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Burkina Faso



Republic of Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso Jamahiriya

CAPITAL: Ouagadougou

FLAG: The flag consists of two equal horizontal stripes of red and green divided by a narrow gold band. A five-point gold star is at the center.

ANTHEM: The national anthem begins "Contre le férule humiliante il y a déjà mille ans" ("Against the humiliating bondage of a thousand years").

MONETARY UNIT: The Communauté Financière Africaine franc (CFA Fr) is a paper currency with one basic official rate based on the euro. It was originally pegged to the French franc. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 CFA francs, and notes of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 CFA francs. CFA Fr1 = $0.00193 (or $1 = CFA Fr518.65) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Anniversary of the 1966 Revolution, 3 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 5 August; Assumption, 15 August; All Saints' Day, 1 November; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'adha', Milad an-Nabi, Easter Monday, Ascension, and Pentecost Monday.



Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), a landlocked country in West Africa, has an area of 274,200 sq km (105,869 sq mi), with a length of 873 km (542 mi) enewsw and a width of 474 km (295 mi) ssennw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Burkina Faso is slightly larger than the state of Colorado. Bounded on the e by Niger, on the se by Benin (formerly Dahomey), on the s by Togo, Ghana, and Côte d'Ivoire, and on the w and n by Mali. Burkina Faso has a total boundary length of 3,192 km (1,983 mi).

The capital city of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, is located in the center of the country.


Burkina Faso consists for the most part of a vast lateritic plateau in the West African savanna, approximately 198305 m (6501,000 ft) above sea level. The highest point (749 m/2,457 ft) of Téna Kourou is near the Mali border, southwest of Orodara. The land is slightly inclined toward the south and notched by valleys formed by the three principal rivers, the Black, White, and Red Voltas, and their main tributary, the Sourou. They are alternately dry or in flood and all are unnavigable. In general, the land is dry and poor.


The climate is characterized by high temperatures, especially at the end of the dry season. The humidity, which increases as one moves south, ranges from a winter lows of 1245% to a rainy season highs of 6896%. The harmattan, a dry east wind, brings with it spells of considerable heat from March to May, when maximum temperatures range from 40°c to 48°c (104° to 119°f); from May to October, the climate is hot and wet, and from November to March, comfortable and dry. January temperatures range from 7°c to 13°c (44° to 55°f). Average annual rainfall varies from 115 cm (45 in) in the southwest to less than 25 cm (10 in) in the extreme north and northeast. The rainy season lasts from four months in the northeast to six months in the southwest, from May through October. From 1969 to 1974, Burkina Faso suffered from drought, especially in the north, which is in the semiarid Sahel zone.


The area is largely wild bush country with a mixture of grass and small trees in varying proportions. The savanna region is mainly grassland in the rainy season and semidesert during the harmattan period. Fauna, possibly the widest variety in West Africa, includes the elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, monkey, crocodile, giraffe, various types of antelope, and a vast variety of bird and insect life. As of 2002, there were at least 147 species of mammals, 138 species of birds, and over 1,100 species of plants.


The major environmental problems facing Burkina Faso are recurrent drought and the advance of the northern desert into the savanna. This trend toward desertification has been increased by overgrazing of pasture, slash-and-burn agriculture, and overcutting of wood for fuel. Almost all the trees within 40 km (25 mi) of the capital have been felled. The frequency of droughts in Burkina Faso and its location in the Sahara desert contribute to the nation's water supply problems. The country has about 13 billion cu m (459 billion cu ft) of renewable water resources, but only 82% of the city population and 44% of rural dwellers have access to safe water. According to the World Health Organization, about 80% of all disease in Burkina Faso is caused by unsafe water. Pollution problems result from uncontrolled disposal of sewage and industrial wastes.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is the principal government agency concerned with the environment. Burkina Faso has 12 national parks and wildlife reserves totaling 2.855 million hectares (7.05 acres). In 2003, 11.5% of its total land area was protected. The country has three Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 6 types of mammals, 2 species of birds, 1 types of reptiles, and 2 species of plants. Threatened species include the African hunting dog, the chimpanzee, and the African elephant. The Sahara oryx, or white oryx, has become extinct in the wild.


The population of Burkina Faso in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 13,925,000, which placed it at number 64 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 46% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 101 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 2.5%, a rate the government viewed as too high. The projected population for the year 2025 was 22,459,000. The population density was 51 per sq km (132 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 17% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 5.18%. The capital city, Ouagadougou, had a population of 821,000 in that year. The only other large city is Bobo-Dioulasso.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS has had a significant impact on the population of Burkina Faso. The UN estimated that 6.4% of adults between the ages of 1549 were living with HIV/AIDS in 2001. The AIDS epidemic causes higher death and infant mortality rates, and lowers life expectancy. Counterbalancing the negative impacts of HIV/AIDS on population growth is a high fertility rate, due to low contraceptive use.


Seasonal labor migration in Burkina Faso began in the colonial period as a means of obtaining money for taxes and continues as a remedy for economic deficiencies. According to some estimates, as many as two million Burkinabe live abroad at any one time, about half in Côte d'Ivoire and the rest throughout West Africa, where many are employed on coffee and cocoa plantations. In 1995, there were 49,500 refugees from Mali in Burkina Faso; repatriation of the Tuareg refugees from Mali and Niger was successfully completed by 1998. In June 1998, Burkina Faso and Benin became the first African countries to accept applicants for resettlement from other African nations. The initial goal of the resettlement program was to resettle 200 individuals over a two-year period. As of 2004, 492 people were registered as refugees. Another 518 were registered as asylum seekers. The total number of migrants in the country numbered 1,124,000 in 2000. In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated as zero.


The principal ethnic group in Burkina Faso is the Mossi, who make up about 40% of the total population. They are mainly farmers and live in the central portions of the country. The Bobo, the secondlargest ethnic group (about one million), are mostly farmers, artisans, and metalworkers living in the southwest around Bobo-Dioulasso. Other groups include the Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Mande, and the nomadic Fulani, or Peul, who inhabit the areas near the country's northern borders. The number of nomads in the north has diminished since the Sahelian drought of the 1970s.


French is the official language of Burkina Faso. However, tribal languages belonging to the Sudanic family are spoken by 90% of the population. Moré, spoken by 55% of the population, is the most important indigenous language. The various ethnic groups speak their own languages.


About 5560% of the population practice Islam, about 1520% practice Roman Catholicism, and approximately 5% are Protestant. It is believed that a majority of the population also includes traditional indigenous elements within their religious practice. About 2025% of the population practice traditional indigenous religions exclusively or principally.

Citizens in rural areas tend to practice the traditional religions. Members of the Fulani and Dioula ethnic groups are predominantly Muslim. The majority of all the nation's Muslims are Sunnis, but minority groups belong to the Shia, Tidjania, and Wahhabite sects. A large number of foreign missionary groups are active within the country, including the Assemblies of God, the Christian Missionary Alliance, the Campus Crusade for Christ, Baptists, Mennonites, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, the World Evangelical Crusade, and the Pentecostal Church of Canada. Islamic missionary groups include the World Islamic League and Ahmadia.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration to obtain legal status. Certain Muslim and Christian holidays are observed as public holidays.


In 2002, Burkina Faso had 12,506 km (7,771 mi) of roads, of which about 2,001 km (1,243 mi) were paved. Many of the secondary roads are not open all year. Vehicles in 2003 included 49,800 passenger cars, and 28,650 commercial vehicles.

The 510-km (317-mi) Mossi Railroad in Burkina Faso is part of the line that begins at Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, and ends in Niger, some 1,145 km (710 mi) away. The line serves the towns of Banfora, Bobo-Dioulasso, Koudougou, and Ouagadougou; 2540% of the railway traffic passes through Burkina Faso, where total rail trackage consisted of 622 km (386 mi) of 1.000-m narrow gauge track in 2004. Planning for the construction of a railroad from Ouagadougou to Tambao (353 km/219 mi) to exploit the mineral deposits in the area was begun in October 1981. Constructed by volunteers, the line reached Donsin, 33 km (21 mi) from Ouagadougou, in 1987, and the second stage to Kaya (77 km/48 mi) was completed by 1991.

There are international airports at Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso and numerous smaller airfields. In 2004, the number of airports totaled 33, only 2 of which had paved runways as of 2005. Burkina Faso owns part of Air Afrique, which provides the country with international service. Air Burkina, which began in 1967, is government-run and has a monopoly on domestic service. It also flies to neighboring countries. In 2003, about 55,000 passengers were transported on domestic and international flights.


Until the end of the 19th century, the history of Burkina Faso is the history of empire-building by the Mossi. Legend and tradition as well as some ethnographic evidence all suggest that the Mossi entered the region from the 11th to the 13th century as a warrior group from Central or East Africa and subjugated the weaker aboriginal Ninigi tribes.

They called their land Mogho ("country of the Mossi") and established five independent kingdomsTenkodogo, Yatenga, Gourma, Zandoma, and Ouagadougou. Each was ruled by a king, the mogho or moro naba ("ruler of the Mossi"); and Ouagadougou was the most powerful of the kingdoms.

Through the centuries, the Mossi population was augmented by groups of immigrants, such as the Hausa and the Fulani, who settled in Mossi territory but retained their ethnic identity. Contact and conflict with Islam came early. From the beginning of the 14th century, the Mossi had been engaged in recurrent wars with the neighboring empires of Mali and Songhai. They also occupied Timbuktu (now in Mali) at various times. After suffering defeat in the hands of Askia Daoud of Songhai in the 16th century, the Mossi ceased fighting with their powerful neighbors. Their warrior tradition and their internal unity continued, however.

By the 19th century, Mossi power seems to have declined. When the first known European incursions occurred late in the 19th century, internal dissension made the Mossi prey to the invaders. A French lieutenant, Voulet, was sent with an infantry column to subjugate the territory in 1896. Ouagadougou fell to Voulet in September of that year. The Mossi accepted French domination as a form of protection from their hostile neighbors.

In 1919, the French created a separate colony called Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). But in 1932, Upper Volta's territory was divided among Niger, French Sudan (now Mali), and Côte d'Ivoire. Throughout the colonial period, the traditional political structure of the Mossi was retained; hence, the moro naba of Ouagadougou was regarded by the French as the emperor of the Mossi. When World War II broke out, the moro naba sent his two eldest sons to fight for France; more than 10,000 youths in the territory also followed suit. The restoration of Upper Volta as a territorial unit, long the aim of the traditional chiefs, became a reality in 1947. In 1958, voters in Upper Volta overwhelmingly approved the new constitution of the Fifth French Republic, and Upper Volta's territorial assembly voted to make the country an autonomous state within the French Community. By this time, the traditional chiefs had lost much of their influence, and political power was in the hands of the young, European-educated elite.

The republic achieved independent status on 5 August 1960. Maurice Yaméogo, leader of the Volta Democratic Union, became president. His government quickly took on an authoritarian cast and banned all opposition parties. In 1965, a single electoral list was offered to the people, and the oppositionjoined by civil servants, trade unionists, and studentsfomented riots. Yaméogo was replaced in January 1966 by Lt. Col. (later Gen.) Sangoulé Lamizana, a former army chief of staff, who suspended the 1960 constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, and formed a military-civilian cabinet.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Upper Volta suffered from severe political instability. A constitution that provided for an elected assembly was adopted in 1970, but factional struggle broke out and became so disruptive that in February 1974, President Lamizana announced that the military had again taken over the government. A new constitution was approved in 1977; under this constitution, Lamizana won election to the presidency in 1978. On 25 November 1980, however, Lamizana was deposed in a bloodless coup led by Col. Sayé Zerbo, who became president. Zerbo's government was overthrown on 7 November 1982 by yet another army coup, and Maj. Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo was named president.

Under the moderate Ouédraogo regime, a military faction emerged that was suspected of having close ties to Libya. Prominent in this group was Capt. Thomas Sankara, who served as prime minister from January until May 1983, when he was purged by Ouédraogo. On 4 August 1983, Sankara seized power in what was Upper Volta's third coup in as many years. As many as 20 persons may have died in the disturbances. After the coup, Sankara, who emerged at the head of the ruling National Revolutionary Council, sought to retain Upper Volta's traditional foreign aid ties with the West while establishing warm relations with such nations as Ghana, Libya, the USSR, and Cuba.

Sankara also sought to instill his nation with a spirit of revolutionary fervor. In August 1984, on the first anniversary of his rule, he renamed the nation Burkina Faso, meaning roughly "Land of Upright Men." He led a campaign against corruption and tax evasion; and he trimmed government spending by cutting the salaries of civil servants, an action that earned him the enmity of the nation's small but influential labor unions. A substantial number of politicians, soldiers, government officials, and labor leaders were jailed, and seven men were executed in 1984 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

In December 1985, Burkina Faso took up arms against Mali. At issue was a strip of land 20-by 160-km (12-by 100-mi) that had triggered clashes first in 1974, and again in 1975. On 22 December 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of dividing the territory into roughly equal parts, a decision both nations accepted.

On 15 October 1987, faced by opposition among the trade unions and civil servants, the government was overthrown by an army unit. The putsch was led by Capt. Blaise Compaoré, the president's chief adviser who is also said to have been his inseparable companion. Sankara and 12 aides (including two of the coup plotters) were immediately shot, and Compaoré assumed the presidency. Executions of highly placed military men followed a coup attempt on 18 September 1989.

As the 1990s dawned, the authorities sought to legitimize their position at the ballot box. They championed the drafting of a new constitution that called for multiparty elections for president and a national legislature. In March of 1991, the ruling party abandoned its Marxist ideology and embraced free enterprise.

