Vol. XXIII, Issue 4 (Fall 2015): Globalizing Nigeria's Legal Education,
Pan-African Colors



Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor

Walton Brown-Foster
Copy Editor

Haines Brown

ISSN  1526-7822


Olayemi Akinwumi

Ayele Bekerie

Paulus Gerdes

Alfred Zack-Williams
(Sierra Leone)

Gumbo Mishack

(South Africa)



Jennifer Nicoletti
Academic Technology, CCSU

For more information on AfricaUpdate
Prof. Gloria Emeagwali
CCSU History Dept.
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, CT 06050
Tel: 860-832-2815


Table of Contents


Dr. Uwem Udok of the University of Uyo, Calabar,  reminds us of the history of Legal Education in Nigeria and  proceeds to compare general trends emerging in the US, the UK, India and China- with a view to encourage change  in the teaching of Law  in Nigerian Universities and Law Schools. He is also concerned with new types of services such as outsourcing, in operation across borders.  He argues that Nigerian policy makers and school administrators should be aware of these new developments, and encourage Nigerian scholars, teachers and practitioners in the Legal profession to be part of these ongoing global changes.  

While visiting Ethiopia’s Zeghie Peninsula, off Lake Tana, in March 2015, on my way to the historic Ura Kidane Meheret Church, I came across a tiny open-air  “ laboratory” where various types of flowers, leaves and seeds were  pulverized to provide pigment. I soon discovered that the secret of the numerous spectacular murals and wall paintings, in Ethiopian Churches and monasteries,   some dated more than a thousand years, was a tradition of local experimentation on such botanical resources, to produce various colors. The local chemists, some of whom are artists, take pride in producing authentic bright colors to suit their numerous artistic endeavors.

But what do the colors signify? Dr.  Abdul Bangura - the only scholar that I have met, so far, with doctorates in Political Science, Development Economics, Linguistics, Computer Science, and Mathematics - informs us of some of the underlying   connotations of color in an Africa-centered discussion.

We thank the two scholars for their illuminating perspectives.

Professor Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor



Comparative and Global Perspectives on Legal Education: a Blueprint for Raising the Standard of Legal Education in Nigeria

Dr. Uwem Udok*
LL.B (Hons) NIG. B.L (Hons) LAGOS,
LL. M (LAGOS), Ph. D (JOS)
University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

Technology and changes in government policies have contributed to the success of globalization in legal education around the world. There is now competition among countries to raise their standard of legal education. This paper outlines the categories of legal education in the global context, and legal education in different jurisdictions. It further recommends a blueprint for Nigeria to develop its legal education to meet global standards.

1.1 Introduction
Legal education is going through profound change around the world because of globalization, changes in technology and government changes in the organization of Legal services1.

Nigeria requires a system of quality and reliable legal education which is essentially designed to produce critical lawyers armed with the requisite practical knowledge of the Law2. Taking into cognizance the transformation in the global context of Legal education, Legal Education in Nigeria requires a turn around to be able to meet the emerging challenges. This paper therefore examines legal education in the global perspective with a comparative analysis of legal education in many Jurisdictions. This serves as a blueprint for Nigeria to adopt, to raise its standard of Legal education.

2.1 Meaning of Legal Education

Legal Education can be defined as the rendition of services requiring the knowledge and application of legal principles and teaching to serve the interest of another with his or her consent3. Two significant issues can be distilled from, the above definition, viz, services and teaching. Legal Education therefore contemplates the provision of legal practice or services and the impartation of knowledge through the application of legal principles4. From the above definition, it is submitted that a Law teacher is entitled to teach and also provide legal services to clients.

3.1 Historical Development of Legal Education in Nigeria

3.1.1 Pre-Colonial Era

Prior to the Europeans’ arrival in Africa, there appeared to have been no formal system of legal education that produced “Legal professionals” as the term is presently understood5. Even with no formal legal education system, traditional African culture attached great importance to the Law and the legal education6. Traditional legal systems and customary laws in African polyethnic societies formed “part of a functioning coherent and consistent totality of the African way of life7”. With the advent of the colonial system of administration, it brought with it enormous socio-economic and political change to the Nigerian communities8. Socially, a new society emerged in the urban centres in which contracts, rather than status governed interpersonal relationship. The traditional methods of disputes resolution could not be used to settle disputes because disputes and their resolutions became more complex and less amenable to traditional dispute resolution mechanism9.

The Colonial administration had to establish native and English-type courts for adjudication of disputes and this necessitated the participation of lawyers10. The lawyers were actively involved in the administration of English-type courts11. “Throughout the Colonial period, there was no institution for the formal training of Lawyers in Nigeria12.” The Chief Judge had to appoint fit and proper persons with basic education and some knowledge of English Law and practice as attorneys. This necessitated the appointment of clerks who had acquired knowledge of the rudiments of English Law as attorneys and were granted license to practice for six months renewable after 6 months provided they were of “good behavior”. The local attorneys practiced alongside those who were trained overseas, mostly, in Great Britain13

In 1876, the Supreme Court ordinance was enacted to regulate the legal profession and to define who could engage in the practice of Law in the Colony14.  The ordinance provided those who had already been admitted as barristers or advocates in Great Britain or Ireland, or as solicitors or writers to the signet, in any of the courts at London, Dublin or Edinburgh were to be allowed by the Chief Judge to practice as barristers and solicitors in the (Lagos) colony15. In 1914, the Supreme Court ordinance 1914 repealed the Supreme Court ordinance of 1876.  This marked the second phase of legal training in Nigeria16. The legal training then in United Kingdom did not take into account the Nigeria Legal System especially, our customary law and the strong influence of Islamic law17.

In 1959, the Government of the Federation tried to correct these anomalies by setting up the Unsworth Committee to consider and make recommendations for the future of Legal Profession in Nigeria18. The Committee’s report (the Unsworth report) recommended, inter-alia, that

A.    Legal education should be provided locally and adapted to the needs of Nigeria.

B.     Law faculties should be established at University of Ibadan and any other subsequent university to offer degrees in law, in Lagos.

