Which African Nation?

Previously: Which Iberia?Which Alexandria?Which Albania?

Ghana, Mali and Benin are the names of three modern Africa republics. They are also the names of medieval African kingdoms with little if any connection to the modern states that go by the same names. This post explains the how and why.

The script notes the borders of the old kingdom; the modern print notes the borders of the current state


Medieval Ghana was established in around the 4th century and lasted until the 13th Century, when it was absorbed into the larger Mali Empire.

Approximately 500 miles (800 km) south of Ghana was the shores of a region that came under the control of the British and which became known as the Gold Coast, taking from the Portugese name of the region. When the region became independent in 1957, President Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of the independent state and a strong believer in Pan-Africanism, chose the name Ghana to more broadly identify the country with the greater region. There is no ethnic, linguistic, or historical links to the two states.


Mali was one of the largest African empires in history. Although we are not aware of its boundaries, and understand it did not have rigid political borders, it dominated West Africa through the 8th century through 14th century. It was bankrupted by the collapse in gold prices in the 12th century, invaded by the Berbers from the north in the 15th century, and then came under French rule beginning in the late 19th century. During the colonial rule it was part of French Sudan.

Upon independence in 1959, the region was known as the Sudanese Republic, and united with Senegal to become the Mali Federation, which officially gained independence in June 20, 1960, only to have Senegal withdrew from the federation in August. The independent nation of Mali was then created in September. Of the three African nations that are subject to this post, Mali is the most logical naming of the three, as its borders fitting losely with that of its ancient predecessor.


The Kingdom of Benin was founded in the 12th century and lasted until the 19th century as a fierce militaristic kingdom famous for exporting ivory and slaves to Europe. It was the paramount power in the region and remained independent until 1897, when the capital was burned to the ground and much of the artwork (“Benin Bronzes”) sent to the great European museums, where it still exists today.

The kingdom’s capital city of Benin survived as a smaller city that is now part of Nigeria. It became independent as a puppet state of Biafra for about one day in 1969 as the Republic of Benin.

Several hundred miles to the west of Benin City and the old Kingdom of Benin is a nation known before and during the colonial period as Dahomey. It was changed in 1975 to the People’s Republic of Benin after the nearby body of water known as the Bight of Benin. This had been named after the Benin Empire. Thus it happens that Benin, like Ghana, is another modern African state with no direct connection to the medieval nation of the same name.

The wikipedia page for the Republic of Benin warns readers: Not to be confused with the current Republic of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, or the Kingdom of Benin from the Benin City area. That type of disclaimer is required for Ghana and Mali as well.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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4 Responses to Which African Nation?

  1. Alfred Russel Wallace says:

    Was Timbuktu in Ghana?

  2. Curzon says:

    Well, it may have existed within the general borders of Ghana, but it became the capital of Mali.

  3. Pingback: ComingAnarchy.com » Which Guinea?

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