Elections were held for president in December 1991; a parliamentary election followed in 24 May 1992. Results from both were disputed, and they led to no changes in the government. Compaoré ran unopposed for president and his party, the Popular Democratic Organization-Worker's Movement (ODP-MT), carried the legislative elections. Only three opposition parties contested seats nationwide; 35 parties boycotted the poll and only 35% of eligible voters voted. The ODP-MT won 78 of 107 seats, with 9 other parties splitting the remainder of the vote. The government convened on 15 June and Youssouf Ouédraogo was named prime minister. The introduction of multiparty competition was a major reform, but the lack of probity in the electoral process prompted critics to label the government and its reforms a "shamocracy."

Under Compaoré, Burkina Faso has conducted an active foreign policy in West Africa. It sent troops to Liberia and harbors dissidents from Gambia. This has alienated Compaoré from his fellow West African leaders and from western governments, including the United States, which recalled its ambassador in 1992. Burkina Faso continued its support for Liberian insurgent Charles Taylor and his NPFL despite a West-Africa-wide deployment of forcesECOMOGin Liberia to help resolve the lingering and bloody civil war there. Burkina Faso had refused to contribute forces to ECOMOG, despite international pressure, until 1995, when the Compaoré regime announced it was satisfied with the cease-fire accord signed that year in Nigeria.

Human rights violations have been commonplace under the Compaoré regime. The government has suppressed a vocal independent press, and the security forces have used excessive force against demonstrations and government critics. In December 1998, the sudden and suspicious death of Norbert Zongo, an investigative reporter, unleashed a backlash of demands for reforms. Zongo had been investigating allegations that the president's brother, Francois Compaoré had taken part in the murder of his own chauffeur, David Ouédraogo. Zongo's charred body and those of three companions were found in a bullet-riddled car near the capital.

In March 1999, thousands of students, school children, and other protesters had marked Zongo's death with a peaceful march to his gravesite. Since then, high school and university student groups, and a group known as Le Collectif comprising human rights groups, NGOs, labor unions, and political parties, have organized numerous stay-at-home's, and strikes throughout the country. Besides a full and independent investigation into Zongo's death, they demanded reforms to the judiciary, guarantees for human rights, revisions to the constitution, and to the electoral code. In late 1999, an independent inquiry concluded that Zongo had been a victim of political assassination. In April 2000, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) condemned the closure of a private radio that had aired a communiqué from a coalition of opposition and human rights groups, calling for a rally to protest the government's handling of the Zongo case.

Progress toward the rule of law was made when the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), established by Compaoré in November 1998, asked the government in February 2000 to arrange special trials of people implicated in economic crimes and political killings. Though estimates placed the number of political killings since 1989 at 100 or more, 60 of these cases and compensation for widows and orphans were to be handled by these special units located in each of the districts. In 2001, Compaoré established a fund of $7.75 million to compensate families of victims of political violence and rights abuses.

In 2001 and 2002 the country experienced outbreaks of meningitis that killed more than 2,500 in two consecutive seasons. Since September 2002, more than 150,000 Burkinabe refugees have returned home owing to the civil conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. The May 2002 parliamentary elections marked the first time in Burkina's history that three consecutive legislative elections were held without a military coup. It was also the first time that the single ballot was used in an election. Some 30 parties participated in the elections, but seats were shared between a few. The major winners were President Compaoré's Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) with 57 seats and The African Democratic Rally-Alliance for Democracy and Federation (ADF/RDA), which took 17 seats.


Under the constitution of 27 November 1960, Upper Volta was governed by a president, a council of ministers, and a National Assembly of 50 members. On 5 January 1966, President Lamizana suspended the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly, announcing that he would exercise legislative and executive power by ordinance and decree. A constitution approved in 1970 provided for eventual restitution of democratic institutions, although with a formal role in the government for the military. The 1970 constitution was suspended in February 1974, when the army again assumed full power.

A democratic constitution, adopted in 1977, provided for a president and a 57-member National Assembly. This document was abolished after the coup of 25 November 1980, and the Military Committee for Reform and National Progress (Comité Militaire de Redressement pour le Progrès NationalCMRPN), led by Col. Sayé Zerbo, assumed power. The military coup of 7 November 1982 led to the abolition of the CMRPN and the formation of the People's Salvation Council (Conseil du Salut du PeupleCSP) under Maj. Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo. The CSP was itself dissolved by the military coup of 4 August 1983, which established the National Revolutionary Council (Conseil National de la RévolutionCNR), a body that included radical former CSP members. Under Capt. Thomas Sankara, its chairman and the head of state, the CNR was the supreme governmental authority and was assisted by a Council of Ministers. Following the October 1987 coup, this body was renamed the Popular Front, with Capt. Blaise Compaoré as its chief.

A new constitution, establishing the fourth republic, was adopted on 2 June 1991. Among other provisions, it called for an Assembly of People's Deputies with 107 seats (now 111). The president is chief of state, chairs a council of ministers, appoints a prime minister, who with the legislature's consent, serves as head of government. In April 2000, the constitution was amended reducing the presidential term from seven to five years, enforceable as of 2005, and allowing the president to be reelected only once. However, it is not clear whether this amendment would be applied retroactively or notand how it might affect a possible future ambition on the part of President Compaoré. The legislative branch is a unicameral National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) consisting of 111 seats. Members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. New elections were expected in May 2007.

In April 2005, President Compaoré was reelected for a third straight term. He won 80.3% of the vote, while Benewende Stanislas Sankara came a distant second with a mere 4.9%. The next presidential election was due in November 2010.


After the 1978 competitive presidential and legislative elections, the government recognized only the three largest parties in the National Assembly: the Voltaic Democratic UnionAfrican Democratic Rally, the National Union for Democracy, and the Voltaic Progressive Union. The last subsequently merged with smaller groups to form the Voltaic Progressive Front.

Following the coup of 25 November 1980, all political parties were banned. To disseminate government views on a grass-roots level, the CNR, which took power in 1983, sponsored the formation of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

The Compaoré government legalized parties prior to holding elections on 24 May 1992. Compaoré's Popular Democratic Organization-Worker's Movement (ODP-MT) gained 78 seats. The National Convention of Progressive Patriots-Social Democratic Party (CNPP-PSD) won 12 seats and the African Democratic Assembly (ADA) won 6. Eight other parties were represented in the Assembly of People's Deputies. Abstention of 65% of the voters diminished the significance of this election.

National Assembly elections were held 11 May 1997. Again, a boycott resulted in an approximate 50% voter turnout with the CDP of President Compaoré winning 101 seats, the PDP 6 seats, the RDA 2 seats, and the ADF 2 seats.

In the municipal elections of September 2000, the CDP took 802 of 1,098 council seats based on a voter turn-out of 68.4% in a field of 25 parties. The African Democratic Rally-Alliance for Democracy and Federation (ADF/RDA) took second place with 133 seats. Third place was taken by l'Union des Démocrates Libéraux (ULD), a pro-presidential group with 49 seats. The l'Union pour la Démocratie et la Fédération (UDF), an opposition group, took fourth place with 22 seats. The Party for African Independence (PAI) took fifth place with 20 seats. A number of younger parties including the Democratic Convention for Federation (CDF) took the remaining seats. Numerous complaints of fraud were brought forward to the Constitutional Court, but they hardly affected the overall results.

The parliamentary elections of May 2002 saw the CDP retain its majority, but its control declined to 57 seats against 17 for ADF/RDA led by Hermann Yaméogo. The Party for Democracy and Progress (PDP/PS) of Joseph Ki-Zerbo won 10 seats; the CFD took 5; PAI led by Philippe Ouedraogo also took 5 while other parties won 17 seats. The next elections were scheduled for May 2007.


In 1986, Burkina Faso was divided into 30 provinces; the number of provinces increased to 45 following approval by the National Assembly of a new electoral code in 1997. Provinces were subdivided into 300 departments and 7,285 villages. In the 1995 municipal elections, President Compaoré's supporters won absolute majorities in 26 of 33 municipalities. Fewer than 10% of the eligible voters registered, and 25% of the registered voters abstained. The 24 September 2000 municipal elections were boycotted by a coalition of opposition parties known as the February the Fourteenth movement; as such, the ruling CDP party won in 40 of the 49 municipalities.


At the apex of the judicial system is the Supreme Court and beneath it are courts of appeal at Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Courts of the first instance in Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Ouahigouya, and Fada N'Gourma deal with cases involving civil, criminal, and commercial law, and a court at Ouagadougou specializes in common law. The courts of appeal are in the capital. Following the 1983 coup, the CNR created tribunals to try former government officials for corruption and mismanagement. These "people's tribunals" infringed to some degree on the functions of courts of the first instance. In 1993, the "people's tribunals" were abolished.

In addition to the courts described above, traditional courts at the village level apply customary law in cases involving divorce and inheritance. The legal system is based on the French civil law system and customary law. There is also a High Court of Justice to try the president and high government officials for treason or other serious crimes.

In June 1991, a new constitution was adopted which provided a number of safeguards including a right to public trial, right to access to counsel and a right to appeal. In 1995, an Office of Ombudsman "Mediateur du Faso" was created for resolving disputes between the state and its citizens. The judiciary operates independently of the executive; yet the president has considerable power as well as influence over the appointment of judges.


In 2005, Burkina Faso had 10,800 active personnel in its armed forces. The Army had 6,400 personnel. The 200-member Air Force had 5 combat capable aircraft. The gendarmerie consisted of 4,200 personnel, and 45,000 men and women were on reserve in a "people's militia." The defense budget in 2005 totaled $72.7 million.


Burkina Faso was admitted to UN membership on 20 September 1960. It is a member of ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies. It is also a member of the WTO (1995), the African Development Bank, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the ACP Group, ECOWAS, G-77, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the African Union. The nation is part of the Franc Zone and the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD). Together with other countries of former French West Africa, it participates in the Council of the Entente. The headquarters of the Communauté Economique de l'Afrique de l'Ouest are in Ouagadougou. Burkina Faso also belongs to the Niger Basin Authority. Burkina Faso is part of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, the nation is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Burkina Faso remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Agriculture accounts for about 35% of the GDP and employs about 90% of the labor force. Food staplesmillet, sorghum, maize, and riceare the principal crops grown for domestic consumption. Cotton is the principal export crop; its cultivation, however, is notably price sensitive. In addition, Burkina exports small amounts of shea nuts, sesame, groundnuts, sugar, cashews, and garden vegetables. The livestock sector was once substantial, but had declined by 2002.

The environmental conditions for agriculture are often precarious. Northern Burkina is at the edge of the Sahara Desert and has been subject to severe drought. Furthermore, Burkina soils are generally poor and lateritic. However, expansion of agriculture to more fertile fields in river valleys was supported by a multimillion-dollar UN project to eradicate "river blindness" (onchocerciasis) which had previously rendered these locations uninhabitable.

Burkina's mineral sector is largely undeveloped. Long underestimated, the Poura gold reserves have proven to be capable of generating nearly 10% of export earnings annually. Zinc and silver deposits at Perkoa have been judged commercially viable. The World Bank issued loans in 1996 to upgrade the mining industry.

Mineral deposits in the north of the country were hostage to the extension of the Abidjan-to-Ouagadougou rail line to Dori. Significant limestone deposits basic to cement manufacturing are located near Tambao at Tin Hrassan. Other mineral resources are manganese, vanadium-bearing magnetite, bauxite, lead, nickel, and phosphates.

In January 1994 France devalued the CFA franc, causing its value to drop in half overnight. Immediately, prices for almost all imported goods soared, including prices for food and essential drugs, like those to combat malaria. The devaluation was designed to encourage new investment, particularly in the export sectors of the economy, and discourage the use of hard currency reserves to buy products that could be grown domestically. Prior to devaluation, Burkina Faso imported most of its food and had little to export; since 1994, exports have risen. As of 2003, economic progress depended upon reducing the trade deficit, the continuation of low inflation rates, improving the infrastructure, pursuing privatization, developing mineral resources, and encouraging private investment. Foreign aid remains the chief source of finance for investment and economic development. In 1999, the World Bank agreed to implement a five-year structural adjustment program of $53 million, and in 2000, it approved an interest-free $45 million Poverty Reduction Support Credit (PRSC) for the country, to help it carry out poverty-reduction policies and programs.

The growth rate of the economy was 6.5% in 2003, up from 4.4% in 2002. By 2004, the rate was expected to fall to 4.6%, and to 3.5% by 2005. Inflation decreased from 5.0% in 2001 to subzero levels in 2004. Inflation targeting and macroeconomic policy were devolved to the West African Regional Central Bank, but the government of Burkina Faso maintains control over microeconomic policies. The prolonged crisis in neighboring Côte d'Ivoire has also hit the economy of Burkina Faso, which now is even more dependent on international aid.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Burkina Faso's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $16.9 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,200. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 6.4%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 39.5% of GDP, industry 19.3%, and services 41.3%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $50 million or about $4 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.2% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $451 million or about $37 per capita and accounted for approximately 10.8% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Burkina Faso totaled $3.34 billion or about $281 per capita based on a GDP of $4.2 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.8%. It was estimated that in 2003 about 45% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2003, Burkina Faso's labor force totaled five million people. However, a large part of the country's male labor force migrates annually to neighboring countries for temporary employment. As of 2005, approximately 85% of workers were involved in subsistence farming. There is no data available as the the nation's unemployment rate.

Although the vast majority of the country's workforce was in the agricutural sector and were not members of a union, the majority of the remaining workforce were union members. About 60% of the country's public employees were union members, while around 50% of the workers in the private sector were unionized in 2005. However, essential workers such as police officers may not unionize. Workers may use strikes to achieve their labor goals.

The minimum age for employment is 14 years, although due to the economy and vast number of agricultural workers, child labor remains a huge problem. There was a standard workweek of 40 hours and a minimum monthly wage of $53 in 2005. However, the minimum wage does not apply to those in subsistence agriculture. There are also public safety and health laws, which also exclude subsistence agriculture. Nevertheless, a lack of resources means that these standards are seldom enforced anywhere.