C.     A law school should be established to provide practical training for law graduates.

D.    A law degree should be a requirement for practice of law in Nigeria

 3.1.2 Post-Colonial Era

Based on the recommendations, in November, 1961 a Board was constituted to make arrangement for the establishment of the Nigeria Law School. This was accepted by the Government and the local Education Act, 1962 was passed under which the Council of legal Education was set up19. Though the recommendation by the unsworth committee for the establishment of Faculty of Law in the University College, Ibadan was not implemented however, in 1962 the University of Nigeria, Nsukka established the faculty of law, the first in the country20. This was followed by the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) IIe-Ife, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Lagos in 1961, 1962 and 1965 respectively21. From the 1970s, several universities were established by both the Federal and State Governments with most of them having law faculties. There are currently over 30 faculties of law in Nigeria. A uniform curriculum designed by the National Universities commission and approved by the Council of Legal Education is taught by all Nigeria Universities in order to maintain the minimum academic standard22. The subjects are divided into compulsory and optional courses. The are 12 compulsory courses23 and 11 optional courses 24.

Law students in Nigerian faculties of law, to complete the package also register for elective courses outside their faculties. After the completion of the law course at the faculty of law, the Law student registers at the Nigerian Law School for a One-year intensive practical training. Currently there are six campuses25 of the Nigerian law school. The main campus of the law school is located in Bwari, Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory.

4.1 Legal Education in the Context of Globalization

Legal education in the context of globalization falls into the following categories26.

  i.  Importing foreign students to domestic law schools for LL.M and research degrees with
      reference to Germany and the US.

 ii.  Exporting domestic law school programmes to foreign countries, sometimes in conjunction with a
      host institution.

 iii. Creating global law schools that attempt to appeal transnationally

(1) Importing Foreign Students

Foreign students are usually recruited on the LL.M or Ph.D postgraduate programme and this is a typical method of supplying legal knowledge to students outside one’s own borders. Foreign students have for many years been recruited by the Inns of Court, but this type of educational programme has been replaced by the forceful marketing of university LL.M courses which are often highly specialized27. Before the 1990s most LL.M programmes were small and relatively informal. Little special, provision was made for foreign or even domestic students on the LL.M programme. Between 1990 and 2000, there was expansion of LL.M programmes due to ever increasing demands on, from business and commerce on their professional advisers. In Germany, law schools gained publicity in reputation and financially from this expansion28.

For foreign graduate students in the US, the LL. M experience signifies that they can speak English which has become the lingua franca for many cross-border transactions. It also assists them in obtaining a US legal credential which they can use in place of their own home one or in conjunction with it29. Location is important for LL.M programmes since ideally students want to be close to law firms unless the schools carry sufficient prestige e.g. Harvard or Yale. New York and London are the central choices providing opportunities for internship and work experience. Between 2008 and 2009 over 4,500 foreign Lawyers took New York State Bar Exams. The New York State now requires foreign Lawyers offering LL.M to take a minimum of 24 credit hours of US Law courses in order for them to take New York Bar Examination. There are also content requirements for the US law courses30.

 (2) Exporting Domestic Law School, with Reference to the U.S.

It is now common to see a number of universities from countries such as the US, Uk and Australia establishing campuses in overseas locations especially in the East e.g. Singapore, China, Malaysia and Japan31. It has really helped these universities to maximize revenue and tap into new markets. One of the universities is the New York university school of law’s arrangement with the National University of Singapore. Students acquire two LL.M degrees after studying in Singapore, Shanghai and New York City. The final stage of their courses includes an opportunity to take the New York Bar exam32.

Another programme is the Cornell Law school-universities Paris 1 dual JD and master en Droit enabling students to take both US and French bar exams-Students have to be fluent in both languages. The University of Wisconsin-Madison runs an East Asian Legal students centre that runs a sense of LL.M. programmes in china alongside professional courses for judges and other officials as well as facilitating US JD students to spend study time in China33.

 (3) Creating Global Law Schools

In recent years there have been attempts by established law schools to create a global faculty. Example is the New York University which set up its Hauser programme in the mid-1990s inviting a “global” faculty and student body. However, it did not succeed as a new model for Legal education34. More dynamic approach to global law school is the McGills’ (trans-systemic) approach whereby students are taught that law is to be found not just in the law books and statutes but also transactions, customs, conventions.

One of the latest incarnations in global law school is the Jindal Global Law School in Delhi, India, a private institution funded by corporate money. The institution prepares Indian Lawyers for elite positions in the legal profession. The faculty is cosmopolitan with most possessing international law degrees. It has signed an agreement with US law firm White & Co to provide executive and continuing legal education. The two will also set up adjunct and visiting professorships and internships for the law students35.

Another approach in global law school is the combination approach where the educational system of two or more jurisdictions is married together. The Peking University school of Transnational law is an example of such venture. It is a Chinese school but it draws its courses from the American law curriculum, language and substance. Thus students are expected to graduate with both an American JD and a Chinese Juris master.  The idea is to produce a cadre of transnational lawyers capable of functioning in any legal or business environment while undergoing the legal training wholly in china36.

5.1 Legal Education and Rise in Technology

It is pertinent to examine the rise in technology and its impact on the practice of law indeed; certain fundamental changes have taken place in global legal education. The obvious one is the outsourcing from the US of legal services to countries like India37. The outsourcing industry has grown enormously in the 21st century. Just like the world is becoming flatter and therefore potentially more intricately linked, lawyers are affected as their worlds become virtually tied together and substantially convergent38. Clients are now seeking legal advice from around the world39. Now a law firm can undergo routine document production through technological knowledge management system, thus reducing law firm technology in their law practice40.

Corporate legal practice requires compartmentalization of practice. Compartmentalization requires efficient inter-departmental communication through means such as email and instant messaging41.

A number of law firms have now specialized in anti-trust, telecommunication, media & technology. The rise in technology goes hand in hand with specialization. Outsourcing depends on technology for its success and will have great impact on legal practice and education Companies that employ Indian lawyers are setting up offices in the UK and the US42.

