SIDEBAR: Tim Marshall on Ethiopia and its flag

We asked Marshall what he thought the most powerful flag in the world was. His answer might surprise you.

Ethiopia’s flag is red, gold, and green. The colors have proverbial meanings: red for the color of the people, gold for the nation’s riches, and green for the lushness of the country. But it also had on it the conquering Lion of Judah. When you see the old Ethiopian flag from before the 1960's when the Communists took over, in the middle of it is a lion and the lion is holding a cross. This goes in the national mythos back all the way to King Solomon, who — it is alleged— visited Ethiopia, had a relationship with the queen of Sheba, and fathered a son who became the first emperor. For the following 3,000 years, each emperor of Ethiopia claimed a connection back to the Biblical Solomon. When the Communists took over, they could not really have a flag that had a religious symbol. They replaced it with a five-pointed star (unofficially the star of Solomon). The national mythos still lived and still lives.

This flag holds power not only for those who live within the borders of the country it symbolizes. The power of the Ethiopian flag — the power of the red, gold, and green — comes from the fact Ethiopia was the only country in Africa not to be fully colonized. It was a symbol of freedom for other Africans; when African countries began in the 20th Century to become free from their colonial masters, many of them took as their inspiration the red, gold, and green of the Ethiopian flag.