Agriculture employs the vast majority of the work force and accounted for an estimated 31% of GDP in 2004. However, only an estimated 13% of the total land area is under annual or perennial crops. Government attempts to modernize the agricultural sector have met with some success, especially with cotton, whose export accounted for 51% of total exports in 2004. In 2004, about 85% of the 210,000 tons of cotton produced was exported. The resistance to improvement has been due mostly to the insufficient water supply and poor soil. Burkina Faso is not self-sufficient in food. Although total cereal production rose from 1,547,000 tons in 1990 to 3,063,000 tons in 2004, imports are needed to meet demand.

In the early 1980s, local laborers constructed a 1,144-km (711-mi) canal to bring water for irrigation from the Black Volta to the newly constructed Sourou Dam. This work was part of a plan to establish 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres) of irrigated land for smallholders and state projects. Production figures for principal subsistence crops in 2004 were sorghum, 1,481,000 tons; millet, 881,000 tons; corn, 595,000 tons; and rice, 95,000 tons. Commercial crops (with 2004 production figures) included cottonseed (315,000 tons), groundnuts (321,000 tons), cotton fiber (210,000 tons), and sesame (29,000 tons). Other important crops are cassava, cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and tobacco. Sugarcane has been introduced on a large scale and is becoming an important cash crop; 450,000 tons were produced in 2004.


In 2004 there were an estimated 10,586,000 goats; 7,000,000 sheep; 541,000 asses; 674,000 pigs; 27,000 horses; and 24,000,000 chickens. Meat production in 2004 included 58,100 tons of beef; 28,200 tons of poultry; 27,000 tons of goat meat; 14,000 tons of mutton; and 9,700 tons of pork. In 2004, 9,500 tons of cattle hides; 7,100 tons of goatskins; and 3,400 tons of sheepskins were produced. Dairy products that year included 187,100 tons of cow's milk; 54,000 tons of goat's milk; and 1,400 tons of butter and ghee. Hens produced 18,200 tons of eggs in 2004. During 200204, livestock production was 6.3% higher than during 19992001 and almost 30% higher than during 199294. Further development depends on the availability of pasturage and water, as well as the import policies and tax levels of neighboring countries.


The country has no access to the sea, and freshwater areas are limited. Fish are caught by traditional methods, and production amounted to 9,005 tons in 2003.


Almost all vestiges of Burkina Faso's primitive forest have been cut down for fuel or to make way for farmland, and reforestation did not begin until 1973. About 50% of the total land is considered forest or woodland. Deforestation proceeded at the rate of 0.2% per year during 19902000. Roundwood removals were estimated at 7.3 million cu m (259 million cu ft) in 2003, 84% for fuel.


Mining does not play a significant role in Burkina Faso's economy. However, government revenues are dominated by gold, the third leading export commodity. Gold mining output for 2004 was 1,125 kg, and artisanal miners have become the predominant producers. The gold mine at Poura, which was estimated to contain 450,000 tons of ore at a grade of 12 grams per ton of gold, closed in 1999, reportedly because of low gold prices, after completion of an $11.6 million rehabilitation project in 1997 financed by the European Union. The mine was operated by the parastatal Société de Recherches et d'Exploitations Minères du Burkina (SOREMIB), and production was complemented by the output of tens of thousands of individual prospectors called orpaillages. An estimated 40%60% of artisanal gold production was smuggled out of the country.

Exploitation of an estimated 15 million tons of high-grade manganese ore at Tambao awaited better commercial prospects and completion of a railway extension from Ouagadougou to Tambao. As of 2004, the mine remained closed. Bauxite deposits have been located in the regions of Kaya and Bobo-Dioulasso. Significant mineral deposits included copper at Gaoua and Wayen, graphite at Kaya, and phosphate at Kodjari. Four main deposits of limestone have also been discovered. For many years, iron has been worked at Ouahigouya and near Banfora to make farm and home implements. The Perkoa high-grade zinc ore deposit, in development, had resources of 7 million tons and planned to produce 60,000 tons per year with an estimated mine life of 15 years. Other deposits included cassiterite, cobalt, diamonds, granite, lead, marble, nickel, phosphate rock, pumice, salt, sand and gravel, uranium, and vanadium. The government adopted a new mining code in 1997 primarily to standardize all the legal measures used to regulate the sector and to amend those parts of the previous legislation that had hindered future development.


All petroleum products are imported since the country has no known crude oil reserves or refining capacity as of 1 January 2003. Imports and consumption of petroleum in 2002 amounted to 8,870 barrels per day. As for natural gas, Burkina Faso is known to have no natural gas production, consumption, or reserves. Electricity accounts for all energy production. Total installed electrical capacity in 2001 was 0.121 million kW. Production rose from 42 million kWh in 1973 to 0.28 billion kWh in 2001, of which 73.6% was thermal and 26.4% hydroelectric. Consumption of electricity was 0.26 billion kWh in 2001. Construction of a 15,000 kW hydroelectric facility at Kompienga was finished in 1989. In 1999, with a grant from the government of Denmark, Burkina Faso built a new power station, completing it in just five months to meet the country's emergency energy needs. Production and distribution of electricity and water are controlled by the state-owned Société Nationale d'Électricité du Burkina (SONABEL), established in Ouagadougou in 1968.


Industry accounted for about 28% of Burkina's GDP in 2000, yet employed only 2% of the population. The principal centers for economic activity are Bobo-Dioulasso, Ouagadougou, Banfora, and Koudougou, cities on the rail line to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Burkinabe industry reflects an interesting diversity, but is dominated by unprofitable state-controlled corporations. Important sectors are food processing, textiles, and leather, although smallscale operations manufacture cigarettes, bricks, and light metal goods such as beds and agricultural implements. Other enterprises are a brewery and moped and bicycle assembly plants. Cotton production (cotton is Burkina Faso's main export) reached record levels in 1999, reaching 419,000 tons, marking the fifth consecutive year of strong growth in the sector. Gold is the country's third largest export.

Efforts were underway in 2003 to develop a shea butter industry in Burkina Faso: shea butter is used as a skin moisturizer and as a substitute for cocoa butter in the production of chocolate. Of 42 state enterprises selected for sale, 21 were divested by 1999. Shell, Elf Oil, Mobil Oil, and Texaco operate in Burkina Faso; the country has no hydrocarbon resources. SONABEL (Société Nationale Burkinabe d'Electricité) is the state-owned utility supplying electricity to the country. Burkina Faso has undeveloped phosphate resources and manganese deposits.

The industry's share in the economy dropped to 19.3% in 2004; agriculture accounted for 39.5% of the GDP, while services came in first with 41.3%. The bulk of the five million working people are engaged in agriculture, and a numerous male workers migrate annually to neighboring countries for seasonal employment.


Burkina Faso has a shortage of skilled scientists and technicians. Scientific and technical aid comes chiefly from France. In 1997 (the latest year for which data is available), expenditures for research and development totaled $16.951 million or 0.2% of GDP. In that year there were 17 scientists and 16 technicians per million people, actively engaged in R&D. In 1997, high technology exports totaled $2 million, or 7% of total manufactured exports. Burkina Faso has four national institutes conducting research in agriculture, medicine, and natural sciences; and two French institutes conducting research in medicine, hydrology, and geology; and an international institute (founded in 1960) to combat endemic and transmitted diseases and malnutrition and to train medical workers in eight member African states. The University of Ouagadougou (founded in 1969) has institutes of mathematics and physics, chemistry, natural science, technology, and health sciences. A 14-nation school of engineering and rural equipment (founded in 1968) is in Ouagadougou. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 37% of college and university enrollments.


As of 2000, about 90% of the population was employed in subsistence farming. The country relies heavily on imports for capital goods and food products. Importers generally are their own wholesalers and often their own retailers, dealing in everything from matches to farm equipment. There are a limited number of privately-owned factories for cotton and textiles manufacturing and food processing. Many residents migrate to surrounding countries to find work and send money back home. The main commercial centers are in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, where French commercial practices prevail.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 170.6 582.7 -412.1
France-Monaco 78.8 130.1 -51.3
Switzerland-Liechtenstein 17.5 17.5
Côte d'Ivoire 12.4 115.8 -103.4
Singapore 9.2 9.2
Togo 6.8 19.4 -12.6
Belgium 6.7 20.5 -13.8
Mali 5.6 5.6
Ghana 4.7 7.0 -2.3
Special Categories 3.9 16.3 -12.4
Niger 3.6 3.6
() data not available or not significant.


The leading imports are machinery and food products. Refined petroleum products also account for much of the nation's imports, along with cement, clinker, and fertilizers. Cotton is Burkina Faso's largest export (57%), with gold in second place (17%), and animal products coming in third. Vegetables, leather, oil seeds, and animal hides account for about 20% of exports.

In 2004, exports reached $419 million (FOBfree on board), while imports grew to $866 million (FOB). The bulk of exports went to China (32.1%), Singapore (11.5%), Ghana (4.7%), and Bangladesh (4.3%). Imports mainly came from France (29.3%), Côte d'Ivoire (16%), Togo (9.8%), and Belgium (5.0%).


Burkina Faso's balance of payments is chronically negative, as receipts from exports of goods and services typically only cover 3040% of imports. It has had to rely heavily on remittances from Burkinabe working abroad and on international credits and other forms of borrowing to help offset widening trade imbalances. These factors, together with net capital inflows, generated a slight surplus from 1986 to 1988. Declining gold exports and falling cotton prices in 1989, coupled with increased imports and declining remittances from abroad, seriously deteriorated Burkina Faso's

Current Account -380.8
    Balance on goods -285.8
       Imports -509.3
       Exports 223.5
    Balance on services -104.7
    Balance on income -24.5
    Current transfers 34.1
Capital Account 165.2
Financial Account 25.2
    Direct investment abroad -0.6
    Direct investment in Burkina Faso 8.8
    Portfolio investment assets 10.0
    Portfolio investment liabilities 0.7
    Financial derivatives
    Other investment assets 5.6
    Other investment liabilities 0.6
Net Errors and Omissions 3.4
Reserves and Related Items 187.0
() data not available or not significant.

trade balance. By 1990, however, recovery in the gold and cotton sectors reduced the current account deficit to about 14% of GDP (from over 17% in 1989).

Burkina Faso and the IMF agreed upon a structural adjustment program in 1990 in which rigorous financial control was made a priority. Tax collections were improved and salaries stabilized to the point that budget surpluses were attained in 1989 and 1991. A value-added tax took effect in 1993. An enhanced structural adjustment program negotiated in 1993 sought growth of 311% annually while curbing ongoing financial imbalances. In 2003, the IMF approved a three-year $34 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Arrangement with Burkina Faso.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Burkina Faso's exports was $265 million while imports totaled $580 million resulting in a trade deficit of $315 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 1994 Burkina Faso had exports of goods totaling $216 million and imports totaling $344 million. The services credit totaled $56 million and debit $138 million.

Exports of goods and services reached an estimated $435 million in 2004, up from $321 million in 2003. Imports grew from $685 million in 2003, to $791 million in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative in both years, reaching -$364 million in 2003, and -$356 million in 2004. The current account balance was also negative, slightly decreasing from -$368 million in 2003, to -$397 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (excluding gold) grew to $528 million in 2004, covering around eight months of imports.


In 1959, the Central Bank of West African States (Banque Centrale des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest-BCEAO) succeeded the Currency Board of French West Africa and Togo as the bank of issue for the former French West African territories. In 1962, it was reorganized as the joint note-issue bank of Benin (then Dahomey), Côte d'Ivoire, Mauritania (which withdrew in 1973), Niger, Senegal, Togo, and Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta). BCEAO notes, known as CFA francs, are guaranteed by France without limitation. Foreign exchange receipts of Burkina Faso go into the BCEAO's exchange pool, which in turn covers its foreign exchange requirements.

Other banks are the International Bank for Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture of Burkina Faso; the National Development Bank (80% government-owned); the National Fund of Agricultural Credit of Burkina Faso (54% state-owned); the state-owned National Fund of Deposits and Investment; the International Bank of Burkina; Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP); Bank of Africa (BOA); and Ecobank Burkina.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $357.8 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $537.5 million. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 4.95%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 6.5%.


Insurance companies must have government approval and are subject to government supervision. Automobile third-party liability insurance is compulsory. Two French companies provide most types of insurance, as does the National Society for Insurance and Reinsurance (SONAR-51% state-owned). In 1986, nonlife insurance accounted for 95.7% of all premiums.


Burkina Faso's revenue sources are limited, and the country depends heavily on subsidies from France. An extensive fiscal adjustment program was begun in 1991 with the help of the IMF, that outlined plans for the privatization of state-owned enterprises. Over 40% of government income is derived from customs duties, but $18 million had been netted from parastatal sales by 1999. Personnel expenses account for over 40% of outlays. Budget deficits averaging 10% of GDP during 1998 added significantly to the debt service burden. At least 20% of the government budget is financed by foreign aid.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Burkina Faso's central government took in revenues of approximately $1 billion and had expenditures of $1.3 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$349 million. Total external debt was $1.85 billion.


The contribution of direct taxation of all kinds to the governmental revenue is relatively low. Individuals pay a single income tax, varying from 230% on salaries, tips, and other remuneration, and 10-45% on business income. Companies pay a tax on profits, a forfeit tax, and taxes on income from debt and investments. There are also a number of real estate taxes. Sales and transaction taxes are shared by most of the population. Indirect taxes include customs duties and license fees. Burkina Faso also levies a value added tax that varies from 1520%. There is also a 1% statistical tax and a 1% community solidarity tax. Additional taxes may be levied on industrial and agricultural products, livestock breeding, and fishing industry products.

There are consumption taxes on specified items, such as petroleum products and tobacco, and local taxes on motor vehicles.


