Burkina Faso is a landlocked African country surrounded by Niger to the east, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana in the south, Cote d’Ivoire to the southwest, and Mali to the north.
Burkina is a rapidly growing country with an estimated 2019 population of 20.32 million, which makes Burkina that 62th most populous country in the world. The country has a surface area of 274,200 square kilometers. On August 4, 1984, the country changed its name from the Republic of Upper Volta. Burkina Faso’s people are known as Burkinabe.
Hunter-gatherers populated the area between 14,000 and 5,000 BC. Farming settlements appeared between 3600 and 2600 BC. Mossi kingdoms were present in the central part of the nation. In 1896, Burkina Faso became a French protectorate. After its independence in 1960, several governmental changes occurred until the country took its present semi-presidential republic form. Blaise Compaore is the current president.
Ouagadougou is the capital. The African Union, Community of Sahel-Saharan States, La Francophonie, Organization of the Islamic Conference and Economic Community of West African States list Burkina Faso as a member.
Between 14,000 and 5000 BC, hunter-gatherers began populating the country’s northwest. Simon Nijjar discovered their tools in 1973. Farmer’s settlements began to appear between 3600 and 2600 BC. Evidence shows these were permanent settlements. Iron, ceramics, and stone were used beginning between 1500 and 1000 BC. Burial remains indicate spiritual practices began around this time as well.
The Dogon left relics in the north and northwest parts of the country. The Dogon left the area between the 15th and 16th centuries to settle in the Bandiagara cliffs. There are also remains of walls in Burkina Faso’s southwest, but their builder’s identity is unknown.
Mossi kingdoms existed in the central area. The most powerful of these was the Wagadogo and Yatenga. They likely emerged in the 16th century, but their origins are obscured and subject to legends.
Colonial Period and Independence
The English and French waged a major rivalry in the area through military and civilian expeditions. The French defeated the Mossi Ouagadougou kingdom and the area became a French colony in 1896. The western and eastern regions came under French control in 1897 after a standoff with the powerful ruler Samori Ture. Some small parts of the region were not under control, but by 1989 most of the modern day nation had been conquered.
On June 14, 1898, the English and French drew the borders between their colonies, ending the confrontations. The French continued wars of conquest against local areas and powers for an additional five years. As part of the reorganization of the French empire in 1904, the Volta basin territories merged with the Upper Senegal and Niger colony in French West Africa. The colony’s capital was in Bamako.
The territories draftees, known as the Senegal rifles, fought in World War I in Europe. The Volta-Bani War, an important armed opposition to colonial government, took place from 1915 to 1916 in western Burkina Faso and eastern Mali. After suffering defeats, the French gathered its largest colonial expedition force and eventually defeated the movement. Around that time, Tuaregs and allied groups also rebelled in the Sahelian north.
On March 1, 1919, the French established French Upper Volta, partly due to fears of uprising, economic considerations, and to bolster its administration. The move separated the present Burkina Faso territory from Niger and Upper Senegal. Charles Alexis Edouard became the first governor of the newly formed colony called Haute Volta. Colonial revenue stagnated after a coercive cotton policy failed. On September 5, 1932, the colony was dismantled and split between French Sudan, Niger, and Cote d’Ivoire, which received the largest share.
After World War II, colonial agitation led this dismantling to be reversed. The colony was revived as part of the French Union on September 4, 1947 with its prior borders. It earned self-government and became the Republic of Volta on December 11, 1958. It also became a member of the Franco-African community at that time.
The French revised their territorial organization with the Basic Law’s passage on July 23, 1956. Other measures were passed in 1957 to give territories more self-government. After self-government in 1958, Upper Volta became its own republic in 1960 and was independent from France.
On December 11, 1958, the Republic of the Upper Volta was established. The Volta River has three parts, the White Volta, Black Volta, and Red Volta. The national flag’s colors correspond to the Volta River’s parts.
It was part of the French Union and French Upper Volta before independence. Maurice Yameogo was the first president and leader of the Voltaic Democratic Union (UDV). The national assembly and president are to be elected every five years through universal suffrage according to the 1960 constitution. Yameogo banned all political parties but the UDV after coming to power. In 1966, after massed demonstrations and strikes, the military intervened.