Apart from the use of computers by students in the class for note-taking adjuncts, a new approach in the use of technology in legal education has been introduced. It is the creation of legal game by a Dutch Law Firm called “The Game” and the running of a new approach to legal education called “Law without walls (lwow)”43, designed at the University of Miami School of Law. The former depicts a simulated environment to take over by a foreign firm and includes real documents and interview with characters. The latter brings together a number of law schools from different countries and time zones through the medium of interactive video-conferencing44.

5.1 Legal Education in Different Jurisdictions
(A) UK Legal Education

To gain admission in a law programme, there are three methods. The shortest and least complicated is for applicants to take A levels to enter university and take a law degree which is followed by a one year legal practice course (LPC) and two-year training contract45. Another method is to take A levels then take a degree in any subject and follow with one-year common professional exam (or graduate Diploma in Law). This will translate to seven years. Yet another method is either a student can enroll on the LPC, take the PSC and be admitted, such student must have GCSE or a mature student who enters some of kind of unspecified legal employment. The student’s joins the institute of legal execute (ILEX) and take ILEX part one and two examination to become a legal executive.

In terms of quality review of the law programme, there is no explicit review by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and the review by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board for legal practice course and Bar Professional Training course respectively46. The UK operates a polycentric method of legal Education47.

(B) US Legal Education

The US operates the monocentric system of legal education. Here the US department of education has granted to the American Bar Association to accredit and approve law schools and regulate them. Therefore a student who graduates from the university with a law degree can sit the bar examination of any state in the US. There are approximately 200 ABA accredited law schools in the US. There are three types of law schools; the ABA state accredited and unaccredited law school. California has the largest number of state accredited and unaccredited law school in US48.

Law schools in US are distinguished from graduate schools which confer advance degrees in research students i.e. Ph.Ds. Admission to graduate school normally requires the completion of an undergraduate degree which for law can be in any discipline. To gain admission into the Law school one has to satisfy the ABA requirements. The duration for most full-time JD programmes take three years although there are some programmes that reduce the time to two years. A student who satisfactorily completes the law school is allowed to take the state bar examination. However, before then, the students take a two-month bar review course which prepares students for the actual examination. The Bar examination takes the form of Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. It covers contracts, torts, constitutional law, crime, evidence and civil procedure49.

In some states, a passing grade in this exam is sufficient for admission to the state bar. In US. There is Uniform Bar Examination but states can supplement it with additional test if they so determine50.

(C) India

To qualify to practice law in India, one must be a member in one of the state bar associations, all of which requires an undergraduate law degree (LL.B, which is three years of study)51.

 (D) Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, there is a distinction between barristers and solicitors. Admission to both professions requires a law degree (either the LL.B., which requires four years) and the postgraduate certificate in law (which requires nine months). However, the apprenticeship to become a barrister is only one year, while a solicitor must apprentice for two years52.

  (E) Canada

Canadian legal education mainly follows US model. There are 17 law schools where a four-year bachelor’s degree is followed by a three-year law degree. This can either by in a common law or civil law faculty. However, in Quebec the civil law faculties do not require a preliminary for entry.

After law school, a graduate joins a law society in one of the provinces- Onontario is the largest and articles for a period in a law firm, then take the society’s licensing examination.

Unlike US, there is no national standard for legal education in Canadia. In USA, we have the ABA as the regulatory body. There is a “task force on Canadian common law Degree set up by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. The task force sets out a number of standards covering competences, skills, problem solving, oral and written communication and the substantive legal knowledge53.

Quite a number of Canadian schools now prefer JD degree more than LL.B and some faculties now have joint ventures with US law schools for their graduates to complete their studies with both Canadian and US law degrees54.

(F) Australia

In Australia, there are 32 accredited university law schools of which 28 are public and two private institutions. University accreditation is done on National level while law school accreditation is state by state. An equivalent of ABA in Australia is the Law Council of Australia. The Law Council of Australia has been working together with ABA to improve access for Australian lawyers to the US both Canadian and US legal education have similarities with Australian legal education55. This is because one must study in another discipline which is then combined with study in law.

In Australia, law is a three year degree programme and a full study is around five years. There is exchange of students programme between US and Australia. Practical legal training is compulsory and is often done as a postgraduate element or through the clinical legal education. It must be noted that unlike other jurisdictions, Australian states do not examine their entrants but they are evaluated on the basis of their academic and practical training in addition to character and fitness requirements. New lawyers are given a restricted practicing certificates for their first two years that necessitates supervision.

(G) South Africa

In South Africa, the LL.B is essentially a four-year undergraduate programme.56. Practical training is required after the LL.B degree. South Africa has nine Practical Legal Training Schools (PLTS) approved by the provincial law societies. A law graduate who undergoes an LL.B graduate’s training with a required five-week practical training course and additional five-months training at PLTS only needs to serve one year of articles (of clerkship) instead of two57.

Articles of clerkship might be undertaken at university law firms, university law clinics public interest law firms such as legal resources center. After the clerkship, the law graduate must pass the attorney’s admission examination in order to apply for admission as an attorney58.

Candidate attorneys participate in community service apprenticeship in public interest law clinics. Law clinics enroll both candidate attorney and law student to train them on practical legal skill59.

(H) China

In China, legal education is loosely based on a 4-2-3 system. The first degree, LL.B, is a four year programme which includes a substantial number of non-law courses. LL.B candidates are selected from high school graduates who have passed the National University Admission examination60. Law school then selects their entrants by status. The second degree is the LL.M or JM which takes between two and three years. Finally there is the Ph.D./LL.D which is a further three years. The JM was introduced by both the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education to modernize legal education along the line of US legal education both in content and in form. It is to encourage non-law graduates to take law. The LL.M is considered more academic than the JM61.

One aspect of the Chinese system that is unusual is that sitting the bar exam is open to both law and non-law graduates. The National Judicial Examination similar to the Bar exam in Nigeria is held once a year and is opened to Chinese citizens only. On passing, a preliminary practicing certificate is awarded which permits training in a law office. Students on JM graduate programme are able to become members of the bar before they graduate Non-law graduates are allowed to sit for the exam and because of that, they record high failure rate62.