Burkina Faso has made several trade reforms in the past decade. Most notably, almost all nontariff barriers to trade have been eliminated and the maximum tariff has been lowered from 200% to 66%, except for petroleum, which still carries a 150% tariff. Additionally, Burkina Faso is working with the World Trade Organization to get its tariff rates within WTO parameters.


Most foreign investments in Burkina Faso come from private French sources; however, investment capital from other EU members has increased in recent years. Under the Investment Code of 1992, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Mines approves new investments based on the recommendations of the National Investment Commission. The principal criterion used is value added, with a minimum acceptable level of 35%. The investment code has three incentive schedules: Schedule "A" for investment under 200 million CFAF (about 390,000), a more generous Schedule "B" for investments above this level, and an even more generous (permanent exemption from all Burkinabe taxes) Schedule "C" for export companies. The 1993 Mining Code regulates foreign mining enterprises. Investment has been sought for hotels, textile factories, agroindustrial projects, communications, and other fields in addition to mining. As of 1996, over 140 companies were holding exploration licenses while total investment in the mining sector amounted to $38 billion. As of the late 1990s, the most promising sectors for foreign interest and investment were the cotton industry and the gold mining industry. Foreign firms must reserve at least 35% of capital for Burkinabe participation and 50% for priority-sector investments.

Between 1997 and 1999, FDI inflow into Burkina Faso averaged $11.77 million, but then jumped to an annual average of $24 million of FDI in 2000 and 2001. France has been the source of most investment with Lebanese investors playing a prominent role in 2001. The only sizeable US investment has been from ExxonMobile in gas distribution.


Development of the agricultural sector and of infrastructure have been the priorities established by Burkina's recent development plans. The 199195 plan estimated that 75% of the investment total would be allocated to agriculture. A 199597 plan, developed with support by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), included a goal of 5% real annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP), with inflation controlled to a maximum of 3% per year. The plan placed emphasis on privatization and encouragement of foreign investment, particularly in industrial mining. As of the early 2000s, there was considerable interest in mining, especially of gold.

The country regularly receives bilateral and multilateral aid, primarily in technical assistance. France and the United States are the leading bilateral aid donors. Since 1991, Burkina Faso has been supported by relief from the IMF's Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF), and a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). Burkina Faso reached its completion point for assistance under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in 2000. The country completed a PRGF arrangement in 2002 that was fully disbursed. A three-year $34 million PRGF arrangement was approved in June 2003 to support the government's economic reform program for 200306. The 200203 political crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso's major regional trading partner, had repercussions in Burkina Faso, particularly with regard to the collection of taxes, and to the need for increased humanitarian assistance, border control, and security spending. Spending in 2002 was for goods and services including telephones, electricity, and water. Spending was also necessary for education, health, and other poverty-reducing initiatives.

The economy is expected to expand by 5.2% in 2006, up from 3.5% in 2005, as a result of more efficient agriculture programs, and a stabilized price for cotton. Other sectors with promising potential for the future are gold mining and the services sector (which is expected to grow following increased domestic demand).


A social insurance law provides employed persons with pensions for old age and disability. Spouses of pensioners receive survivor benefits equal to 50% of the insured person's pension. These programs are funded by equal contributions from employers and employees. Retirement age varies according to occupation. Medical coverage is limited to maternity benefits, consisting of 100% of regular earnings payable for 14 weeks. A worker's compensation program provides both temporary and permanent disability benefits and medical benefits. Employment-related family allowances are also paid to families with children under the age of 14. However, most citizens of Burkina Faso are subsistence farmers and fall outside the scope of the social security system.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, or ethnic origin, but does not mention sexual discrimination. Women do not have equal opportunities to education and employment, and they do not have the same property rights as men. Spousal abuse is common and polygymy is legal. Female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation, is still widely practiced. It has been estimated that as much as 70% of the female population has undergone this painful and dangerous procedure. The government is collaborating with nongovernmental organizations to stop this practice. Child abuse remains a widespread problem.

Prison conditions are poor and facilities are overcrowded. Serious human rights violations continue and perpetrators of these abuses are rarely punished.


The government of Burkina Faso took on the project of improving the quality of health services by upgrading facilities and skills, achieving control of endemic parasitic diseases, and strengthening sector institutions. Total health care expenditures were an estimated 4.1% of GDP.

As of 2004, it was estimated that there were as few as 4 physicians per 100,000 people. In addition there were only 26 nurses, and 4 midwives per 100,000 people. However, the hospital at Ouagadougou is one of the most modern in Africa. Medical centers at Bobo-Dioulasso carry on research on insect-borne diseases. Mobile medical units attempt to control leprosy, sleeping sickness, yellow fever, and other contagious diseases.

One of Burkina Faso's most serious health problems is onchocerciasis (river blindness), which touches 84% of the total land area and causes many thousands of people to desert settlements infected by the fly vector. A control program has had some success. About two-thirds of Burkina Faso residents have access to safe water. In early 1997, a meningitis epidemic in West Africa spread to Burkina Faso, resulting in 724 deaths out of 5,571 cases.

The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 92.94 per 1,000 live births. The crude birth rate was 44.34 in 1999. The incidence of low-birth weight babies was 21% in 199396. As of 2000, only 12% of married women (ages 15 to 49) used contraception. As of 1999, Burkina Faso immunized children up to one year old as follows: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 42% and measles, 53%.

Average life expectancy in 2005 was estimated at 48.45. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 4.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 300,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 29,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

In Burkina Faso, 70% of all women undergo female genital mutation. Approximately 3.5 million women and girls were affected. No laws restrict this procedure.


Architecture in the metropolitan centers is essentially French. Many African people, especially the Mossi, live in round huts with conical straw roofs or in rectangular huts with flat roofs.

Burkina Faso has experienced housing shortages in the past few decades primarily due to urbanization and poverty. In Ouagadougou, most houses are built with mud brick and/or plaster. About 10% are made with cement block. In 1991, there were about 1,399,149 households. About 92% of rural dwellings and 65% of urban housing were owner occupied. According to a 2002 report of The World Bank, about 70-80% of the residents in Ouagadougou had access to safe water and sanitation. Only 78% of the total population has access to safe water.


All public education is free. Primary education is compulsory for six years (ages 6 to 12). Secondary students then have an option of continuing in seven years of general studies or seven to eight years of technical programs. The academic year runs from October to June. The language of instruction is French.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 36% of age-eligible students; 42% for boys and 31% for girls. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 9% of age-eligible students; 11% for boys and 7% for girls. It is estimated that only about 29% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 45:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 31:1. In 2000, private schools accounted for about 12% of primary school enrollment and 34% of secondary enrollment.

The Center for Higher Education was established in 1969, and in 1974 it became the University of Ouagadougou. The Université Polytechnique de Bobo-Dioulasso was organized in 1996. In 2001, there were about 16,000 students enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 12.8%, with 18.5% for males and 8.1% for females.

The primary administrative body is the Ministry of Secondary and Higher Education and Scientific Research. Public expenditure on education has been estimated at about 2% of GDP.


The largest library, now part of the University of Ouagadougou, was founded in 1969 and had 70,000 volumes as of 2002. Other libraries are attached to institutes such as the Center for Economic and Social Studies of West Africa and the Institute of Environmental and Agricultural Research. There is also a large library (20,000 volumes) attached to the Grand Seminary of Koumi in Bobo-Dioulasso. The French Cultural Center in Ouagadougou holds 30,000 volumes. The National Museum in Ouagadougou has a collection of the ethnography, costumes, and domestic artifacts of Burkina Faso. There is the Museum of Southwest Civilizations in Gaoua, a regional museum in Pobe, and, opened in 1990, a Provincial Museum of Music in Bobo-Dioulasso housing a number of traditional instruments.


Radio, telephone, and telegraph services are available to Paris and to the neighboring countries. In 2003, there were an estimated five mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 12,400 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 19 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Two radio stations, one in Ouagadougou and one in Bobo-Dioulasso, are run by Radiodiffusion Nationale, the government radio corporation. Broadcasts are in French and 13 indigenous languages. There are several independent radio stations. As of 2002, there were a total of 3 AM and 17 FM radio stations. Télévision Nationale du Burkina, the government-owned television transmitting station, was established in 1963. Transmissions are made six days a week and are received only in Ouagadougou and BoboDioulasso. The government has been establishing public viewing centers. There is also one privately operated television station. In 2003, there were an estimated 433 radios and 12 television sets for every 1,000 people. In 2003, there were 2.1 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 4 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were two secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

Burkina Faso had seven daily newspapers in 2002, all published in Ouagadougou. L'Observateur Paalga and L'Observateur had the highest circulations (8,000 each). Other dailies included the Bulletin Quotidien D'Information (circulation 1,500), Le Pays (4,000), and Sidwaya (3,000). Several published periodicals, all issued in Ouagadougou, include the Bulletin Economique et Social, (circulation 550) published by the Chamber of Commerce six times a year, and Carrefour Africain, (circulation unavailable) published monthly with government sponsorship. The press agency Agence d'Information du Burkina is based in Ouagadougou.

The 1990 Information Code provides for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and it is said that these freedoms are in some degree circumscribed by self-censorship, as the government is sensitive to criticism.


The Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Handicrafts of Burkina Faso has its headquarters in Ouagadougou. There is also an Office for the Promotion of Burkinabe Enterprises. The National Farmers Union was created in 1987. Cooperative groups and unions are active, as are employers' and professional groups.

Student movements have played an influential role in national politics. A national student union was founded in 1965 at the University of Ouagadougou. Other youth organizations include chapters of the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Junior Chamber, Youth For Christ, Catholic Youth Organization, and Red Cross Youth. There are several sports associations, including those representing such pastimes as tennis, handball, and tae kwon do. There is a national organization for the Special Olympics.

There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society, Caritas, UNICEF, and Amnesty International.


Tourist attractions include the Nazinga, Arly, and "W" park game preserves. The National Museum and Museum of Music showcase the rich culture in Burkina. The market in the capital of Burkina, Ouagadougou, boasts crafts, art, and food, along with the Salon International de l'Artisanat de Ouagadougou (International Craft Show of Ouagadougou), the largest craft fair in Africa.

All visitors must have a passport, visa, and certificate of yellow fever vaccination. In 2000, there were 612,787 tourist arrivals. Hotels had an occupancy rate of 59%.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Ouagadougou at $192 per day. Costs were significantly lower outside the capital. Daily expenses in Bobo-Dioulasso were estimated at $90.


The best-known persons are Maurice Yaméogo (192193), a former president of Upper Volta during 196066; Moro Naba Kougri (193082), the traditional sovereign of the Mossi; and Sangoulé Lamizana (19162005), a former army chief of staff, who was president of Upper Volta from 1966 to 1980. Capt. Thomas Sankara (1949?87), who gained a following in the 1974 clashes with Mali, seized power in a 1983 coup; he was overthrown and executed in 1987. Capt. Blaise Compaoré (b.1951) assumed the presidency after Sankara's execution.


Burkina Faso has no territories or colonies.


Dun and Bradstreet's Export Guide to Burkina Faso. Parsippany, N.J.: Dun and Bradstreet, 1999.

Engberg-Pedersen, Lars. Endangering Development: Politics, Projects, and Environment in Burkina Faso. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.

Englebert, Pierre. Burkina Faso: Unsteady Statehood in West Africa. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996.

McFarland, Daniel Miles, and Lawrence A. Rupley. Historical Dictionary of Burkina Faso. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998.

. Historical Dictionary of Burkina Faso [computer file]. Boulder, Colo.: netLibrary, Inc., 2000.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Burkina Faso


Major Cities:
Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso

Other Cities:
Koudougou, Ouahigouya


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated July 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The West African country of BURKINA FASO , formerly Upper Volta, gained its independence in 1960 after 64 years of French control. Marking the first anniversary of its third military coup in three years, it was officially renamed on August 4, 1984, as part of an effort to Africanize the country and sever its ties to the colonial past. The name Burkina Faso translates as "the country of upright men," in the language of the dominant Mossi tribe.

Burkina Faso, controlled by the French from 1896 to 1960, traces its history through a thousand years of domination by the Empire of the Mossi, powerful warriors who are believed to have emigrated from East Africa in the 11th century. The Mossi still forcefully affect the political and economic life of the country.



Ouagadougou (pronounced Wah-gah-doo-goo), the capital city, is in central Burkina Faso, 500 miles north of the Ghanaian coastline. It has a long history as the center of the Mossi Empire, having been founded in the 11th century. The population numbers roughly one million, including 3,500 Europeans, mostly French. The city has tree-lined streets and much European and "African colonial" architecture. It is laid out compactly and simply.

The city has several modern public buildings sprinkled amid traditional residential neighborhoods. Ouagadougou is home to the country's national museum, a market, and a craft center. The city is connected by rail to the Atlantic port of Abidjan, capital of Cote d'Ivoire. This rail line provides landlocked Burkina Faso's primary link to the sea.

Several products are manufactured in Ouagadougou. These include textiles, soft drinks, matches, and foot-wear.

The national university of Burkina Faso, the University of Ouagadougou, is located here. It was formed from the Center for Higher Studies in 1974.


Most American children in Burkina Faso attend the coeducational International School of Ouagadougou (ISO), which follows an American curriculum from the preschool (ages three and up) through the eighth grade. French-language classes are held daily, in addition to courses in biology, algebra, literature, art, environmental education, physical education, and computer instruction. Extracurricular activities are available in art, music, dance, sports, yearbook, computers, and drama. The school, which serves the needs of the American community and children of other diplomatic representatives from 15 nations, was founded in 1977. A new campus was completed in 1992.

Ouagadougou has three lycées (high schools) which are Burkinabe and follow a modification of the French system. Teachers are French and Burkinabe. No American children of high school age have attended in recent years.

