Benin, a small country in West Africa, has a national flag which uses its design to pay tribute to its geography, history, and continental influences. The country has experienced changes since the Benin flag’s inception on November 16, 1959, including moving from a French colony to full independence, which have also had an impact on its design.
Benin was originally known as Dahomey during its time as a French colony, and after France granted them limited autonomy on December 4, 1958, they began creating their national flag. The flag has a green vertical band along the left side, otherwise known as the hoist side. The right side is split horizontally, with a yellow band on top and a red band on the bottom. Much of the flag’s symbolism is found in the colors, as the yellow and green represent Dahomey’s lush palm groves and drier savannas. The red, as in many flags, represents the blood shed during Dahomey’s history. There are also references to the colors in the lyrics of the national anthem, “L’Aube Nouvelle”:
In the green you read hope of spring;
The red signifies the courage of your ancestors;
The yellow foretells the greatest treasures.
In 1972, a new regime took control of the country. The new national flag was a solid green field with a red five-pointed star in the top-left corner, symbolizing the movement’s Marxist-Leninist ideals. The regime renamed the country Benin, and while the new flag was never adopted by law, it flew as the de facto flag until their collapse in 1990. Although the country kept the name Benin, they reverted to the original flag when the regime was replaced on August 1, 1990.
While the Benin flag honors the internal geography and history of Benin with its colors, they also have continental significance. The colors of red, green, and yellow also represented the Pan-Africanist movement at one time, as well as the African Democratic Rally. The African Democratic Rally represented the interests of several French West African countries, including Benin at the time of its decolonization. These colors also coincide with the colors of the Etheopian national flag, honoring its history as the oldest independent country in Africa.
While the design of Benin’s flag has changed during its history, it has consistently remained a symbol of the country’s history, geography, and heart. Additionally, its current design and colors pay homage to continental influences that have helped shaped the country during the last fifty years. The red, green, and yellow of the Benin flag are even referenced in the Benin’s national anthem, emphasizing its importance and heritage.