6.1 Globalizing Legal Education in Nigeria

Legal education has witnessed transformation globally and many countries have introduced changes in their legal education to meet global demands. Even those that have not succumbed to the effect of globalization in their legal education have either directly or indirectly succumbed to Americanization63. For those that have succumbed to the effect of globalization, this can be felt or seen in the area of information communication technology, exchange of student or academic staff, affiliations, outsourcing, admission, curriculum development, teaching and examination to mention a few. Indeed, Nigeria cannot isolate itself from the wind of change blowing in global legal education. Nigeria can develop and improve its legal education globally in the following area:

(1) Technology
The development and deployment of advanced technology in legal education is becoming widespread and Nigeria should take advantage of these technological developments in global legal education. A Law Firm can undergo routine document production through technological knowledge management system thus reducing the law firm spending.

Compartmentalization of corporate practice through efficient intra-departmental communication and inter-departmental communication through means such as email communication, video conferencing and instant massaging64 should be carried out in the law firms.

Law faculties or the Council of Legal Education in partnership with the National Universities Commission should review the legal education curriculum to introduce courses like Telecommunication law, Anti-trust and Media & Technology Law in our law faculties65. Computer legal games depicting scenes of legal proceedings like the one developed by a Dutch law firm called” the Game” should be introduced66. This would stimulate indigenous innovation

(2) Exchange Program
Law Faculties and law schools in Nigeria can sign agreement with foreign Universities law faculties or law schools for exchange programmes, whereby undergraduate law students in Nigeria or those in law school, visit these foreign universities law faculties or law schools and undergo short-term courses lasting a period of time depending on the programme. Also adjunct and visiting professors can equally be accommodated in the exchange programme67.

(3) Affiliations with Foreign Universities Law
There could be a combination approach in global legal education whereby educational institutions in two different jurisdictions are married together. For instance, faculty of law, University of Uyo can affiliate with the New York University School of law. It draws courses from the American law curriculum and students are expected to graduate with both LL.B and an American JD. The idea is to produce a cadre of transnational lawyers capable of functioning in any legal or business environment while undergoing the legal training wholly in Nigeria68.

(4) Programme Development
Career choices by students are profoundly affected by the diversity and richness of the programme menu of the law faculty, counseling received in school and nature of the market where students will be employed69. Global legal education entails mounting of law programmes or courses which are highly specialized and attractive to foreign students.

Law programmes or courses should be introduced in the Nigerian university which is highly specialized. It will attract publicity, reputation and great financial standing to the law faculty and the university as a whole. To attract foreign students, the law curriculum should be reviewed to include another language like French as a requirement for admission into the LL.B programme and same should be introduced as core law course in all the law faculties in the country.

(5) Outsourcing of Legal Services
The outsourcing industry has grown enormously in the 21st century. There has been outsourcing of legal services to countries like India. Clients are now seeking legal advice from around the world. If our legal education is well developed in the global perspective, there is no reason, why outsourcing of Legal services cannot be extended to Nigeria. Nigeria’s Lawyers should be sought after by clients all over the world seeking legal advice. Therefore, Nigerian lawyers must embrace ICT in their private practice.

7.1 Conclusion

Most countries in the world have today embraced global legal education. This is because globalization in legal education has created avenues for rapid development in the area of ICT, admission system, curriculum development, training, teaching and examination and exchange programmes. Nigeria stands to benefit a lot in the aforementioned areas by keying into global legal education and join other countries like China, India, Canada and Australia, just to mention a few that have developed their legal education in line with global standards. To achieve this there is need for all the stakeholders in the educational system to join hands together to move forward our legal education to the next level that will be able to compare with the global legal education standard.

 End Notes

*Senior  Lecturer, Head of Department Private Law, Faculty of Law, University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria +234824787818. E-mail: uwemdudo@yahoo.com or lifeudok@gmail.com


Pan-African Colors: An Africancentric Analysis
Dr. Abdul Karim Bangura
Ph.D. in Political Science, Development Economics,
Linguistics, Computer Science, and Mathematics

This paper provides an Africancentric analysis of the Pan-African colors, thereby filling a critical void in the scholarly literature. To do so, the following two major research questions are probed: (1) what is the history of the Pan-African colors? (2) What are their Africancentric meanings? In order to provide substantive responses to these questions, the Africancentric research methodology is employed to ground the analysis. The findings delineated after the systematic investigation reveal that the Africancentric historical development and characteristics of the Pan-African colors have overwhelmingly more positive meanings associated with the colors than negative, and even the few negative connotations are usually the result of distinct situations; from ancient to modern Africans, color was and is still deemed to be a vital element of the African worldview; and the Pan-African colors will live forever in the hearts and minds of Africans in the continent and its Diaspora.


The Pan-African colors—also referred to as the African colors, the African Nationalist colors, the Universal African colors, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) colors, the Marcus Garvey colors, the International African colors, the Black Liberation colors, the Black Nationalist colors, the New Afrikan Liberation colors, and the Bendera Ya Taifa (Kiswahili for “Flag of the Nation”) colors—comprise a highly revered political symbol to Africans in the continent and its Diaspora. The colors are black, green, red, and yellow (representing gold), and were derived from the traditional Ethiopian flag (the modern version has seen a number of different emblems placed at different positions on the flag over time) and the UNIA or Pan-African flag. shown in Figures 1 and 2. It behooves me to note by quoting Jenny Hill here that “In ancient Egypt yellow (khenet or kenit) represented that which was eternal and indestructible, and was closely associated with gold (nebu or nebw) and the sun. Gold was thought to be the substance which formed the skin of the gods and numerous statues of the gods were either made of gold or covered with gold leaf and the skin of the god was often painted gold in two dimensional images” (Hill, 2010).