École Saint-Exupéry, supervised by the French Embassy, now extends from kindergarten to lycée (high school). Classes consist of about 25 students. Entry is based on space available, with registration more limited in kindergarten and first grade. When applying for entry, students should bring samples of previous work in addition to report cards, especially in math, to indicate grade level.


The most popular sports among Burkinabes are soccer, boxing, and bicycle racing. Soccer matches are held often at the stadium, and game announcements appear in the local newspaper.

Golf and tennis are popular with the American and European population, although facilities are limited. Some of the hotels have swimming pools, and these, along with privately-owned pools (e.g., the American Embassy Recreation Association), are the only safe places to swim. Visitors are warned not to wade or swim in ponds, rivers, or reservoirs.

Squash facilities are available at the International Squash Association of Ouagadougou. A yearly fee is charged. Visitors and expatriates are advised to bring their own racquet and balls, because equipment is not available locally.

An 18-hole laterite (red clay) golf course is located eight miles from Ouagadougou. The greens are rolled sand, slightly oiled. A membership fee is charged. Membership is limited and a waiting period of up to one year is not unusual.

Club de l'Étrier, a riding club, charges a membership fee plus monthly dues. Stallions with tack can be rented. Also, horses can be boarded. Riders should bring their own hat, crop, and boots.

Ouagadougou's Aero Club is open to membership and, since English is the international flight language, applicants need not speak French to join. Flying lessons are available. Another flight club is active in Bobo-Dioulasso.

Hunting is permitted only in special non-prohibited areas and during certain seasons.

One of the most interesting places to visit in Burkina Faso is the game reserve at Arly which connects with the Pendjari Reserve in Benin. It may be reached by car or by air. On the thousands of acres at Arly/Pendjari, the visitor can see several types of antelope, baboon, wild boar, water buffalo, and hippopotamus in two of the lakes. Wild boar, lion, elephant, and buffalo can be hunted at times in the non-prohibited areas.

Game reserves have two types of rooms available in the November-March season: regular air-conditioned rooms, or campements. Campements are hotels whose rooms are round, thatch-roofed huts with modern bathrooms and electricity. Reservations must be made in advance. Good food and cold drinks are served in the central dining room. Campements are linked with one another, and with Ouagadougou, by radio telephone. The reserve and hunting areas are 8-12 hours by car from the capital. Another important reserve, the "W" park, is in the area where the Niger, Benin, and Burkina Faso borders meet. A small park at Po, only a two-hour drive from Ouagadougou, is a convenient spot for an outing and for viewing elephants.

Americans and others enjoy an occasional weekend at Bobo-Diou-lasso, the center for Burkina Faso's limited industry.

Banfora, a rich agricultural region, has interesting scenery, with two splendid waterfalls and fascinating native dancers. At Loropeni, between Banfora and Gaoua to the east, is an interesting ruin resembling a medieval city. The walls, about two stories high, are estimated to be several centuries old. The origin of the city and other lesser ruins nearby remains unknown.

The far north and east of the country are semi-desert areas. Places of interest include a weekly camel market in Markoye, the Dori Social Center, and the sand dunes and marshlands in the Oursi and Gorom-Gorom area. In the north, the nomadic and semi-nomadic Peuhl (Fulani), Bella, and Tuareg tribesmen wear attractive costumes and are of considerable ethno-graphic interest.

Other "bush trips" can be very interesting if the traveler knows someone at the other end (missionary, Peace Corps volunteer, or local) who can show him around the area.

Outside Burkina Faso, places such as Mopti, Timbuktu, and the Dogon cliff dwellings near Bandiagara in Mali make a fascinating trip. People normally drive to Bandiagara and Mopti, and then take the plane to Timbuktu. A boat travels between Mopti and Timbuktu in the December and January flood season on the Niger River, but it is usually booked well in advance. The coast offers more of a change. Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, is accessible by plane, train, or car. The shopping, good restaurants, and varied amusements of this prosperous, semi-French city are refreshing, but expensive.

The drive over paved roads to Lomé, Togo makes a pleasant trip. Lama Kara is a good place to stop overnight. The shopping, good restaurants, and nice hotels on the beach make Lomé a pleasant experience. Flights to Lomé are also available.

The climate changes little within the country or the surrounding areas, but there is a change of scenery. Traveling is usually done during the cool, dry season. Trips anywhere within the country are reasonable in cost, but those to the coast are more expensive.


An air-conditioned theater and two open-air cinemas show French films. Sometimes a recent film is shown.

The Franco-Burkinabe Cultural Center has an active program of films, amateur theater, musical events, and many other cultural activities. Children's film and story telling sessions are sometimes featured. The American Cultural Center has a large library of videotapes ranging from serious political and economic discussions to music and cultural programs. It also has a large library, although many of the titles are in French. Sunday editions of the New York Times and Washington Post and 25 American magazines are available.

Several restaurants offer a variety of cuisines including French, Continental, North African, and Franco-Italian. Prices in Ouagadougou are comparable to Washington, D.C. Bars and discotheques provide other sources of entertainment. There is usually no cover charge, but drink prices are expensive in the nicer discotheques. Another type of night life includes live bands playing local music.

Tribal and religious ceremonies, folk dancing, and other national cultural activities are held throughout the year. Activities vary from district to district. Some Moslem religious festivals are well worth attending, especially large ceremonies at the central square in Ouagadougou.

A permit is required to do any photography. Visitors will find willing subjects for photography among most men. However, many women will object to being photographed and will cover their faces and hide their children. Some Orthodox Moslems, especially from remote areas, do not wish to have their pictures taken. It is always wise and courteous to ask permission. Polaroid cameras are popular. Everyone appearing in a print will probably want a copy. Film is available locally but is expensive. Burkinabe law forbids the photographing of the airport, government buildings and installations, the water treatment plant, military installations, and military personnel. This law is enforced.


Bobo-Dioulasso is the country's second largest city, and the center of Burkina Faso's limited industry. A number of small factories produce cooking oils, soap, cigarettes, matches, bicycles, shoes, inner tubes, and plastic bags. The population is approximately 450,000.

The Medical Entomology Center and the Muraz Medical Center in Bobo-Dioulasso conduct research on tropical diseases. One of the most important tropical disease centers in all of West Africa is also headquartered in the cityL'Organisation de Coordination and Coopération pour la Lutte Contre les Grandes Endémies (OCCGE), which was organized in 1968 by eight African states and France. France provides a large part of the budget.

Bobo-Dioulasso is an interesting city. It has a central market where many ivory, bronze, and iron handi-crafts are available for sale, among them native masks and curios. Fruits and vegetables are also sold here. The colonial architecture and tree-lined streets are reminiscent of the days when Bobo-Dioulasso was the capital of Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) and a French West Africa garrison town.

Bobo-Dioulasso is one of Burkina Faso's main transportation centers. It is located on the central rail line between the capital of Cote d'Ivoire, Abidjan, and Ouagadougou. To the west of the city lies Borgo International Airport.

The city is a center for Islamic culture and worship. Also, it is the home of a major college, the West African Center for Economic and Social Studies, and the seat of several government research institutes.

A working knowledge of French is necessary to live and conduct business in this southwestern Burkinabe city. Currently, there are no educational facilities for English-speaking children.


KOUDOUGOU , the third largest city in Burkina Faso with a population of over 100,000, is located approximately 55 miles west of Ouagadougou. In 1970, a textile plant, the first significant industrial facility in the country, began operation here. Using local supplies of cotton, the plant produces both yarn and woven material. Finished products are sold only within the country. There is also some peanut and tobacco production in the area.

OUAHIGOUYA , the country's next largest city, with a population of over 40,000, is about 100 miles northwest of Ouagadougou. Ouahigouya was one of the kingdoms of the former Mossi empire. From here, the Mossi warriors of Yatenga defeated the Mandingo emperor's troops and sacked Timbuktu in 1333. A beautiful mosque at Ramatoulaye, near Ouahigouya, permits women to enter. Women should not, however, offer to shake hands here, as it is against religious custom.


Geography and Climate

Burkina Faso lies landlocked between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea in the loop of the Niger River. It is bounded by Niger to the east; Mali to the north and west; and Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin to the south. It comprises 105,900 square miles (about the size of Colorado) on a savanna plateau, 500 to 747 meters above sea level. Most of the country lies beyond the humid rain belt, or rain forest, which extends about 400 miles northward from the sea. The land to the south is green with forests and fruit trees. Desert-like sandy areas lie to the north.

The country's main rivers are unnavigable and flow south toward the Gulf of Guinea. Several small streams in the east drain into the Niger River; most contain water only part of the year. Low hills separate the Black, Red, and White Volta River Basin from the Niger River Basin.

The climate is tropical with distinct seasonswarm and dry from November to March, hot and dry from March to May, and warm and wet during the rainy season from June to October. During cool weather (December to February), daily maximum temperatures average about 85°F, with almost no humidity. Temperatures drop sharply after sundown to a pleasant 60°F. The extreme dry heat of March, April, and May is uncomfortable. Daytime temperatures can reach well over 100°F. Homes and offices are air-conditioned.

Harmattan conditions (hot, dust-laden winds during the dry season) obscure visibility. Early summer rains break the extreme heat, but high winds bring dust clouds just before the rain. Annual rainfall is about 40 inches in the south; it is less than 10 inches in the extreme north and northeast, where a hot desert wind accentuates the aridity.

The number of mosquitoes, flies, and other insects varies with the season. Poisonous snakes exist, but are not often found in the city. Mildew is not a problem.

Natural hazards, such as earthquakes and floods, are no danger. Droughts cause great hardship in the northern part of the country among farmers and herdsmen.


Burkina Faso's population of approximately 11.9 million comprises 50 distinct tribal groups. The powerful Mossi, constituting about one half of the ethnic population, dominate political and economic life. They are descendants of warriors who founded a thousand-year-long empire in the area. The emperor of the Mossi still holds court in Ouagadougou. Other important tribes are the Gourounsi, the Bobos, the Lobi, the Senufo, the Mande, and the Peuhls. A few thousand Tuaregs inhabit the northern regions. Few Burkinabes are of non-African descent.

Most people live in southern and central Burkina Faso. Population density in the Mossi Plateau can exceed 125 persons per square mile. Overpopulation causes thousands of Burkinabes to migrate yearly to the Cote d'Ivoire for seasonal agricultural work and long-term employment.

French is the official government language and is taught in schools. However, each ethnic group has its own principal language and many Burkinabe often speak several dialects. People in the Ouagadougou market and in the countryside often speak only their tribal language, but Moré, the language of the Mossi, has become a lingua franca for half of the country. Dioula (Bambara) dominates the western third.

Approximately 40 percent of the people are strongly attached to fetishism and animism. About 50 percent are converts to Islam and 10 percent are Christiansmostly Roman Catholics, with a small number of Protestants. Since many of the Burkinabe elite have been educated in Catholic schools, Catholicism has a significant influence in the country.

Most Burkinabes are too concerned with the struggle for existence to become involved in issues that do not involve them directly. Subsistence agriculture is the standard means of livelihood.

Traditional society in Burkina Faso is based on the extended family. The senior male, as family head, determines matters of descent and inheritance, controls the use of resources, and settles family disputes. Burkinabe women are considered inferior to men in many respects.

Only 10 percent of the population live in the modern environment of larger towns and cities. The new elite has adopted Western ways of living without abandoning its African heritage. Many of these were trained in the educational system established by the French, and follow cultural standards of both Africa and Europe, especially France.


Burkina Faso was under French control from 1896 until December 1958, when it became an autonomous state of the French community. The country achieved full independence on August 5, 1960, loosening its French political and economic orbit, and elected Maurice Yaméogo its first president. However, it maintained close associations with the Cote d'Ivoire, Niger, Benin, and Togo (other members of the "Council of the Entente"). The 1960 constitution provided for election by universal suffrage of a president and a National Assembly for five-year terms.

Yaméogo was reelected in 1965, but was overthrown in a military coup in January of the following year.

In June 1970, Burkinabes ratified a new constitution establishing military-civilian rule for four years. A unicameral National Assembly was also elected, but was dissolved in 1974. After 1974, an appointed National Consultative Assembly was established to serve as Parliament. Free legislative elections were held in 1978. In November 1980, a bloodless coup d 'état deposed the Third Republic, dissolved the National Assembly, and suspended the constitution. A government consisting of a mix of military officers and civilians was formed; that government was removed from power in another military coup in November 1982 by the People's Salvation Council (CSP). Still another coup, led by Capt. Thomas Sankara on August 4, 1982, replaced the CSP with the National Revolutionary Council (CNR).

On October 15, 1987, Sankara was killed in a coup attempt led by his second-in-command, Capt. Blaise Compaoré. Following the execution of several former government officials, Compaoré announced the formation of a new Popular Front (Front PopulairéFP) government. This government, created in March 1988, consists of a 288-member Coordinating Committee composed of national delegates, provincial coordinators, political and trade unionists, and a 25-member Executive Committee. All other political parties were banned. Compaorée was named Chief of State and Head of Government, a position he maintains to date.

In August 1990, the ban on political opposition parties was lifted. In 1991, a new constitution was drafted that called for a democratically elected president, who would appoint a prime minister answerable to a multi-party legislature. The president is elected by popular vote for a seven-year term and may serve unlimited terms. The prime minister is appointed by the president with the consent of the legislature.

The legislative branch is bicameral. It consists of a National Assembly (111 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms); and the purely consultative Chamber of Representations (178 seats; members are appointed to serve three-year terms).

Administratively, the country is divided into 30 provinces, which are subdivided into departments, arrondissements, and villages. A new electoral code was approved by the National Assembly in January 1997, in which the number of administrative provinces was increased from 30 to 45, however, this change has not yet been confirmed by the US Board on Geographic Names.

Burkina Faso has received international censure for human rights abuses and military intervention in Liberia.

Burkina Faso is a member of the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Common Organization of African and Malagasy States (OCAM), and various West African regional organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic Community (CEAO).

