The Flag of Benin: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: January 10, 2023
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Flags are an easy way to identify countries, and the flag of Benin is no different. Like flags of most countries, especially in Africa, the flag of Benin tells stories of the country’s rich history. Despite having similar colors to other flags, the history, meaning, and symbolism behind the flag of Benin remain unique. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the flag of Benin and all there is to know about its rich history. 

Where is Benin?

Benin is one of Africa’s most stable democracies despite being a relatively small nation with a strong economy. The Republic of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. The country is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, Niger to the northeast, and Burkina Faso to the northwest. Although Porto-Novo is the country’s capital, Cotonou is the country’s largest and most populous city, economic capital, main port, and de facto administrative capital.

Republic of Benin map

The Republic of Benin is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, Niger to the northeast, and Burkina Faso to the northwest.

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©iStock.com/pavalena

The Founding of Benin

The French colonial conquest towards the end of the 19th century gave rise to Benin as a political entity. The kingdom of Dahomey is one of the oldest and most interesting in Africa and, according to records, spans over 400 years, from the early 17th century until the early 20th century. Dahomey expanded simultaneously with the transatlantic slave trade, becoming well-known to Europeans as a significant source of enslaved people. At the time, the kingdom relied heavily on military power and sold enslaved people in exchange for gunpowder, rifles, tobacco, alcohol, etc. As a result of British pressure to end the slave trade, which included placing a naval embargo against the kingdom and maintaining anti-slavery patrols close to its coast, Dahomey started to fall in the 1840s.

The kingdom was overthrown by the French in the second French-Dahomean war, where the last monarch, Béhanzin, was defeated in 1894. This defeat led to the kingdom being annexed as the colony of French Dahomey as a part of French West Africa.

From 1900 until 1960, when the country gained independence and adopted the name Republic of Dahomey, the region was still under the French Dahomey administration. The Republic was established on December 4, 1958, and on August 1, 1960, Dahomey gained independence and was accepted into the United Nations. Following its independence, Dahomey saw a period of political unrest that lasted from 1963 to 1972 and was characterized by the succession of six coups. The military regime led by Major Mathieu Kerekou changed the nation’s name from the Republic of Dahomey to the People’s Republic of Benin in 1975 and then to the Republic of Benin in 1990.

Characteristics of Benin

Benin covers an area of 44,310 square miles, with an estimated population of approximately 13 million. Because Benin is one of Africa’s top cotton producers, agriculture plays a significant role in the nation’s economy. Benin is also known for its diverse landscapes and ecosystems. Aside from its physical features, the country is also known for its diverse people and cultures.

Despite efforts to increase national unity and integration since 1960, there are still significant ethnic divisions in Benin. The country is home to people of diverse cultures, the most popular ones include the Fon, the Yoruba people that have connections with the Yoruba people of Nigeria, the Adja, and the Bariba. Each ethnic group has its own language that is spoken in addition to French, which is the official language and the language of teaching. Other popular languages in the country include Yoruba, Bariba, and Mina. 

In addition to ethnic differences, the Beninese people are also religiously different. More than half of the country’s population is Christian, and more than half of these people are Roman Catholic, with the rest being Methodist, Baptist, or another independent denomination.

Harvested cotton in Benin

Benin is one of Africa’s top cotton producers.

©Fabian Plock/Shutterstock.com

History and Symbolism of the Flag of Benin

The national flag of Benin is a flag with a vertical green band at the hoist and two horizontal yellow and red stripes on the fly side. France ruled Dahomey during its colonial era, and the colony was forbidden from having its own flag. They did this out of concern that it may exacerbate nationalistic sentiment and fuel aspirations for independence. However, the decolonization wave was getting stronger within Africa, and because of this, the French granted the then-kingdom of Dahomey a certain level of autonomy. The country was made a Republic and was approved on December 4, 1958, and shortly after that, a quest for a national flag started.

The flag’s colors have symbolic cultural, political, and geographic implications. According to the national song, the color green on the flag symbolizes the possibility of a brand-new democracy. The yellow is for the nation’s treasures, and the red is for the grit of the forefathers. The colors in the flag were first used by the African Democratic Rally. This political organization represented French West Africa’s interests in the French National Assembly at the time of independence, symbolizing the Pan-Africanist movement on a continental scale.

Flag of Benin waving n wind

Green on the Benin flag symbolizes hope of a brand-new democracy, yellow for the nation’s treasures, and red for the grit of the forefathers.

©karim Abd albaky/Shutterstock.com

The Beninese Flag Over the Years

Benin was a French colony until the middle of the 20th century, and the French government had forbidden it from having a flag of its own. After being awarded semi-autonomous status on November 16th, 1959, Dahomey unveiled its first flag. On the fly side, it had two horizontal bands that were yellow and red, and at the hoist, it had a vertical green band. Less than a year later, on August 1, 1960, Dahomey became independent.

Following the coup d’état of 1972 and the government’s acceptance of Marxism-Leninism as the official state doctrine, a new flag was unveiled in 1975. The flag had a green background with a red five-pointed star in the top-left canton. The flag, however, was never formally recognized by law and was only ever used as a stand-in. The country’s present flag has been in use since 1990. However, it is not a new flag – in 1990, the pre-1975 flag was reinstated once multi-party democracy had been restored.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/TAK


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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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Sources
  1. Gettysburg Flag, Available here: https://www.gettysburgflag.com/flags-banners/benin-flags
  2. WorldAtlas, Available here: https://www.worldatlas.com/flags/benin