African viewpoint: Flying the flag
In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene, asks whether Nigeria should follow South Africa and Malawi by choosing a new flag.
It seems the exact moment of independence is the time the old colonial power's flag comes down and the flag of the newly independent country goes up.
Nigeria's flag appears to denote a people who would turn the second cheek when given an unprovoked slap”
So what do flags say about a country?
I was at the unveiling of the new, post-apartheid South African flag back in April 1994 and I still recall the shock and disgust that engulfed the room when that flag was revealed.
I remember I filed a not-so-complimentary report for the BBC about it.
The reception given to the flag was so hostile that the committee that had been charged with finding a flag for the new South Africa was forced to announce that this was only an "interim flag" and would be changed after the constitutional negotiations were complete.Full white sun
But guess what, the flag quickly grew on us and by the time the Nelson Mandela inauguration was over a month or so later, it had become so popular, nobody has raised the issue of it being an interim flag ever again.
And indeed when you look at the flag now, it does seem to capture the spirit of the new South Africa.
It goes beyond unity, which was what everybody was trying to capture then. It seems to show vitality and effervescence.
Then enter Malawi, where the government has recently changed the national flag and is threatening arrest and prosecution for anyone found carrying the old flag.
And yet the change is not very much really.
The red and black strips have changed position, the red is now on top and the black strip in the middle and there is a green strip still below.
The most important change is that the red rising sun at the top has been replaced with a full white sun in the middle.
We have the word of President Bingu wa Mutharika for it that this is meant to show the change in status of Malawi from a developing country, denoted by a rising sun, to that of a developed nation, denoted by a full sun.
I am afraid the Malawian flag looks like something from a junior secondary school art class”
"We cannot permanently live in the past," is the way the president put it, and the new flag denotes the changed status of Malawi.
I confess I haven't been to Malawi for about 14 years and I am willing to accept the word of the president that the country has changed into a developed nation.
Although I notice the World Bank and IMF have not yet updated their classification and still list Malawi amongst us poor developing countries.
As flags go though, I am afraid the Malawian flag is still unattractive and looks like something from a junior secondary school art class.Giant of Africa
All the same, the concept of changing your flag to denote a change in your economic circumstances does have a certain ring to it.
My thoughts turn to our cousins Nigeria, who are just about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their independence.
I have always felt that their national flag does not quite capture the dynamism and vigour of the country and its people.
It is a beautiful flag, I concede, but it seems placid and appears to denote a people who would turn the second cheek when given an unprovoked slap. But we all know better than that.
In 1959 when the flag was adopted, their circumstances and aspirations were probably quite modest. Now that the country is the "giant of Africa", should it not have a flag to match that status?
There is just about enough time for somebody - not a Malawian - to quickly design a suitable one and as 1 October dawns, the old flag would be lowered and the new vibrant flag would be raised.
It could also denote a new beginning and then they wouldn't have to spend so much money trying to re-brand and give a different image to their country.
A new flag for Nigeria at 50, I say.