The following nations have resident missions in Ouagadougou: Algeria, Germany, Egypt, France, the People's Republic of China, Ghana, Libya, The Netherlands, Nigeria, North Korea, the U.S., and the former U.S.S.R. Honorary consuls of Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Senegal, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom also have offices in the country. Canada and Switzerland have established offices in Burkina Faso to administer economic aid programs. Economic assistance is a prime consideration in the country's foreign relations.

The flag of Burkina Faso is composed of two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and green with a yellow five-pointed star in the center.

Arts, Science, Education

Burkinabe art is centered on music, dancing, wood and metal sculpture and weaving. The small National Museum in Ouagadougou displays indigenous artistic works and representative items from the daily life of the country's ethnic groups. Local artists exhibit Western-style painting, sculpture, and print-making. Carved wooden masks and figures are available for purchase by collectors, but antique pieces are rare and expensive.

The scientific world is small in Burkina Faso, but several specialized research centers exist. Several agricultural research and extension services are sponsored by the French Government, semiprivate organizations, and the Burkinabe Government. One of the most important tropical disease research centers in West Africa has its headquarters at Bobo-Dioulasso, the country's second largest city. It operates jointly with the Medical Entomology Center and the Muraz Medical Center to perform research on tropical diseases. France provides a large part of the annual budget, and the U.S. has provided a staff member. Several institutes in Ouagadougou carry on social science studies.

The University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso's national university, evolved from the former Center for Higher Studies in April 1974. The university includes colleges of letters, law, science, economics, film, and engineering, and a technical training institute. A medical school has been constructed. The university has three-and five-year courses leading to the level of bachelor of arts degree. The student population is nearly all Burkinabe. A number of students also pursue university-level studies abroad.

Primary and secondary education is provided at government expense. However, it was estimated that only 22 percent of primary school-age children attended primary school. Moreover, secondary school enrollment was equivalent to only 6 percent of eligible children. Despite government support for education, Burkina Faso has one of the world's lowest literacy rates. As of 1995, literacy is 19.2 percent.

Commerce and Industry

Burkina Faso is predominantly agricultural. About 90 percent of its people make a living from subsistence farming and nomadic stock-raising. Primary food crops include sorghum, millet, rice, corn, yams, and beans. Cotton is the main cash crop, along with peanuts, sesame, and shea nuts (karité). There are plans to mechanize farming and open up new areas for development. Burkina Faso's agricultural growth is hampered by severe drought, poor soil conditions, and infrequent rainfall.

The government is placing great emphasis on the commercialization and development of the country's mineral resources. It opened the Poura gold mine, which is located 112 miles west of Ouagadougou, in 1985. Manganese deposits have been discovered at Tambao, along with reserves of limestone, lead, bauxite, phosphates, and nickel. A railway link from Ouagadougou to Tambao is under construction. However, progress has been slowed by a lack of funding.

Industry is vastly underdeveloped. Small factories are located primarily in Bobo-Dioulasso, Ouagadougou, Banfora, and Koudougou. Manufacturing is limited to flour milling, sugar refining, textile manufacturing, and the production of footwear, moped/bicycle assembly, soap, cigarettes, and beer.

Burkina Faso, with an estimated per capita GDP of $1000 (as of 2000), is one of the poorest and least industrialized nations of Africa. The country has been plagued by trade deficits. These deficits are balanced somewhat by borrowing, foreign aid, and money sent home by Burkinabe working in other countries. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administer approximately 15 million annually in bilateral and regional assistance programs. Projects are ongoing in rural development, agricultural research, agricultural education, reforestation, health/nutrition planning, and population and family planning. USAID also sponsors a supplemental feeding program for schools, maternity centers, and food-for-work projects. The U.S. Embassy also supports small-scale development projects throughout the country.

Burkina Faso's primary export is cotton, followed by livestock, shea nuts, hides and skins, rubber products, and sesame seeds. Imports include vehicles, petroleum products, grain, dairy products, and machinery. The most important trading partners are France and Cote d'Ivoire.

The Chambre de Commerce, d 'Industrie et d 'Artisanat du Burkina is located in Ouagadougou, with a branch in Bobo-Dioulasso. The mailing address is B.P. 502, Ouagadougou.


Burkina Faso has international airports at Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. The national airline, Air Burkina, serves Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, and other major cities in the country. Air Burkina also offers flights to Niamey, Bamako, Lomé, Cotonou, and Abidjan. Ouagadougou's international airport is served by several weekly flights from Paris, Abidjan, Niamey, Bamako, Dakar, Algiers, Moscow, and Tripoli.

Trains operate twice daily between Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, and to Abidjan, 440 miles away on the coast, once a day. The 23-hour trip to Abidjan is an interesting one; comfortable first-class, air-conditioned accommodations include sleeping compartments with sinks. Other compartments are fan-cooled, but hot and dusty. Americans usually take along a prepared snack, but a good-quality lunch and dinner are served on board.

Burkina Faso has city buses, but they are seldom used by Americans. Taxis in Ouagadougou are limited and often unavailable in residential areas. Although hailing a cab is difficult, cabs are usually available in the downtown area or at hotels. Fares are based on distance, with higher rates at night. Tipping is not customary.

Most roads throughout the country are unpaved, but are adequate during the dry season. The June-to-September rains make many roads impassable, and repairs often take several months. Paved roads are found in the main towns; from Ouagadougou to Bamako, Mali; from Ouagadougou to the Ghanaian border; and to Lomé, Togo.

Auto air-conditioning, in addition to its obvious benefits, also keeps out the red laterite dust during the dry season. Garages repair and service most air conditioners, including U.S. units. Every car should have an oil-bath air filter to prevent dust from damaging the engine.

Peugeot, Toyota, Renault, and Mazda are popular in Burkina Faso, and parts and service are readily available. Volkswagen, Nissan, and Honda are also found here, but Ouagadougou has no regular dealerships for these makes. Reliable repair service for Volkswagens is difficult to locate. Japanese motorcycles and motorbikes, used extensively in the cities, can be purchased locally.

It is advisable to have an international driver's license, as local licenses sometimes take many months to obtain. Third-party insurance is compulsory for all private vehicles.

Those planning camping and touring trips should equip a car with a heavy-duty radiator and shock absorbers. A supply of spare parts is advisable for American cars, as local garages do not stock them. Garages, which do good body work, can repair French-made cars with little trouble.


The local telephone dial system works well, but service is sometimes interrupted during the rainy season. Occasionally, long-distance calls are hard to place (and connections can be poor) within the country and to certain other African countries. Local telephone operator service is available 24 hours daily. Commercial telegraph service is expensive and inaccurate. Priority rate is double the cost. Telegrams in French are likely to be sent and received more accurately. International telex facilities are available at main hotels.

International airmail to and from the U.S. takes five to ten days for delivery.

Both Ouagadougou and Bobo-Diou-lasso have AM and FM radio stations. Most broadcasts are in French; the rest are in various vernacular languages. Several hours of Western popular and semiclassical music are programmed each day. Shortwave broadcasts such as Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) can also be received.

Télévision Nationale du Burkina provides transmissions seven days a week to Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, Koudougou, and Ouahigouya, in French and African languages. French programs feature educational films, news, and movies. American sets are not compatible with the locally used French SECAM system, but can be used with transformers for American video and TV games.

Few English-language books, magazines, or newspapers are sold in Ouagadougou. Several bookstores in the capital carry French paperbacks and airmail editions of Paris Match, Jours de France, and Elle.

Some expatriates have personal subscriptions to the international editions of Time and Newsweek. These publications usually arrive by air within 2-3 days of issue.

The U.S. Information Service (USIS) library has a limited selection of books in English, but few are best-sellers or mysteries. There is a larger stock of French books, which may be borrowed. The American Embassy Recreation Association has about 500 paperbacks contributed by personnel.

The only newspapers published in Burkina Faso are a government daily, Sidwaya ; a government monthly, Carrefour Africain ; a government daily news leaflet, Bulletin Quotidien d'Information ; a government daily, Dunia ; and a government weekly, Journal Officiel du Burkina. A new government daily, Jamaa, began publication in 1988. All of these publications are in French and depend on Agence France-Press for most of their international news.


A 600-bed hospital in the capital is staffed by French and Burkinabe doctors, but it is rarely used by Americans. Most laboratory work is done at a local pharmacy or sent to the U.S. Americans needing special medical treatment or hospitalization are sent to France or Germany. A German dentist with a private practice does regular dental work in Ouagadougou.

Local pharmacies carry drugs and medicines, and a nurse or attending doctor can ensure that French prescriptions are suitable substitutes for American products. Prices are usually higher than in the U.S.

Temperature and humidity changes make colds, coughs, and sore throats a common, but not serious, problem. The hot, dust-laden wind during the dry season aggravates asthma or sinus problems.

Mosquitoes carry malaria as well as numerous viral diseases and are a major health hazard. Under the rabies control program, the Burkinabe Government's veterinary services will inoculate dogs and cats for a nominal fee if the vaccine is provided. Dogs must be inoculated and tagged.

City water is filtered and chemically treated, but should be filtered and boiled for drinking and cooking. It is necessary to treat leafy vegetables with an antiseptic solution, and to cook all food thoroughly.

To prevent exposure to animal and waterborne diseases, all food, and particularly water, should be properly treated. A large supply of safe drinking water must be carried on trips. It is not safe to swim in lakes or streams, as water is a principal source of the parasites that carry dysentery, hepatitis, and bilharzia. Despite good intentions and precautions, dysentery may be contracted occasionally, but the necessary palliatives are available.

Rigid international controls and inoculations have reduced the danger of yellow fever, but inoculations are still required. These can be obtained more conveniently before traveling to Burkina Faso. Malaria, for the most part, is preventable by using approved suppressants. Suppressants should be started two weeks before arrival and continued eight weeks after departure. Insect repellent and spray are helpful in controlling mosquitoes and other insects.

At times the heat is enervating, and even dangerous, if one is overex-posed to the sun. Various forms of fatigue are associated with water depletion. Particularly during the hot season, everyone should wear a hat when out in the sun (especially children at play), drink plenty of water, and wear sunglasses to protect against the bright sun. A well-balanced diet, adequate rest, lightweight clothing, and moderate exercise are the basic recommendations for helping to adjust to the climate.

Clothing and Services

Some ready-made clothing is available in Burkina Faso, but not in U.S. styles or sizes. Items for men, women, and children can be made by a tailor, with materials bought here or in nearby countries. It is advisable to bring sewing notions from home.

Cotton is much cooler than wash-and-wear fabrics. Women usually are more comfortable in dresses and skirts than in slacks, unless the slacks are of lightweight material.

Shoes can be bought, but the fit is different, and cost far exceeds quality. The most appropriate footwear items are tennis shoes for sports, open shoes for cool comfort, and durable closed-toe styles for walking. The majority of American women avoid wearing hosiery because of the heat.

Many of the supplies and basic services available in Burkina Faso are either too expensive or difficult to obtain. American-made brands are unavailable. There are some good hairdressers and barbers, and a few excellent tailors, although most tailors are not familiar with Western-style apparel. Shoe-repair service is scarce and the work is only mediocre. Sandals can be adequately mended.

Drugs and toiletries cost two or three times the U.S. price. Cosmetics available locally are limited and U.S. brands are unavailable. Games and playing cards are not available. American household gadgets are either rare or expensive. Typical French household equipment is available, but also expensive.

Local meats, such as beef, lamb, mutton, and pork) are of good quality and reasonably priced. The public market, grocery stores, and several butcher shops sell meat.

Butchers make their own fresh sausages and pates. Bacon, ham, seafood, and veal are imported and expensive. Local poultry tends to be tough. Some fish from nearby reservoirs is sold. However, most seafood is imported and always available.

Local vegetables are good, when available, but the season is short. Vegetables include potatoes, green beans, lettuce, green peppers, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, squash, radishes, cauliflower, and turnips. Local fruits include oranges, limes, avocados, papayas, guavas, pineapples, bananas, grapefruit, mangoes, melons, and strawberries. Apples, peaches, plums, and cherries are imported and they are expensive.

Fresh milk is not produced locally but powdered whole milk and French sterilized milk (similar to U.S. canned milk) is available. Imported butter, margarine, yogurt, fresh cream, and some excellent French cheeses are available. Local yogurt is inexpensive and usually good. Several bakeries provide a variety of pastries, made-to-order cakes, ice creams, breads, rolls, and candy.

A good selection of French wines is available. An inexpensive table wine imported by the case and bottled here is adequate for cooking. Coca-Cola, Sprite, orange soda, beer, tonic, and soda are bottled locally. Perrier, Evian, Pepsi, 7-Up, and some brands of tonic are imported.

Domestic Help

Domestic employees, usually men, are readily available. Most are Mossi and are good workers, but they have little training and must be well supervised. Domestic employees rarely speak or understand English, and few can read or write. Women domestics are rare, but girls work as children's nannies.

Burkinabe domestic employees tend to be indulgent with children. English-speaking domestics who have lived in Ghana and other Anglophone countries are sometimes available, but they must speak some French and Moré to work in Burkina Faso.

A typical staff for a family with children consists of a houseboy/cook and a gardener/guard. A small family or single person requires less. Wages are low. Domestic employees do not live in. The employer provides uniforms.

Once domestic employees are hired unconditionally for a period longer than a month, they can be dismissed only with one month's notice, or the equivalent in salary. Many people hire domestic employees initially for a short trial period. Employers often become financially involved when major expenditures occur in their employees' families (weddings, births, illnesses, or funerals). Social security payments are 18.5 percent of the employee's salary for the employer, and 4.5 percent for the employee. Employees expect a month's bonus on New Year's Day.


The easiest route to Burkina Faso from the U.S. is via Paris. There are two direct flights a week between Ouagadougou and Paris. Burkina Faso has international airports at Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Several American airlines offer connections between New York and Paris. Direct flights are also available to Algiers, Bamako, Niamey, Abidjan, Lomé, and Dakar.