Figure 1 - Traditional Ethiopian Flag

Traditional Ethiopian Flag


Figure 2 - UNIA or Pan-African Flag

UNIA or Pan-African Flag

While there are numerous brief descriptions, meanings and histories of the colors written on the Internet by sellers of merchandise bearing the colors (e.g., amazon.com), news reporters (e.g., Pistor, 2014; Marschka, 2014; Raychaft, 2014; Thompson, 2014), authors of blog posts (e.g., Shakur, 2007; Powell, 2014; Kuschk, 2012; Saunders, Sr., 2014; Buzzle Staff, 2011; Ebony Haze Inc., 2011; UNIA-ACL, 2014), vector graphic designers (e.g., Pixabay, 2014), rap song writers (e.g., Genius Media Group, 2014), and writers of lesson plans (e.g., Miami-Dade County Schools, 2014), not a single work exists in any scholarly journal or book that has systematically analyzed the colors, at least to the best of my knowledge after laborious library and Internet searches. I therefore seek to fill this void in the scholarly literature in this essay. This endeavor is important because symbols, as some scholars and I have observed, are critical in promoting social integration; fostering legitimacy; inducing loyalty; gaining compliance; providing citizens with security and hope; and yielding deeper dyadic, triadic and polyadic meanings (e.g., Edelmam, 1964; Jones, 1964, Merelman, 1966, Cobb and Elder, 1976; Elder and Cobb, 1983; Bangura, 2002a & 2002b). These same factors must have motivated the adopters of the African colors and their wide use from the late 1800s to this day.

Moreover, different colors have conveyed different meanings to Africans since antiquity. For example, as April McDevitt points out,

In ancient Egypt, color (iwen) was an integral part of the substance and being of everything in life. The color of something was a clue to the substance or heart of the matter. When it was said that one could not know the color of the gods, it meant that they themselves were unknowable, and could never be completely understood. In art, colors were clues to the nature of the beings depicted in the work. For instance, when Amon was portrayed with blue skin, it alluded to his cosmic aspect. Osiris’ green skin was a reference to his power over vegetation and to his own resurrection (McDevitt, 2014).

Another example is the Kente cloth. As the Midwest Global Group, Inc. notes,

[The Kente cloth] has it roots in a long tradition of weaving in Africa dating back to about 3000 B.C. The origin of Kente is explained with both a legend and historical accounts. A legend has it that a man named Ota Karaban and his friend Kwaku Ameyaw from the town of Bonwire (now the leading Kente weaving center in Ashanti), learned the art of weaving by observing a spider weaving its web. Taking a cue from the spider, they wove a strip of raffia fabric and later improved upon their skill. They reported their discovery to their chief Nana Bobie, who in turn reported it to the Asantehene (the Ashanti Chief) at that time. The Asantehene adopted it as a royal cloth and encouraged its development as a cloth of prestige reserved for special occasions (Midwest Global Group, Inc., 2014).

The Midwest Global Group, Inc. adds that

Kente is used not only for its beauty but also for its symbolic significance. Each cloth has a name and a meaning; and each of the numerous patterns and motifs has a name and a meaning. Names and meanings are derived from historical events, individual achievements, proverbs, philosophical concepts, oral literature, moral values, social code of conduct of conduct, human behavior and certain attributes of plant and animal life. Patterns and motifs are rendered in geometric abstractions of objects associated with the intended meaning (Midwest Global Group, Inc., 2014).

Thus, the major research questions probed in this essay are as follows: (a) What is the history of the Pan-African colors? (b) What are their Africancentric meanings? Before providing answers to these questions, it makes sense to begin with a brief discussion of the Africancentric research methodology that undergirds the analysis to follow.

Africancentric Research Methodology

As I recount in my book titled African-Centered Research Methodologies: From Ancient Times to the Present (2011), from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, many, and consistent, definitions of Africancentricity were proferred by Africanists. The first definition was by Molefi Kete Asante who defined “Africancentricity [African-centered] as the placing of African ideals at the center of any analysis that involves African culture and behavior” (1987:6). The second definition was by C. Tsehloane Keto who defined the “African-centered perspective [as an approach that] rests on the premise that it is valid to position Africa as a geographical and cultural starting base in the study of peoples of African descent” (1989:1). The third definition was by Wade Nobles who defined “Afrocentric, Africentric, or African-Centered [as being] interchangeable terms representing the concept which categorizes a quality of thought and practice which is rooted in the cultural image and interest of African people and which represents and reflects the life experiences, history and traditions of African people as the center of analyses. It is therein that the intellectual and philosophical foundation [with] which African people should create their own scientific criterion for authenticating human reality” exists (1990:47). The fourth definition was by Maulana Karenga who defined “Afrocentricity...as a quality of thought and practice rooted in the cultural image and human interest of African people [and their descendants]. To be rooted in the cultural image of African people is to be anchored in the views and values of African people as well as in the practice which emanates from and gives rise to these views and values” (1993:36). Finally, Lathardus Goggins II defined “African-centered [as being able] to construct and use frames of reference, cultural filters and behaviors that are consistent with the philosophies and heritage of African cultures in order to advance the interest of people of African descent” (1996:18).

From the preceding definitions, it is evident that Africancentricity presupposes knowledge of a commonality of cultural traits among the diverse peoples of Africa which characterize and constitute a worldly view that is some how distinct from that of the foreign world views that have influenced African peoples. Africancentricity simply means that the universe is a collection of relationships, and an individual or a group being in that universe is defined by and dependent upon these relationships. Africans, prior to European and Asian dominance, and still to some degree now, considered the Cause or God as being a part of His creation while Europeans on the other hand considered God separate from His creation.

Furthermore, Asante suggests that in the analysis of what he calls the “three fundamental Afrocentric themes of transcendent discourse: (1) human relations, (2) humans’ relationship to the supernatural, and (3) humans’ relationships to their own being” (1987:168) that if done with an awareness of the interrelatedness of these themes, a greater understanding of the African being will be acquired. These themes are embedded in the following academic disciplines from an Africancentric perspective:

(a)    Psychology is the study of the way in which the mind works and the manifestation of those thoughts into actions or behaviors while recognizing the distinct character of African thought processes and behavior. In particular, this suggests the predominance or greater use of the right hemisphere, the intuitive side, of the brain when compared with other peoples and its subsequent effects on thoughts and behaviors.

