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Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
Burkina Faso has been populated since antiquity, and many prehistoric hunters and gatherers left behind traces of their existence that were discovered in the 20th century. Over thousands of years, others have left their mark on Burkina Faso; one such group was the Songhai, who relied on the region as an economic center of their empire.
The Mossi kingdom of Ouagadougou, a region that now sits at the heart of Burkina Faso, was conquered and made a French protectorate in 1896. By 1898 most of the rest of modern-day Burkina Faso had also been occupied by the French and folded into their colonial empire. In 1904 these regions were integrated into the Upper-Senegal-Niger colony of French West Africa. In 1919 the region became a separate colony known as Haute Volta, or Upper Volta.
In 1958, Upper Volta became a self-governing member of the Franco-African Community, though it did not attain complete independence until 1960.
In 1966 the country was taken over by its first military coup. Civilian rule was not restored until 1978. In 1980, Saye Zerbo led another coup, but he lasted for only two years in office before yet another coup turned the Burkinabe government upside down again. A counter-coup to the one that deposed Zerbo in 1982 took place in 1983, and Captain Thomas Sankara took power.
Sankara was heralded as the nation’s hero and an idol throughout the African continent. Despite his authoritarian reign, he was intent on building Upper Volta into a proud, unified, and modern nation with a strong cultural identity. He renamed the country Burkina Faso and implemented an extensive social welfare reform program that empowered women. He also encouraged the production of Burkinabe film and literature.
Sankara was deposed in a coup in 1987 and succeeded by the current president, Blaise Campaore, who has subsequently won three presidential elections, most recently in 2005.
The Top 5: Local Advice
1. Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa, slightly larger than Colorado. It is bordered by Ghana, Togo, Benin, Niger, Mali, and Cote d’Ivoire. The country is mostly flat, with rolling plains and some hills and sandstone escarpments in the west and southeast. There are three major rivers in Burkina Faso originating from the Volta Basin and flowing into Ghana: the Mouhoun (formerly Black Volta), the Nakambe (formerly White Volta), and the Nazinon (formerly Red Volta).
2. The official language of Burkina Faso is French. Three national languages are also widely spoken: Moore, Dioula, and Fulfulde.
3. The currency in Burkina Faso is the CFA Franc (known as XOF). The same currency is used in several other Francophone countries in West Africa.
4. Burkina Faso is a predominantly Muslim country: 50 percent of the population practices Islam, while 40 percent of Burkinabe practices indigenous religions and 10 percent is Christian. When visiting mosques and other sacred sites in Burkina Faso, wear something to cover your shoulders and be respectful at all times.
5. Burkina Faso has an estimated population of 15.3 million. The largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso is the Mossi (40 percent). The other 60 percent consists of at least 19 ethnic groups, including the Bobo, Mande, Lobi, Fulani, Senoufo, and Gurunsi.