A passport and visa are required. Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Burkina Faso, 2340 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 332-5577. There are honorary consuls for Burkina Faso in Decatur (Georgia), Los Angeles and New Orleans. Overseas inquiries should be made at the nearest Burkina Faso embassy or consulate.No restrictions exist on the importation of dogs, cats, or other animals, although certification of rabies and distemper inoculations must be provided. A Burkinabe veterinarian operates an adequate animal hospital in Ouagadougou.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou on Avenue John F. Kennedy, and to obtain updated information on travel and security in Burkina Faso. The mailing address is 01 B.P. 35, Ouagadougou. The telephone numbers are (226) 30-67-23/24/25; the fax number is (226) 31-23-68.

Permits must be obtained from the Burkinabe Government to import firearms or ammunition. Requests should include specific information regarding the type of firearm, caliber or gauge, and the quantity of ammunition.

Catholic churches, missions, and a few Protestant congregations are found throughout the country. Ouagadougou has five Catholic congregations (masses in French and Moré, and occasionally in English), 25 Assembly of God churches, six Baptist missions, and one Seventh-Day Adventist mission. The English-language International Church, located in the Zone du Bois in the capital, includes both Catholics and Protestants in its congregation. Jehovah's Witnesses sponsor three missions in the country.

When traveling in Burkina Faso, it is advisable to inform friends and/or business associates of your travel plans. Travel with someone and only during the day since roads and lighting are poor. First-aid kits are available for travel outside of Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso is a member of the Communautée Financière Africaine (CFA), which gives its name to the local currency. The CFA franc is supported by the French franc, convertible at the ratio of 50 CFA to 1 FF.

The metric system of weights and measures is used. The time in Burkina Faso is Greenwich Mean Time.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 3 Revolution Day

Mar. 8Women's Day

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

May 1Labor Day

May/JuneAscension Day*

Aug. 5Independence Day

Aug. 15Assumption Day

Oct. 15 Rectification Day

Nov. 1All Saints' Day

Dec. 11 Proclamation of Independence

Dec. 25 Christmas Day


Id al-Fitr*

Id al-Adah*



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Allen, C. Benin, Congo, and Burkina Faso: Politics, Economics and Society. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1988.

Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 1993. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Cruise, O'Brien, Donal, et al., eds. Contemporary West African States. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990.

Lear, Aaron. Burkina Faso. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

Naylor, Kim. West Africa. 2nd ed. Edited by M. Haag. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1989.

West Africa. 7th ed. Traveller's Guides Series. Edison, NJ: Hunter Publishing, 1988.

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Burkina Faso


Republic of Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso Jamahiriya



Burkina Faso is a landlocked West African state. With a total border length of 3,192 kilometers (1,984 miles), Burkina Faso is bordered by Mali to the north and west; Niger to the east; and Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire to the south. It has a land area of 274,122 square kilometers (105,839 square miles), making it slightly larger than the U.S. state of Colorado. The country spans 400 kilometers (250 miles) from east to west and 200 kilometers (125 miles) from north to south. The capital, Ouagadougou, is located in the center of the nation.


The population was estimated at 12.3 million in 2001, with a growth rate of 2.7 percent per year. The country's population density stands at 42 people per square kilometer (109 people per square mile), but the population is unevenly distributed, with the north and east regions being sparsely populated. About 17 percent of the total population live in urban areas, but the urban population is growing at a rate of 11.3 percent per year.

The country is ethnically diverse. In pre-colonial times it was part of the Mossi Empire, and the Mossi population is still the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso, accounting for nearly half of the total population. There are many other groups, but the most significant are the Gurmanche, who are related to the Mossi group and are located in various parts of the country; the Gurunsi in the South; the Bwa, Bobo, Lobi, Senufo, Marka, and the Samo in the West; and the Fulfulde (otherwise known as the Fulani) in the North. Ethnic relations are generally relaxed, with few, if any, overt ethnic hostilities.

A large number of Burkinabe work in neighboring countries, though Cote d'Ivoire (originally the most popular with migrant workers) has become less welcoming recently.


Burkina Faso is estimated to be one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. The gross national product (GNP) per capita , as measured by the exchange rate conversion, is estimated at approximately US$240. The purchasing power parity conversion (which makes allowance for the low price of many basic commodities in Burkina Faso) estimates per capita income at US$1,000 (2000 est.). This amount can be compared with an average per capita income of US$36,200 in the United States in the same year.

The economy depends very heavily on agriculture, which accounted for 26 percent of the GDP in 1998. Approximately 90 percent of the population depend on subsistence agriculture, as even urban dwellers maintain strong links to the countryside. The main food crops are sorghum, millet, maize, and groundnuts. The Burkinabe economy also relies on the export of gold, cotton, and livestock. Industry, although it provides 27 percent of the GDP, is not extensive and consists mainly of mining and some manufacturing (soap, soft drinks, beer, and household utensils). In 1998 retail and wholesale trade generated about 12 percent of the GDP and transport and communications approximately 10 percent, and the total contribution to the GDP by the service sector stood at 47 percent. Despite major fluctuations, Burkina Faso's GDP growth has kept pace with population growth over the past decade. The GDP growth rate was estimated at 5 percent in 2000.

Following a coup that brought Thomas Sankara to power in 1983, Burkina Faso instituted a centralized economy. The Burkinabe government eventually succumbed to international pressure and agreed to a structural adjustment program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1991. This agreement led to the implementation in 1993 of the first of 3 Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facilities (ESAFs), the last of which started in 1999. The programs call for privatization of the state run sector, liberalization of the major trading sectors, reform and rationalization of banking, greater incentives for private sector development, and tighter controls on public spending and revenue collection.

The IMF has been pleased with Burkina Faso's progress. A further ESAF was granted for 1999 to 2002 to allow for more civil service restructuring , increased privatization, the liberalization of the cotton sector, strengthening of the judiciary, the implementation of the common external tariff with other West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) states, and the improvement of health-care and education provisions. By May 2000, 22 state enterprises had been privatized, 8 were up for sale, and a further 12 had been liquidated.

Burkina Faso's taxable capacity is very low due to the limited extent of commercial activity. Many past governments have tried to cut spending, but the unavoidable expenditure on development, the high cost of debt servicing , and rising wages have proved obstacles. Fiscal reform is thus a priority under the ESAFs, and the government will attempt to widen its tax base, rationalize direct taxes , reinforce value-added tax (VAT) collection, and reform custom duties . The government has pledged to stabilize current spending while improving spending on priority areashealth, education, and social services.

Burkina Faso's economic performance depends very much on agriculture, which in turn depends upon the weather, all of which means that the nation's economy tends to fluctuate. Inadequate and unreliable data also restrict proper analysis of the macro economy, although the situation is improving.

The Ministry of Finance indicated real GDP growth at 2.6 percent in the years 1986 to 1990, which was close to the rate of population growth. The strong economic expansion of 1991 was reversed in the years 1992 to 1994. The devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994 did not boost growth that year, but the economy grew by 4 percent in 1995, by 5.7 percent from 1996 to 1998, and by 5.8 percent in 1999.

Investment has been consistently high in recent years. The World Bank estimated investment to be 29 percent of the GDP in 1998, marking an increase from 17 percent since 1980. The public sector provides half to two-thirds of all investment, much of which is financed by aid, mostly from France. Economic aid totals 16 percent of the GDP.

Prices rose by 25 percent in 1994, but inflation fell rapidly the following year to 5.3 percent and remained at that rate until the end of 1998, and then dropped even further to-1.1 percent in 1999. Normally domestic price levels are determined by harvests, and import prices have been kept down by the strong CFA franc. Nonetheless higher prices for certain goods, such as medicines, have hit the population hard.


The state of Burkina Faso consists of an area that was controlled by the Mossi from the 14th century until 1895, when the French took control. It was made part of the Franc Zone and it was named Upper Volta in 1919 after having been marked out from the surrounding territory. It was divided in the 1930s to form 2 states but returned to a single unit in 1947, changes which led to the border disputes with Mali. Burkina Faso became independent in 1960 under President Maurice Yameogo.

The first administration ended due to economic decline, corruption, and increasing authoritarianism. Rigged elections caused public demonstrations and led to military intervention in January 1966, when General Sangoule Lamizana became the head of a military ruling council. He remained in control for 15 years, despite some civilian power-sharing in the 1970s. Party bickering and trade union unrest led to a bloodless coup in 1980, bringing Colonel Saye Zerbo to power. In 1982, when the constitution was suspended, political parties were banned amid corruption allegations. Army officers replaced Zerbo with Major Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo as president. The regime that followed was an uneasy coalition of army conservatives and young radicals.

The attempted ousting of Prime Minister Thomas Sankara in 1983 led to student, labor, and young officer unrest. Sankara himself became president via a coup, and the National Revolutionary Council (CNR) was formed. The CNR championed the redistribution of wealth to rural areas. Sankara renamed the country Burkina Faso in 1984. He aimed to reduce foreign dependence, shift the economy towards the productive sectors, and expand health care and education. Internal divisions unsettled Sankara's support, and in October 1987 Sankara and 13 of his entourage were killed in a violent coup by the self-proclaimed Popular Front. The party was led by Captain Campaore, who then declared himself head of state. The continuing violence employed by his regime led to diminishing internal support and international condemnation. International concern further increased in 1989 when 2 former ministers and 2 army officers were executed for plotting a coup to overthrow the Campaore regime.

Starting in 1990 and amid protests, Campaore opened the way for the liberalization of the regime. However, the government refused to convene a national conference with the opposition and drew up a new constitution on its own terms for multiparty elections. The constitution was approved in a referendum in 1991, albeit with a poor turnout. Campaore's ODP-MT party renounced its Marxist -Leninist ideology and embraced free enterprise policies instead. The opposition parties boycotted the December 1991 presidential election, and Campaore stood unopposed, winning on a 25 percent voter turnout.

The ruling alliance also dominated the 1991 legislative election, with the ODP-MT party winning 78 out of 107 seats in parliament and the fragmented opposition winning only 23. In 1996, ODP-MT absorbed several smaller parties (including some opposition parties) and formed the new Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP). With state office, large resources, and some opposition parties on their side, the CDP dominated the legislative election of 1997, winning 101 of 111 seats. Campaore was reelected in 1998 with a 56 percent turnout and 87 percent of the vote, with some of the opposition boycotting the elections.

In 1991, the constitution formally separated the state from the ruling party by creating separate executive, judiciary, and legislative branches; basing the government on a multiparty system; and ensuring freedom of the press. A civilian president would be inaugurated for a 5-year term. Although the president was only eligible to be reelected once in the original constitution, this was changed to allow a president to be reelected indefinitely. However, following public protest, this amendment was changed back in 2000 so that any president may now only be reelected once. In 2000, the Supreme Court was split into 3 High Courts, which oversee the judicial system, administration, and the audit of public finances.

The president selects the prime minister, subject to parliamentary approval. A parliament of 111 seats sits for 5 years. The constitution also allows for a 174 seat representative chamber.

Although salaried workers only account for a small percentage of the population, they exert a significant political effect due to unionization and their location near legislative centers. Students, who can also be a political influence, staged a 3-month strike in 1997 over political killings.

The presidential guard is a major force in Burkina Faso, although the transition to formal civilian rule and the loss of their uniforms has led to a reduction in their influence. However, tensions still exist in the military and the possibility of a future coup cannot be ruled out, especially in light of public protests in 1999.

Burkina Faso is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and UEMOA. The UEMOA headquarters are based in Burkina Faso. Relations with Côte d'Ivoire have become increasingly difficult, with the latter wishing to curb migration from Burkina Faso. Relations with Mali have been controlled since a brief border dispute, but Campaore's support of rebel factions in Liberia and Sierra Leone has irritated his neighbors.

There is little recent information on taxation. In the 1980s, Burkina Faso raised tax revenue equivalent to 10 percent of the GDP, mostly from import duties. A further 1 percent of the GDP was received from the surpluses of state-owned enterprises, mostly the big utilities that operated as monopolies . With increased privatization, this source of revenue has diminished in importance. The government spends 30 percent of its revenue on social services (including health and education), about 30 percent on the armed forces, and the remaining 40 percent is absorbed by general administration.


Despite recent investment, the transport system is poorly developed. Given that the country is landlocked, the nearest ports are found in Cote d'Ivoire, Benin, and Togo. The government is undertaking a US$360 million World Bank program to create a coherent policy and a regulatory framework for infrastructure , rehabilitate the road and rail network, and restructure the state transport system.

There are 13,200 kilometers (8,202 miles) of classified roads in Burkina Faso, of which 1,800 kilometers (1,119 miles) are paved. The former state bus company has been privatized and now runs 5 main routes throughout the country. The 1,260-kilometer (783-mile) Abidjan-Niger railway is the main transport axis, although the line has not recently operated efficiently, and rail traffic is in decline. Burkina Faso's 622 kilometers (387 miles) of line are scheduled for restructuring. In 1995 a French dominated company took control of the railroad, and the line is anticipated to be rehabilitated with a US$31 million World Bank loan.

The country has 2 international airports, and several regional carriers operate international services. The former parastatal , Air Burkina, has been bought by the Aga Khan's business group (the Aga Khan is the leader of the Ismailis, a Muslim sect originating in the Indian sub-continent), and is undergoing overhaul and expansion.

The main government newspaper is Sidwaya, but there are several private papers. Since legislation allowing opposition parties, several short-lived political newspapers have come and gone.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Burkina Faso 1 33 9 N/A 0 N/A 0.7 0.19 4
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Nigeria 24 223 66 N/A 0 N/A 5.7 0.00 100
Ghana 14 238 99 N/A 1 N/A 1.6 0.06 20
a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999and are per 1,000 people.
b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE : World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Radio broadcasts in French and local dialects are a major form of government communication. There are 17 FM stations, 2 AM stations, and 1 SW station that broadcast to 370,000 radio receivers. In 1997, 103,000 televisions received programs from Burkina Faso's 1 TV station.