(b)   Anthropology is the study of the physical, social, and cultural adaptation of African peoples to their ever-changing environment.

(c)    Theology is the study of the way in which Africans define the Supreme Being that is responsible for the creation and sustaining of the universe and all in it and their relationship to the Supreme Being, God.

(d)   History is the recording and studying of the relationships between events. From an Africancentric perspective, the African conception of time, cyclic as opposed to the European linear, must be used in application of this discipline in order for it to truly be considered Africancentric.

(e)    Linguistics is the study of the way in which language is structured and its nature, as well as the particular way in which Africans conceive and represent the universe in their languages.

There are other areas of study in which an Africancentric perspective can and should be applied in order to grasp the impact that African cultures have had in those disciplines: Egyptology, literature, music, political science, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, mathematics, the natural sciences, etc. As in the African conception of the universe, all things are defined by relationships and, therefore, Africancentricity in its application can only be successful when the interrelated natures of these disciplines are reconciled.

Brief Historical Background of the Pan-African Colors

As stated earlier, the Pan-African colors were derived from the traditional Ethiopian flag and the UNIA or Pan-African flag. The former has the colors green, yellow, and red; the latter has the colors red, black, and green.

The traditional Ethiopian flag was adopted in 1897 (rastafarian.nl, 2014; worldflags101.com, 2014)—i.e. one year after Ethiopia decisively defeated the Italian Fascist troops at the Battle of Adwa. The red on the flag represents power and faith; the yellow symbolizes church, peace, natural wealth and love; and the green stands for land and hope. The colors were also interpreted as epitomizing the three main provinces of Ethiopia and having a connection to the Holy Trinity. At first, the flag was used as three separate pennants; it was arranged in rectangular shape on October 6, 1897, with red at the top. The order of the colors was changed at some point (rastafarian.nl, 2014).

The UNIA or Pan-African flag was adopted as the official colors of Black Africans at the UNIA convention convened in Madison Square Gardens, New York City on August 13, 1920 (UNIA-ACL, 2014; Ebony Haze Inc., 2011; Buzzle Staff, 2011; Saunders, Sr., 2014; Powell, 2014; Shakur, 2007; Hill, 1983). Marcus Garvey, founder of the UNIA, is quoted to have said the following at the meeting: “Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said ‘Every race has a flag but the coon.’ How true! Aye! But that was said of us years ago. They can’t say it now….” (Ebony Haze Inc., 2011). The red on the flag typifies the noble blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation; the black embodies Black people’s existence as a nation; and the green illustrates the rich land and abundant mineral wealth of Africa (UNIA-ACL, 2014; Ebony Haze Inc., 2011; Buzzle Staff, 2011; Saunders, Sr., 2014; Powell, 2014; Shakur, 2007; Hill, 1983).

Even though it was not Pan-African in its origin, the color combination of the traditional Ethiopian flag has influenced numerous Pan-African organizations and polities. This is because Ethiopia gained the admiration of these entities when it fought to remain outside the control of European imperialism and, as stated earlier, defeated the Fascist Italian army. The first African country to adopt the red, yellow (representing gold), and green flag was Ghana when it gained its independence from Britain in 1957. Ghana added the black star from the flag of the Black Star Line, a shipping line incorporated by Marcus Garvey that operated from 1919 to 1922, and gave its national football team the nickname the Black Stars (GhanaWeb, 2014). Today, many countries and territories in the following five regions of the world use one or both sets of the colors of the traditional Ethiopian and the UNIA or Pan-African flags:

(1) Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville or Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe;

(2)   Asia: Myanmar;

(3)   Caribbean: Jamaica and Saint Kitts and Nevis;

(4)   Oceania: Vanuatu.

(5)   South America: French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname; and

Furthermore, it should be noted here that the following African countries once used the colors: Rwanda, 1961-2001; Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo, 1971-1997; and Cape Verde, 1975-1992. These former African nations also used the colors: Biafra, 1967-1970; Benin, 2967; and South Kasai, 1960-1961. Also to be mentioned are the Rastafarian flag (Rastafari, 2014) and a variety of African American flags that use the colors—especially the flags designed by David Hammons flown atop schools in upstate New York (King, 2014) and housed in the Museum of Modern Arts in New York City (Museum of Modern Art, 2014), and the one designed by the African American owned company NuSouth in response to the flying of the Confederate Southern Cross by replacing the white stars and saltire outline with green and the blue saltire with black on the Confederate Naval Jack (NuSouth, 2014).

Color-by-Color Analysis

In this section, each of the Pan-African colors is discussed separately for the sake of clarity. The discussion of each color begins with its spectral coordinates, when applicable, and then the Africancentric historical development and characteristics of the color. It should be mentioned here that ancient Egyptians must have been well learned in spectral analytical techniques, since such tools were critical in the consistent development of the Egyptian blue, polychromic funerary figurines, and chromotherapy. As Philip McCouat states,

First developed some 4,500 years ago, Egyptian blue—a bright blue crystalline substance—is believed to be the earliest artificial pigment in human history. The pigment is a synthetic form of the rare mineral cuprorivaite, and commonly also contains quantities of glass or quartz. It is made by heating to around 850-950C a mixture of a calcium compound (typically calcium carbonate), a copper-containing compound (metal filings or malachite), silica sand and soda or potash as a flux.  Egyptian blue was widely used in ancient times as a pigment in painting, such as in wall paintings, tombs and mummies’ coffins, and also as a ceramic glaze known as Egyptian faience. The fact that it was not available naturally meant that its presence indicated a work that had considerable prestige. Its use spread throughout Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the far reaches of the Roman Empire. It was often used as a substitute for lapis lazuli, an extremely expensive and rare mineral sourced in Afghanistan (2014:1).

