Capital City Origins ~ Africa Part 2



Welcome back, and welcome to the second part of the African capitals blog. Also, welcome to the fifth episode of the Capital Cities etymology blog.

In this feature we shall be covering the capital cities of countries around the Gulf of Guinea and having a short foray into Central Africa.

The diversity of this continent is evident even in the names of cities. Their origins come from a number of sources, French, English, German, Arabic and local languages are all represented, just from this we can deduce a turbulent history, especially during the "Scramble for Africa" period either side of the turn of the century (19th - 20th). Seven western powers turned the 10% of control by European countries in 1870 into almost 90% by 1914, with only Ethiopia and Liberia remaining independent (although Ethiopia was invaded and occupied by Italy in 1936).

Safe to say there are many influences on the continent. So without further ado we shall continue our expedition......

Yamoussoukro. Ivory Coast. 

Yamoussoukro became the capital of Ivory Coast (or Cote d'Ivoire if you prefer) in 1983 after the president at the time decided to move it, solely because he was born in Yamoussoukro. It was the fourth move in a century, from Grand Bassam, to Bingerville, then Abidjan before moving to it's currrent home.

Anyway, the suffix kro means "town" in the local Baoule language. The town also took the name of Queen Yamoussou who ran the city at the time of the French colonization.


Ouagadougou. Burkina Faso.

Monument des Heros Nationaux, Ouagadougou.

Often called Ouaga for short and for obvious reasons, (Another one I have to keep spell checking) this capital city's name is a Francophone spelling of the name Wage sabre soba koumbem tenga which in the original language means "Head war chief's village" .

It was called this by a national hero in Burkina Faso, Wubri, when he led his tribe to victory in 1441.


Accra. Ghana.

Black Star Square, Accra

The land surrounding Accra is dotted with anthills. Mainly red soldier ants. The local tribe, the Ga thought of them as sacred, believing they formed a portal between the living and the dead. Also known as the Gaga people, ( I wonder if Stefani Germanotta knows this ?), their name being linked to the ants, specifically soldier ants.

It comes as no surprise that the name of the city of Accra comes from an Akan word, Nkran, meaning "ants"


Lome. Togo.

Boulevard des Armees, Lome

Situated on the far south of the country and literally on the border with Ghana, Lome is the nation of Togo's main point of export to the world.

In the area around the city there are Alo plants that still have healing powers in the eyes of the local people.

The city's name derives from the word Alotime which in the Ewe language means "in the middle of the Alo plants".


Porto-Novo. Benin.

Porto-Novo Cathedral.

Situated on the Gulf of Guinea, this city was originally developed as a port for the international trading of slaves.

Quite simply, Porto-Novo is Portugese and translates almost automatically in the mind to "New Port". The name remains unchanged despite the official language of Benin being French.


Niamey. Niger.

Place du Liptako-Gourma, Niamey

Niamey replaced Zinder as Niger's capital in 1926, however there were settlements in the area for many years before this. The original settlers set up there village on the bank of the Niger River near to a tree they called Nia Niam meaning "shore where the tree draws water".


Abuja. Nigeria.

National Assembly Building, Abuja

Based on a design by a Japanese architect, Abuja is a planned city in a similar vein to Brasilia in Brazil. It was built in the 1980's. The city took it's name from a nearby town that was renamed Suleja.

The original town of Abuja got its name from it's founder Abu Ja, the brother of the King of Zazzau.


N'Djamena. Chad.

Place de la Nation, N'Djamena

Originally founded by the French General, Emile Gentil in 1900 as Fort Lamy, N'Djamena was a trading port and military base.

In 1973 the first President of Chad changed the city's name under a programme of Africanization. The name is derived from the Arabic name of a nearby village, Nigamina, meaning "place of rest"


Yaounde. Cameroon.

Reunification Monument and Statue, Yaounde

This city's etymology comes from the people or tribes that inhabited the area when European settlers arrived on the continent. The city was founded as a research station by German scientists that named their camp Jaunde after the local Yaunde or Ewondo people. The village that grew around the camp became known as Jeundo that later developed into Yaounde.