Yameogo was deposed by the coup, which also suspended the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly. Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana became the head of the military officers governing the nation. On June 14, 1970, after four years of army rule, the country ratified a new constitution that set a four year transition back to civilian rule. Lamizana remained in power through the 1970s. Conflicts led to a new constitution in 1977. Lamizana was reelected in 1978.
The country’s trade unions were a problem for Lamizana’s government. On November 25, 1980, Lamizana was overthrown in a bloodless coup by Col. Saye Zerbo. Zerbo’s Military Committee of Recovery for National Progress became the governmental authority.
Trade unions again resisted and Zerbo was overthrown after two years by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo on November 7, 1982. His Council of Popular Salvation (CSP) promised transition to civilian rule but banned political organizations. CSP infighting led to Capt. Thomas Sankara being appointed prime minister in January, 1983. Sankara’s leftist positions and internal conflict led to his arrest and, later, efforts by Capt. Blaise Compaore to release him. Another coup occurred on August 4, 1983.
After this coup, Sankara established the National Council for the Revolution (CNR) again with himself as the president. He also formed Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) to organize the people and implement revolutionary programs. Two small Marxist-Leninist groups were part of the CNR’s secret membership. As a result of Sankara’s efforts, the country’s name was finally changed to Burkina Faso on August 4, 1984.
An armed gang killed Sankara in 1987. His former partner and the country’s current president, Blasé Compaore, organized this coup.
On June 2, 1991, a new constitution established a semi-presidential system with a parliament. The President of the Republic has the power to dissolve the parliament. The president is elected every seven years, but this was later amended to every five years. A legal ruling allowed Compaore, the current president to run again in 2005. Divided political opposition resulted in his 2005 victory.
The National Assembly is the single chamber of parliament. It has 111 seats with five year terms for its members. A constitutional chamber also exists which has ten members. An economic and social council is purely advisory.
Burkina Faso: Administrative Division
Burkina Faso has 13 regions, 45 provinces, and 301 departments. The regions are Boucle du Mouhoun, Cascades, Centre, Centre-Est, Centre-Nord, Centre-Ouest, Centre-Sud, Est, Hauts-Bassins, Nord, Plateau-Central, Sahel, and Sud-Ouest.
Burkina Faso: Military and Security
France served as the model for the security and police forces. France supports and trains Burkina Faso’s police. Police services are delivered at the brigade level by the Gendarmerie Nationale. The Minister of Defense has authority over the Gendarmerie, whose members are deployed along the border and in rural areas.
Identity checks are common for travelers and all foreigners are required to carry identification.
The army has 6,000 volunteers. The People’s Militia supports the army and is composed of civilians between 25 and 35 years old. Burkina Faso’s army has some armored vehicles but is considered poorly equipped.
By African standards, the army is well funded but generally undermanned. The elite Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) is better funded and equipped. There is no navy but an air force has 19 operation aircraft. Military expenses are 1.2 percent of the country’s GDP.
Climate and Geography
Southwestern Burkina Faso has a sandstone massif with a highest peak of 749 meters. Sheer cliffs up to 150 meters high border this area. The country is mostly covered by a peneplain with few isolated hills. Burkina Faso’s average altitude is 400 meters, making it a relatively flat country.
The Black, White, and Red Volta Rivers cross the country. The Black Volta flows year round. The Niger River basin drains 27 percent of the country’s area.
The Beli, Gorouol, Goudebo and Dargol, Niger tributaries, are only seasonal streams. They can cause flooding. Numerous lakes do exist, including the Tingrela, Bam, and Dem. Water shortages, particularly in the north, are a problem.
The country’s climate is primarily tropical with two seasons, the rainy and dry. The rainy season, lasting four months, brings 600 to 900 millimeters of rainfall. There are three climatic zones, the Sudan-Guinea, Sudan-Sahel, and Sahel.
The Sahel is a dry tropical savannah. It extends from the Horn of Africa to the Atlantic Ocean and borders the Sudan to the south and the Sahara to the north. The Sudan-Sahel is a transitional zone. The southern Sudan-Guinea zone has cooler temperatures and receives 900 millimeters of rain.
Burkina Faso has limestone, marble, manganese, pumice, phosphates, salt and small gold deposits as resources. Two national parks exist.
With one of the world’s lowest per capita GDP figures of $1,200, Burkina Faso is a very poor country. Agriculture is 32 percent of GDP and 80 percent of the population works in that sector. Livestock is mostly produced but sorghum, pearl millet, corn, peanuts, rice and cotton are grown.