From Lynn Swartz Dodd et al., we learn that:

A polychrome painted wooden funerary figurine has been radiocarbon dated to 1220–1050 BC and is painted with a white pigment that includes gypsum, huntite, and tridymite. This is the first discovery of the use of tridymite as a pigment in Ancient Egypt. This unusual white pigment yields an exceptionally bright white paint…Egyptian artisans engaged in a sophisticated, deliberate manipulation of mineral-based pigments to achieve specific desired sacral effects (2009:94).

We also glean from the work of Samina T. Yousuf Azeemi and Mohsin Raza that:

Ancient observation chromotherapy is a centuries-old concept. The history of color medicine is as old as that of any other medicine. Phototherapy (light therapy) was practiced in ancient Egypt...The Egyptians utilized sunlight as well as color for healing. Color has been investigated as medicine since 2000 BC. They used primary colors (i.e. red, blue and yellow) for healing as they were unaware of the mixing up of two colors. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, the art of chromotherapy was discovered by the god Thoth (2005:482).

It behooves me to also state here that Graciela Gestoso Singer’s excellent article titled “Color in Ancient Egypt” (2014) was extremely helpful for the analysis that follows.

Black, according to the Google online dictionary, is “the very darkest color owing to the absence of or complete absorption of light; the opposite of white” (www.google.com, 2014). Also, as Charles Moffat points out, black was one of the first colors employed by Neolithic artists in their cave paintings (2007:1).

According to Graciela Gestoso Singer, black was referred to in Ancient Egypt as km and was made from “carbon compounds such as soot, ground charcoal or burnt animal bones” (2014:9). She mentions that the color stood for death and night, and Osiris, the god of the afterlife, was named “the black one” as a reference to his role in the underworld and resurrection after his murder. She adds that Anubis—the god of embalming—was depicted as a black dog or jackal, although the color of these animals tends to be brown (2014:9).

Nonetheless, according to Singer, even though black was depicted as a symbol of death, it also symbolized life and fertility among Ancient Egyptians because of the abundance of the dark black silt from the floods of the Nile. As she puts it, “The color of silt became emblematic of Egypt itself and the country was called the ‘Black Land’ (Kmt) from early antiquity” (2014:10). She further points out that black stones were used for statues with magical healing powers during the Ptolemaic period—i.e. 323-30 BC (2014:10).

Also, named after the black color inside its mouth, the black mamba endemic in Africa is one of the most venomous, feared and fastest-moving snakes in the world. Its venom can cause instant death or paralysis. Because of its ability to strike in any direction, even when moving very fast, not many predators dare to challenge the adult black mamba.

Furthermore, at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement popularized the “Black Is Beautiful” slogan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The statement symbolized the African American struggle for political equality.

This era also saw the emergence of the revolutionary Black Nationalist and Socialist organization called the Black Panther Party which from 1966 until 1982 monitored the behavior of police officers and challenged their brutality. The organization made the promotion of community social programs, especially Free Breakfast for Children, its principal activity from 1969 until 1982. It was dormant until 1989 when it re - emerged with the name the New Black Panther Party. The organization inspired the births of the Black Panther Party (HaPanterim HaShhorim) of Israel in 1971 and the Dalit Panther Party of India in 1972.

Green is located on the spectrum of visible light between blue and yellow. Its primary wavelength when induced by light is approximately 495-570 nm [nanometers] or a frequency of ~575-525 THz [terahertz] (Madigan and Chambers, 2014; Nave, 2014; Optoplex Corporation, 2014).

Singer recounts that green was referred to in Ancient Egypt as wadj and “was produced from malachite, a natural copper ore [which symbolized joy and “the land of the blessed dead”], and then could be produced from a paste manufactured by mixing oxides of copper and iron with silica and calcium” (2014:2; see also Varichon, 2005). She points out that green was perceived to represent new life, vegetation, and protection. She notes that the saying “to do green things,” or “to do green,” meant “beneficial, life-producing behavior, successfully, happiness, and fortune” (2014:2; see also Varichon, 2005). She states that as “Lord of the Underworld,” Osiris was shown as being green, and Hathor was also depicted as having this color. She adds that Osiris was named “the Green Green” (2014:2; see also Varichon, 2005).  Furthermore, Singer cites statements about green in the Book of the Dead (the Egyptian funerary text used from the beginning of the New Kingdom—i.e. around 1550 BCE—to around 50 BCE) and adds her own comments as follows:

In Chapter 105, it is mentioned a green papyrus-amulet: “A green amulet, belonging to the neck of Re and given to those who dwell in the horizon”…In Chapter 77, it is said that the deceased will become a falcon “whose wings are of fine green stone”…The god Horus was called the “Lord of the Green Stone”…as well, because the Eye of Horus’ amulet was commonly made of green stone: “Osiris Unas, take the green Eye of Horus! Prevent him from tearing it out!...The wdjat (“the uninjured Eye of Horus”) is depicted as a human eye and eyebrow, as they would be seen looking as a person full-faced…Usually, it is the right eye shown as the wdjat, although the left is not uncommon (2014:3; see also Varichon, 2005).

Also, while Neolithic cave paintings do not show traces of green pigments, ceramics of Afro-Arabian Mesopotamians and North Africans of antiquity show people wearing bright green costumes (see Varichon, 2005; Uwechia, 2009; Winters, 2008).

In addition, the green mamba is a highly venomous snake found in southern East Africa. Relatively large, it is elusive and shy. Its cryptic coloration and arboreal lifestyle make it difficult to observe.

Red is situated at the end of the spectrum of visible light next to orange and at the opposite end from violet. Its predominant wavelength when kindled by light is about ~620-740 nm or a frequency of ~480-400 THz (Madigan and Chambers, 2014; Nave, 2014; Optoplex Corporation, 2014).

In 2000, the academic world was abuzz with the discovery inside Pinnacle Point Cave 13B in South Africa of artifacts revealing that people were grinding ochre to paint their bodies red and for other artistic expressions during the Late Stone Age: i.e. approximately 50,000 years ago. The discovery prompted some paleoanthropologists to proffer the notion that the artistic expressions of the period indicate early origins of modern behavior (Marean et al., 2004).