Bangui. Central African Republic.

Downtown Bangui

Declared in 1996 to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world, mainly due to political unrest and civil war, the city is still blighted by sporadic rebel activity.

Established in 1889 as a French outpost, it was named by the French after it's position on the Ubangi River. The river itself was named from the Bobangi word for "rapids" that are nearby at the navigable limit of the river.


Malabo. Equatorial Guinea.

Cathedral of Santa Isabel, Malabo

Located on the north coast of the island of Bioko, formerly known as Fernando Po after it's Portugese discoverer, Malabo may not be the capital for much longer. A planned city called Cuidad de la Paz is under construction on the mainland to replace Malabo.

Malabo was given it's current name in 1973 in honour of Malabo Lopelo Melaka, the last Bubi king.


Libreville. Gabon.


American missionaries set up in what is now Libreville as a reception centre for freed slaves. The French navy captured a ship carrying the first slaves to be released in the area. Styled on the city of Freetown, it was named by the French in their language. Libre meaning "Free" and Ville meaning "town".


Sao Tome. Sao Tome and Principe.

Presidential Palace, Sao Tome

The islands of Sao Tome were uninhabited until the arrival of the Portugese in around 1470. It was discovered that the islands climate was perfect for growing sugarcane. 2000 Jewish children aged 8 and under were taken from Iberia to work in the plantations along with slaves from Africa.

As the settlement grew a cathedral was built in honour of Saint Thomas during the 16th century.

Sao Tome is the Portugese translation of Saint Thomas.


Brazzaville. Republic of Congo.

Brazzaville and the Congo River

Founded as a French colony in 1880, Brazzaville became important during World War 2 as the capital of Free France, hosting conferences by the French Resistance against Nazi Germany.

The city was named after it's founder, an Italian born, French citizen called Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. 



In the words of Jon Bon Jovi, "ooo we're halfway there". We're not quite "Livin on a Prayer" but we are at the midpoint of the Africa section of this blog series.

In the 3rd part we shall be heading down into the "Rainbow Nation" via the Skeleton Coast and ending up in the Indian Ocean to pick up Africa's remaining island nations.
What a journey this is shaping up to be. If I ever decide to pack it all in and go travelling, I may just follow this trip, but I doubt it, there's not enough time in the world to do the expedition justice. 
Anyway I'm getting off topic again, you may have noticed I do this a lot. I can't help it. I get sidetracked easily. It's a quirk of mine. 
So thanks for reading and commenting if you have. Why not subscribe and you'll get a notification whenever I post another blog....I sound just like an annoying YouTuber now, my apologies !

Part 3 is being researched as you read this and will be published soon.
Level 73
Nov 22, 2021
Interesting! Now I know the meaning of the city with the most difficult name – Yamoussoukro. 😅

Seeing the photos of some of these cities is very intriguing. We usually think of African cities to be poor, impoverished, but look at those majestic skyscrapers, rivers, parks and monuments! Nice blog, again. :)

Level 78
Nov 22, 2021
Thank you. Yeah I was surprised about the cityscapes as well, although I'm sure the suburbs of some of these cities are very impoverished. No doubt those areas are less photogenic.
Level 74
Nov 22, 2021
Great, as always!

And that's funny because I just saw Jon Bon Jovi this past weekend

Level 78
Nov 22, 2021
I'm jealous now, one of my favourite bands
Level 60
Nov 22, 2021
Cool! The ant was was really interesting.
Level 78
Nov 22, 2021
Thank you.
Level 62
Nov 22, 2021
Amazing, again! I was surprised by some like Libreville since Sierra Leone's capital is also Freetown so both practically have the same name meanings lol.
Level 78
Nov 22, 2021
If I remember it right, Gabon styled their capital on Sierra Leone's. It was actually named the same for that reason, but obviously in a different language.