Emigration results from high unemployment. 3,000,000 citizens live in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire. The migrants send money back to the country each year, provoking regional tensions.
International aid funds a large portion of the economic activity.
The CFA Franc is the currency.
Copper, manganese, iron, and gold are mined, providing employment, aid, and even hospitals.
One of Africa’s most important handicraft fairs, Le Salon International de I’Artisanat de Ouagadougou, is hosted in Burkina Faso.
Most of the country’s population belong to the Voltaic and Mande groups. The Voltaic Mossi members are one half the population. The Mogho Naba lead the Mossi kingdom from their court in Ouagadougou. They believe they descend from warriors who migrated to the area from Ghana.
Ethnically integrated and secular, most of the country’s people are concentrated in the country’s center and south. Migrants travel to neighboring countries for seasonal agricultural work. Political events in these countries, such as the 2002 coup attempt in Cote d’Ivoire, leads to migrants returning.
Burkina Faso’s government states 61 percent of the population practice Islam, most of which are in the Sunni branch. 19 percent are Roman Catholic and 4 percent Protestant, 15 percent follow some form of traditional indigenous beliefs. Atheism is not shown to exist.
Many in the country practice multiple religions. Even among Muslims and Christians, ancient traditions are observed.
The median age is 16.7 with a growth rate of 3.109 percent. The government spent 3 percent on healthcare as of 2001. A doctor shortage exists as there are 6 physicians per 100,000 citizens. Similarly, there are only 13 midwives and 41 nurses per 100,000. Estimates have shown 72.5 percent of the country’s girls have suffered female genital mutilation.
Burkina Faso’s oral traditions remain important. Dim-Dolobsom Ouedraogo published his Maximes in 1934 during French occupation which recorded the Mossi people’s oral history. Writers such as Nazi Boni and Roger Nikiema were influenced by the oral history. The number of playwrights grew in the 1960s. Literature developed in the 1970s.
Traditional ethnic ceremonies involve dancing with masks. During colonial times, western theatre became popular. After independence a new theatre style emerged involving a forum theatre designed to educate the rural population.
As is typical in western Africa, the cuisine is based on sorghum, rice, millet, peanuts, beans, yams, and okra. Protein most often comes from chicken, eggs, and fresh water fish. Fermented palm sap, or Palm Wine, is a typical beverage. The town of Banfora is known for its Palm Wine.
The worst flood in the country’s history occurred on August 30, 2009. It left 8 people dead and over 150,000 homeless. Burkina Faso requested international aid and Japan, France, Ivory Coast, and the European Union responded.
Burkina Faso’s contribution to African film began with the FESPACO film festival in 1969. Many filmmakers are internationally known and have received awards. The Federation of Panafrican Filmmakers had a headquarters in the country for many years. The most well-known directors are Gaston Kabore, Idrissa Ouegraogo, and Dani Kouyate. Bobodijiouf is a popular television series.
Sports participation includes football, basketball, cycling, Rugby union, handball, tennis, boxing, and martial arts. Played formally and informally, football is very popular. Nicknamed “Les Etalons” in reference to Princess Yennenga’s legendary horse, Burkina Faso’s national team is ranked 48 in FIFA World Rankings.
The system is comprised of primary, secondary, and higher education. Attending schools costs about $97 USD per year, outside the reach of most families. Girls have far lower literacy rates than boys. The government has made school cheaper for girls and granted them more scholarships, leading to an increase in their schooling. National exams must be passed to move between levels. The University of Ouagadougou, the Polytechnical University in Bobo-Dioulasso, and the University of Koudougou are higher education institutes. Private colleges exist but only a small percentage can afford them.
The International School of Ouagadougou is an American-based private school in Ouagadougou.
The state-sponsored television and radio service, Radiodissusion-Television Burkina (RTB) is the main outlet. It broadcasts on several FM and two AM frequencies. There are also several privately owned stations. RTB also produces a short wave new broadcast in French.
Attempts to bring independent press and media have been inconsistent. In 1998, journalist Norbert Zongo, his brother Ernest, his driver, and another man were assassinated. An independent commission of inquiry determined they were killed for political reasons because of Zongo’s investigative work.
Since Zongo’s death, protests into the investigations have been dispersed by police. International organizations have written to the government requesting investigations into death threats to journalists and radio commentators.