Singer tells us that for Neolithic hunter peoples, red was seen as the foremost color blessed with life-giving powers, thereby prompting them to place almost ten kilograms of red ochre provided by Mother Earth into the graves of the dead. She notes that Neolithic cave artists perceived red as having magical powers and, thus, painted animals in red ochre or iron oxide to summon their fertility. She adds that red was used as protection against nefarious effects, warriors used red to paint their weapons in order to give them magical powers, and the female principle [i.e. energy, life-giving, nurturing, protection, etc.] was associated with red (2014:4).

Singer also states that in Ancient Egypt, red was called dshr and Egyptian artisans made the color by utilizing red ochre and naturally oxidized iron. She points out that red represented Seth, who embodied evil, and the desert. She adds that killing someone was equated as “making red.” She further notes that special red ink was used by writers of papyri to pen nasty words and as symbols of anger and fire. She further notes that a person described as acting “with a red heart” meant that s/he was always angry, and the phrase “to redden” meant “to die.” In sum, according to Singer, red was an equivocal color for Ancient Egyptians; while they correlated red with anger and violence, they also linked it to vitality and health (2014:6-7).

Michael Banton recounts that during their celebrations, the Ndembu warriors of Central Africa paint themselves red. He adds that because the Ndembu equate red with health and life, they paint the sick with red paint so that they can get well quickly (2004:57).

It should also be mentioned here that after the genocide of 1994, Rwandans began demanding that their government replace the red, which they came to associate with the bloodshed, on their flag. On December 21, 2001, a new flag was launched with blue replacing the red, while the other Pan-African colors of green and yellow/gold were retained (CRW Flags, 2013).

Yellow is found on the spectrum of visible light between green and orange. Its paramount wavelength when stimulated by light is roughly 570-590 nm or a frequency of 525-505 THz (Madigan and Chambers, 2014; Nave, 2014; Optoplex Corporation, 2014).

According to Anne Varichon (2005), reseda luteola—also referred to as “dyers weed,” “yellow weed,” or “weld” was utilized as a yellow dye during the Neolithic period. She adds that the weed was used extensively in North Africa.

It is also noted by the WebExhibits that adjudged to be an eternal, imperishable and indestructible color, Ancient Egyptians equated yellow to gold. It is also stated that Ancient Egyptians conjectured that the skins and bones or the gods were made of gold. It is further mentioned that Ancient Egyptians utilized yellow considerably in tomb paintings by using yellow ochre or the luminous orpiment, and that a small paint box containing orpiment pigment was discovered in the tomb of King Tutankhamun (WebExhibits, 2014).

Furthermore, as Singer points out, Ancient Egyptians called yellow qnt or qnjt [allomorphic variations are khenet or kenit] and first produced it by employing natural ochre or oxides. But by the end of the New Kingdom [i.e. 1570–1544 BC], she notes, a new technique was launched to produce yellow by using orpiment—an arsenic trisulphide. She adds that Ancient Egyptians assigned yellow to the female principle, sun and gold because they perceived these aspects to be eternal, imperishable and indestructible (2014:11).


In the introduction section of this paper, I stated that the objective for writing the essay is to fill a void in the scholarly literature because not a single work exists in any scholarly journal or book that has systematically analyzed the Pan-African colors. What I did not mention is from where the inspiration came. I was on my way to Korhogo in the north of Côte d’Ivoire when I requested that my United Nations escort stop the jeep in which were traveling in a remote village along the way to buy some big and nice-looking avocados and mangoes. While negotiating the price with the middle-aged female seller, three youngsters came by with their cellular phones and were singing along Steel Pulse’s Reggae smash hit titled “Worth His Weight in Gold” with the popular lyrics “Rally round the flag; Rally round the red; Gold black and green….” Hearing those African-and-French-language-speaking youngsters sing all of the lengthy lyrics in English so perfectly told me right there and then that the spirit of the Pan-African colors will live forever in the hearts and minds of Africans in the continent and its Diaspora.

In fact, the phrase “Red, Gold and Green” is used frequently in Reggae song lyrics to show reverence for the traditional Ethiopian flag. For example, Jamaican Reggae star artist Peter Tosh’s “Rumors of War” lyrics end with the words “Make sure your hands and heart are clean; So you can rally around the red, gold and green.” Also, in the United States, June 14th is celebrated as Flag Day as an expression of global solidarity with people of African descent. August 17th, which marks the birthday of Marcus Garvey, is being seriously considered to become a Universal African Flag Day to be celebrated globally by flying the red, black and green flag.

Indeed, the findings in the preceding section reveal that the Africancentric historical development and characteristics of the Pan-African colors have overwhelmingly more positive meanings associated with them than negative. Even the few negative connotations are usually the result of distinct situations. Moreover, from ancient to modern Africans, color was and is still deemed to be a vital element of the African worldview.


About the Author

Abdul Karim Bangura is a researcher-in-residence of Abrahamic Connections and Islamic Peace Studies at the Center for Global Peace in the School of International Service at American University, the director of The African Institution, and a professor of Research Methodology and Political Science at Howard University. He is the author of 86 books and more than 600 scholarly articles. The winner of more than 50 prestigious scholarly and community service awards. Among Bangura’s recent awards are the 2012 Cecil B. Curry Book Award for his African Mathematics: From Bones to Computers, the 2014 Diopian Institute for Scholarly Advancement’s Miriam Ma’at Ka Re Award for his article titled “Domesticating Mathematics in the African Mother Tongue” published in the Journal of Pan-African Studies, and the 2015 Special United States Congressional Award for “outstanding and invaluable service to the international community.” Bangura is fluent in about a dozen African and six European languages, and studying to increase his proficiency in Arabic, Hebrew, and Hieroglyphics. He is also a member of many scholarly organizations, has served as President and then United Nations Ambassador of the Association of Third World Studies, and is a Special Envoy of the African Union Peace and Security Council.


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