Madagascar is governed from Antananarivo, formerly known as Tananarive, and both have the same origin with the modern form featuring the prefix an meaning ‘at’. The original is from a Malagasy word tanana with the prefix speaking of ‘a thousand villages’.
Malawi’s capital is Lilongwe, itself the name of the river on which it stands and a has the expected simplistic meaning of ‘big river’.
Mali’s capital is Bamako, itself named after a Soninke chief named Bamma who lived here. The suffix ko means ‘behind’ and thus this place was ‘behind Bamma’s village’, that village being Motibadougou.
Mauritania is governed from Nouakchott. This we know to mean literally ‘one who has no ears’ and understood to refer to someone with small ears rather than non-existent ones. The individual is unknown but must have been of importance and likely a chief.
Mauritius has the capital named Port Louis from Louis XV as this was a French colony.
Morocco’s capital is Rabat, derived from the Arabic word ribat remembers this was found as a fortress in the 12th century for the name means ‘fort’.
Mozambique’s capital is named after the river Maputo, both therefore carry the name of one son of Nuagobe, an eighteenth century chief. Prior to 1975 the city was known as Lourenco Marques, also named after an individual, the Portuguese navigator who first mapped this region in the sixteenth century.
Namibia’s capital of Windhoek still shows the Dutch influence in a name meaning ‘windy cape’. Prior to the Dutch local tribes referred to this as ‘the fire water’ and ‘place of smoke’, both a reference to the steam of the hot springs.
Niger takes the name of the river. Its capital, Niamey, refers to where the local tribe drew water ‘to the left of the tree’.
Nigeria’s capital is Abuja, itself named from the Hausa emirate which derived its name from a fortification founded in 1828 by Abu Ja, literally ‘Abu the Red’.
Rwanda’s capital is Kigali, a name comes from a Kinyarwanda term loosely transalted as ‘those who fight together’.
Sao Tome and Principe was named by Portuguese sailors after St Thomas who landed here on his feast day. The capital is also known as Sao Tome.
Senegal is governed from Dakar, a name from the Wolof word describing the ‘tamarind tree’.
Seychelles is governed from Victoria which, rather predictably, is named after Queen Victoria.
Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown was founded 1787 by the British as a home for liberated slaves.
Somalia’s capital is Mogadishu, thought to come from the Arabic Maq’ad Shah or ‘the seat of the Shah’ and a reminder of the Persian influence.
South Africa has three ‘capital’ cities. Cape Town takes its name from the Cape of Good Hope; Pretoria was named to honour its founder, Andries Pretorius; and Bloemfontein, from the Dutch ‘spring among the flowers’.
South Sudan has the newest capital city in the world. Juba coming from Djouba, a people also known as the Bari.
Sudan has the capital Khartoum, an Arabic name Al-Khurtum meaning ‘elephant’s trunk’. This refers to the shape of the area, a headland formed by the White Nile and Blue Nile.
Swaziland is one of those countries with more than one capital city. Lobamba has never been adequately explained but Mbabane is named after the chief Mbabane Khunene, who lorded it here before the arrival of the Europeans, and whose name comes from the local river and means ‘the thing that crushes’, an excellent description of the erosive power of this river in spate.
Tanzania’s capital is Dodoma and means, in the native Gogo tongue, ‘it has sunk’.
Tunisia is named after its capital, with Tunis of unknown origin. Often said to represent the Phoenician goddess Tanith, the name is known to pre-date the arrival of the Phoenicians.
Uganda has the capital city Kampala, itself named after the hill on which it stands and named as ‘the impala hill’. This does not show wild impala grazed here, although the animals were seen here they were quite tame.
Zambia is governed from Lusaka, named after the former chief Lusaakas who was here at the end of the nineteenth century.