There are different theories about the real-life inspiration for Wakanda. Coates explains his in this post for The Atlantic's website. But the actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays Black Panther in the upcoming Marvel movies, told The New York Times that Wakanda is a fictional version of "the Mutapa empire of 15th-century Zimbabwe."
"Most kingdoms in Southern Africa are known for their military might and great dictators," says Edward Mabaya, associate director of Cornell's International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development. "Mutapa stands as a symbol of economic success through local, regional and international trade."
Mutapa's equivalent of Black Panther's precious "vibranium"? Gold. And lots of it.
The older I get, the more interesting I find history. I'd always discounted it in school.