On February 3, 1960 British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan delivered a portentous speech to the Parliament of South Africa. Referring to the "wind of change" that was blowing over the continent, he announced the United Kingdom's intention to divest itself of its African colonies. In fact, this process was already underway, the Gold Coast colony having achieved independence as Ghana in 1957. Britain's other West African colonies were granted independence between 1960 and 1965.



The Crown Colony of the Gold Coast became the first British West African colony to achieve independence, in 1957. Like other European colonies on Africa's Atlantic coast, it originated as a group of European trading enclaves, variously Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Danish and English. The discovery of gold gave the territory its name, and it was also considered part of the Slave Coast, the region along the Bight of Benin from which most African slaves were acquired and transported to the Americas. By the middle of the nineteenth century the Gold Coast and its hinterland had come under British sovereignty and were consolidated as a crown colony.

The colonial ensigns of Britain's small West African colonies all used the same badge: an elephant and palm tree against a background of sky and hills, differenced only by the initials of the colony. The colonial government ensign was a British Blue Ensign with the colony's badge in the fly.  The new nation of Ghana adopted a national flag striped horizontally in the Pan-African colors: red, yellow and green. These colors were taken from the flag of Ethiopia, the only country on the African continent that had successfully resisted European colonization. The large black star on the yellow stripe signified Ghana's status as the first colony in West Africa to become an independent nation. Civil and naval ensigns on the British pattern were also introduced. In 1964 the leader of the independence movement and Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, abolished the constitution and set up a one-party state. The yellow stripe of the Ghanaian flag was changed to white—red, white and green were the colors of Nkrumah's Convention People's Party. But dissatisfaction with his increasingly despotic rule led a coup in 1966. Nkrumah was consigned to exile and the 1957 flag was restored.

Colonial Government Ensign


National Flag  •  1957-64 & Since 1966


National Flag •  1964-66


Civil Ensign  •  1957-64 & Since 1966



As the largest and wealthiest of Britain's West African colonies, Nigeria was expected to be the first of them to be granted independence, though in the event this did not happen until 1960, three years after the Gold Coast achieved independence as Ghana. Originally Nigeria consisted of various colonies and protectorates; these were amalgamated in 1914 to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Lagos Colony on the coast, which was centered around the port city of the same name, originally had a Blue Ensign of the standard West African pattern. When the united colony was created, it received a new badge: an interlaced green star called the Seal of Solomon, a symbol of Islam that also figures in the heraldry and vexillology of Morocco. The star was given a red background and within it was placed a British imperial crown over the inscription NIGERIA—this last a rather useless addition since when placed on a flag it was impossible to discern from a distance. Nigeria also was granted a Red Ensign defaced with the new badge to be flown by private and commercial ships registered in the protectorate portion of the colony. (Those registered in the colony proper flew the undefaced Red Ensign.) The chief executive, titled Governor-General, flew a flag of the standard pattern for British colonial governors: the Union Jack defaced with the colonial badge within a laurel wreath.

The national flag of independent Nigeria was chosen in 1959 after a national competition that attracted more than 2,800 entries. The green strips stand for fertility and agriculture; the white stripe denotes peace and unity. Originally Nigeria followed British practice and there were five versions of this flag: the plain national flag as shown below, a variant for official use on land with the state coat of arms on the white stripe, a naval ensign with a white field, a red cross and the national flag as a canton, a government ensign with a blue field and the national flag as a canton, and a civil ensign with a red field and the national flag as a canton. The state flag remains in use, the design of the naval ensign has been changed, and the other two ensigns have probably been abandoned. Between 1960 and 1963 Nigeria was a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. The monarch was represented in Nigeria by a Governor-General, whose flag was of the standard pattern for such posts: blue with the Royal Crest over a scroll inscribed with the country's name.

Lagos Colony  •  1862-1906

Niger Coast Protectorate  •  1893-1900


Colony & Protectorate of Nigeria
Government Ensign
  •  1914-60


Colony & Protectorate of Nigeria
Civil Ensign
  •  1914-60


Colony & Protectorate of Nigeria
Governor-General's Flag  •  1914-60


Federation of Nigeria
Governor-General's Flag  •  1960-63


Federal Republic of Nigeria  •  National Flag Since 1960



Like the neighboring Republic of Liberia, Sierra Leone originated as a refuge for freed American slaves: in its case the freedmen were so-called Black Loyalists, slaves who had sided with the British during the Revolutionary War and were emancipated by the Crown. Prominent among them were the Nova Scotian Settlers, former slaves whom the British had resettled in Nova Scotia. Failing to prosper there, party due to the harsh climate and partly because of white racism, the Settlers were transported to Sierra Leone. It was they who built Freetown, the port that eventually became the colonial capital. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, thousands of former slaves from different parts of Africa were liberated in Sierra Leone. In the course of the nineteenth century thousands more arrived, particularly from the West Indies. Eventually this mixed population gave rise to a new ethnic group, the Krio people.

In its early years the colony was run by a private corporation, the Sierra Leone Company. Later the British government took control and in 1924 the Colony and Protectorate of Sierra Leone was proclaimed. For most of the nineteenth century the governor of the British West African colonies (excluding Nigeria) was resident in Freetown. Independence came in 1961 and until 1970 Sierra Leone was a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth has head of state. In 1971 the country transformed itself into a republic.

The colonial flags of Sierra Leone were of the standard pattern. The flag adopted upon independence has horizontal stripes of green, white and blue. Green is said to symbolize the country’s forest-covered mountains; white and blue the waters and wave of the sea.

Colonial Government Ensign  •  1862-1914

Colonial Government Ensign  •  1914-61


National Flag Since 1961



British Gambia was much the smallest of the British West African colonies: an enclave following the course of the Gambia River 200 miles inland from its mouth on the Atlantic Ocean. Except on the coast, the country is completely surrounded by Senegal and at its widest point The Gambia stretches only 30 miles from north to south. These peculiar borders are the result of agreements between Britain and France in the colonial era. The colony gained independence in 1965, initially as a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. A republic was proclaimed in 1970 and in 2013 The Gambia decided to leave the "neo-colonialist" Commonwealth of Nations. The national flag adopted in 1965 reflects the country's geography, with its central blue stripe representing the Gambia River. Red stands for the sun, green for fertility and agriculture, and white for peace and unity.

Colonial Government Ensign

National Flag Since 1965