda’s flag’s many stripes, in black, yellow and red, are hyper and the net effect of this animated-style crane on a white disc on a vibrantly striped background reminds me of a pizza box.


Guinea-Bissau has a rectangle-based flag. I’m not going to have anything good to say about this flag. The colour scheme is the same ‘pan-African’ one red and green and yellow, and on the red rectangle, there’s a black star. Or wait, here’s something: a black star is better than a black rifle.

Speaking of pan-African, Benin’s flag is a colour block flag of green, yellow and red. This idea of having a colour scheme for a region is a very bad idea. Arguably, countries that share geographical regions have more to gain by distinguishing themselves from each other using their flags. After all, they are separate countries, aren’t they?

Madagascar’s flag has a white vertical section on the flagpole side, and the fly side is divided horizontally into green and red. I don’t mind it.


There are five countries here whose flags don’t fit.

Zambia’s flag is unexpected. On the fly side of the flag, there is an eagle, which symbolizing the Zambian people rising about the problems of the nation. Below the eagle, there are, presumably, the problems of the nation. Well, I guess not. I see that the black stands for the people (when they’re not rising about the problems of the nation?) and the red stands for their fight for freedom and the orange represents the land’s natural resources and mineral wealth. I don’t think that black should be used to represent people, because it is a total absence of colour. The colour symbolism is rather mixed up, as it is in many flags. You have the people represented twice, an event, and an attribute of the land. The design is innovative, and this is probably the best bird I’ve seen so far, but the composition looks unfinished. It’s rare to have the emblem on the right side, which in itself is an interesting phenomenon. There are so many countries with different cultures and religions, but there is, nevertheless, a general agreement as to where these important symbols go. They go in the middle or in the upper left corner.

Mauritania’s flag is completely green but in the centre there is a yellow star and crescent. This crescent isn’t even pretending to be a moon, positioned on its back with it’s ultra sharp points turned upwards.

Tunisia’s flag is completely red but in the centre there is a white disc containing a red star and crescent.

Morocco’s flag is completely red but in the centre there is a green star.

Somalia’s flag is completely blue but in the centre there is a white star.

That would be the second part of my hypothetical flag design school. I’d show the flag of Morocco next to the flag of Somalia as proof of the obvious: colours matter. If you don’t know which flag is better, then you haven’t been paying attention to these posts. If you don’t think there is such a thing as “better,” then you haven’t been paying attention to life.

Up Next: Flags of Oceania