The telephone network is very small, with only 42,000 subscribers. The state telecommunications company, Onatel, is expected to be privatized and the domestic market will be liberalized, although Onatel will have a monopoly on international calls.

Burkina Faso is predominantly dependent on thermally generated energy. The National Grid Group, a leading international electricity and telecommunications organization, only covers 4 percent of the population. Sonabel, the national electric company, produced 305 million kilowatt hours (kWh) in 1997, of which two-thirds was thermally produced and one-third was hydro-electrically produced. Construction has begun on a new dam, but the cost of electricity production is still significantly higher in Burkina Faso than in neighboring countries. Although the government is not planning Sonabel's privatization, the market will be liberalized and companies will be able to compete for production and distribution with Sonabel.

Consumption of petrol products is low, and wood fuel provides over 90 percent of domestic energy. The government is trying to promote butane in order to slow deforestation.


The relative sizes of the main sectors of the economy agriculture, industry, and serviceshave barely changed since independence in 1960. The industrial sector contracted during the period of Marxist control of the economy from 1983 to 1991, and the agriculture sector expanded as more people relied on subsistence agriculture to meet their day-to-day needs, but there has been a reversal of these trends in the past decade.

The economy is heavily dependent on agriculture to provide livelihoods for its population. Although the agriculture sector (including hunting, forestry, and fishing) provided only 26 percent of the GDP in 1998, it employed about 90 percent of the workforce. Industry (including mining, manufacturing, construction, and power) contributed 27 percent of the GDP in 1998 but occupied 2 percent of the workforce. Services contributed 47 percent of the GDP in 1998 and employed 6 percent of the population. The agriculture sector is much larger than those of most African nations, which on average generate 17 percent of GDP. Burkina Faso's industry and service sectors are smaller than average (in Africa they generally would produce 34 percent and 50 percent of GDP, respectively).


Agriculture and livestock provide a living for approximately 90 percent of the population. However, due to the climatic variations in rainfall and because there are few permanent watercourses, irrigation is limited to only 15,000 hectares (37,067 acres) of the nation's total 3.27 million hectares (8.1 million acres). Soil quality varies, though it is generally better in the southwest of the country. Cotton, shea nuts, millet, and sorghum are grown in the central Mossi plateau. Livestock is the main source of livelihood in the north, with 18 million head and providing around 15 percent of exports in 1998.

The lack of advanced technology also hinders farming in a poor environment. Only 36 percent of farmers have links with extension services, and only 30 percent own either a plough or traction animals. Fertilizer is used almost exclusively on cash crops . Land holdings are also very small. An extended household may farm around 9.6 hectares (24 acres) in total, but plot sizes are small, with each plot averaging only 0.4 hectares (1 acre). This means that Burkina Faso can easily fall below self-sufficiency in food production, especially in the north where the rains may come late or there may be a drought.

The main staple crops are rain-fed millet and sorghum. Maize is grown in increasing amounts, however, and vegetables are also produced in significant quantities. Attempts to boost rice production (for example, through public irrigation) doubled its production to 94,000 metric tons in 2000. The main export, cotton, has seen a revival in recent years, reaching a high of 338,000 metric tons in the 1997-98 season. It has since fallen in both the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons due to farmers' debt repayments, a depressed world market, and poor weather.

Timber production is negligible, although forest and woodland cover some 50 percent of Burkina Faso. Much deforestation has taken place as a result of firewood collection and has only been partially offset by campaigns to promote tree planting. In 1991 the government launched a long-term management program to maintain the environment.

The fish catch of 6,000 to 7,000 metric tons per year, taken from rivers, dams, and ponds, is much lower than the estimated consumed figure of 13,000 metric tons. Inland fish farms are being developed.


Primary components of Burkina Faso's industrial sector are manufacturing, mining, and construction. Construction has enjoyed a boom as a result of international and government based infrastructure development schemes. Road building and the provision of water supplies are major government priorities and provide a further stimulus to construction.


Manufacturing focuses predominantly on food processing, textiles, and substitutes for consumer goods imports. It is mainly concentrated in the Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Koudougou, and Banfora regions. There are about 100 companies in Burkina Faso, and most are publicly owned. Manufacturing accounts for 20 percent of the GDP but only employs around 1 percent of the workforce. Growth has been limited by the lack of materials, the need to import fuel, and the small domestic market. The sector was in trouble from 1985 to 1995, with an average contraction of 5.8 percent per year but has shown some signs of recovery in food processing and metalworking since 1995. However, companies in Burkina Faso are worried they will not be able to compete as regional trade is liberalized.

The agro-industry accounts for 55 percent of value-added manufacturing in Burkina Faso. Sosuco (the former sugar parastatal), now owned by the Aga Khan, is the single biggest employer with 1,800 workers. The company has suffered recently from the competition of cheap imports and, due to its inability to pay wages, endured repeated union strikes in 1999. The government agreed to place a ceiling of 1,000 metric tons on any sugar or rice imports, tripled the import tax on sugar, and imposed a new levy on sugar imports, thereby making foreign costs equal local costs in order to help the industry.

The second largest component of the manufacturing sector is textiles (including leather goods), which contributed 21 percent of value-added manufacturing in 1998. The largest textile company in Burkina Faso, Sofitex, employs 700 people and produces mostly for the domestic market. The company also exports 25 percent of its production regionally.


Burkina Faso has large unexploited mineral deposits, as one-quarter of its land is comprised of sedimentary formations from volcanoes. In 1993 the mining code was revised to encourage private investment, and the mining institutions have been restructured. Between 1992 and 1998 the government issued 180 prospecting licenses to 30 foreign and local companies. However, interest slackened in 1999 following the dip in world oil prices.

The third largest export, gold is by far the most important commodity mined in Burkina Faso. Yet Burkina Faso's gold output has remained stagnant in recent years. Underground exploitation of the Poura gold mine, which has a 26,000-kilogram (57,300-pound) reserve, stopped in 1999. The government plans to restructure the mine before reopening and privatizing it.


The services sector consists mainly of wholesale and retail distribution, telecommunications, posts, transport, hotels and restaurants, repairs, financial services, tourist services, and government administration. For the most part, the service sector responds to the general growth of the economy. The size of the distribution sector has remained constant at around 12 percent of the GDP, and the transport and communications sectors have likewise remained constant at 10 percent.


Since the early 1990s banking has undergone restructuring, and the government has been limited to 25 percent participation. Of the 3 commercial banks, Banque Internationale du Burkina Faso has completed its reforms; the Banque Nationale de Development du Burkina is being liquidated; and Banque pour le Financement du Commerce et des Investissements du Burkina (BFCIB) has been privatized. Banking regulation is also being tightened by the Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO), the regional central bank.


Problems of communication and poor facilities mean mass tourism is not yet an option in Burkina Faso. However, the country does have some attractions to offer visitors; it is host of the Biennial National Culture Week, the Pan African Film Festival, and the International Handicrafts Fair. National parks are also of interest. Given its central West African position, the country has also become a common location for regional conferences. In 1997, tourism receipts reached US$22 million and accounted for 9 percent of the GDP.


Burkina Faso's trade deficit fluctuates, rising in poor harvest years. The trade deficit reached a high point in 1990 at US$262 million but was reduced to US$164 million in 1994, mainly due to the CFA franc's devaluation. As imports recovered, the gap grew again to US$330 million in 1996 before receding in 1998 to US$261 million, primarily due to improved cotton exports.

Principal exports in 1998 were cotton (66 percent), livestock (8 percent), hides and skins (6 percent), and

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Burkina Faso
Exports Imports
1975 .044 .151
1980 .090 .359
1985 .071 .332
1990 .152 .536
1995 .160 .455
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE : International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

gold (5 percent). The main destinations of exports were France (15 percent), Cote d'Ivoire (10 percent), Indonesia (6 percent), Taiwan (3 percent), and Ghana (3 percent).

Principal imports in 1998 were machinery and transport equipment (29 percent), food products (13 percent), and petroleum products (12 percent). Most of the remaining imports were other types of consumer manufactures. The main origins of imports were France (28 percent), Cote d'Ivoire (19 percent), Japan (5 percent), and Italy (4 percent).


Burkina Faso is part of the 8-member West African economic union, UEMOA, and the currency is the CFA franc. The regional central bank, BCEAO, issues currency notes and regulates credit expansion. The CFA franc was pegged to the French franc at 50:1 in 1948 but was overvalued by the late 1980s and was devalued to CFA Fr 100:1 French franc. With this devaluation, much of the benefit coming from confidence in a stable rate of exchange with the French franc was lost. However, the devaluation raised the domestic price of export crops, which improved output and raised export revenue, and made imports more expensive and resulted in lower import expenditures. With France having joined the European Monetary Union, the CFA franc is now tied to the euro at CFA Fr655.959:1 euro. Inflation averaged less than 3 percent per year from 1996 to 2000. The inflation rate was estimated at 1.5 percent in 2000.

A regional stock exchange has been established, the Bourse Regionale de Valeurs Mobilieres, that serves Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. There are branches in each of the 8-member countries. To date, only companies in Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal are listed on the exchange.

Exchange rates: Burkina Faso
Communaute Financiere Africaine francs (CFA Fr) per US$1
Jan 2001 699.21
2000 711.98
1999 615.70
1998 589.95
1997 583.67
1996 511.55
Note: From January 1, 1999, the CFA Fr is pegged to the euro at a rate of 655.957 CFA Fr per euro.
SOURCE : CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Burkina Faso 196 207 224 225 259
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Nigeria 301 314 230 258 256
Ghana 411 394 328 352 399
SOURCE : United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.


Burkina Faso is a low-income country, but there are no official poverty figures. However, average income per capita in the rural areas is estimated to be near the poverty level, and it can be concluded that probably more than 60 percent of the population are in poverty. The overwhelming majority of the impoverished live in the rural areas, relying on agricultural production from small family farms or herding family-based livestock for their livelihood. To be below the established dollar-a-day poverty level means that a person does not have enough income to provide the barest minimum of food, clothing, and shelter. In 1995, Burkina Faso was ranked 172 out of 174 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index, which combines measures of income, health, and education.

In 1998, 41 percent of Burkinabe children attended primary school, 10 percent attended secondary school, and only 1 percent attended schools of higher education. The pupil to teacher ratio climbed to 51:1 in 1998, and figures indicated that only 19 percent of the population over the age of 15 were literate in 1995 (30 percent of males and 9 percent of females). Health care has improved since independence, though it is still very poor. The infant mortality rate stands at 107 deaths per 1,000 live births (2001 est.), compared to a rate of 7 deaths per

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Burkina Faso
Lowest 10% 2.2
Lowest 20% 5.5
Second 20% 8.7
Third 20% 12.0
Fourth 20% 18.7
Highest 20% 55.0
Highest 10% 39.5
Survey year: 1994
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE : 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

1,000 live births in the United States. Life expectancy is 47 years (2001 est.).


The labor force of Burkina Faso numbers 4.7 million and includes people 10 years of age and older. The government is the largest formal employer with about 40,000 public sector workers. A large proportion of the male labor force migrates annually to neighboring countries for seasonal employment. There are no official unemployment figures for Burkina Faso, but regardless, these figures would have little significance in such a low-income economy. Although there may be few people considered as unemployed, many of these people only live off subsistence farming . There are no unemployment benefits, and those who do not work rely on support from charities or their families. Many people would like a modern sector job but are forced instead to survive by working on their family farms or in casual informal sector activities in the urban areas (such as hawking , portering, and scavenging).

A labor court enforces the rights of workers as detailed in the national labor code, and trade unions are legal. The modern sector has a workforce of about 450,000, of which 40,000 are civil servants. Trade union membership is 60 percent in the public sector and 50 percent among private sector employees. Although union participation is small in relation to the total population, since there is such strong membership among workers and because the unions are strategically located in the modern sector and in the urban areas, they have considerable power when they exercise their right to strike.

The relatively high GDP growth from 1995 onwards has improved living standards only marginally. The guaranteed minimum industrial wage remained at US$0.44 per hour from 1988 to 1994. It increased by 10 percent after the devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994. Trade unions only gained a 3 to 5 percent rise in public sector salaries in 1996 and another 5 to 10 percent in 1999.

The Constitution of the Fourth Republic of Burkina Faso guarantees the collective and individual political and social rights of the country's citizens.


1300-1895. As Upper Volta, Burkina Faso is part of the Mossi Empire.

1895. France colonizes a broad area containing Burkina Faso.

1947. Burkina Faso becomes a recognized territory.

1960. Independence is gained from France, and Maurice Yameogo becomes the first president.

1966. Following a coup, General Sangoule Lamizana becomes president.

1970. A civilian government is elected to serve under Lamizana.

1974. The army assumes power under Lamizana.

1978. Multiparty elections are held. Lamizana is elected president.

1980. A coup brings Colonel Saye Zerbo to power.

1982. Zerbo is deposed, and Major Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo becomes president.

1983. Prime Minister Thomas Sankara seizes presidential power.

1984. Upper Volta is renamed Burkina Faso.

1985. A 6-day war with Mali occurs.

1987. Sankara is assassinated, and Captain Blaise Campaore becomes president.

1991. A new constitution is adopted by a referendum.

1991. Campaore is reelected president in an unopposed election; the opposition boycotts the election.

1993. Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) is signed with the IMF.

1994. The CFA franc is devalued, raising prices to producers of exports and raising the price of imports, thereby avoiding a period of higher inflation.

1998. Campaore is reelected as president in a contested election. The assassination of newspaper editor and popular antigovernment critic, Norbert Zongo, sparks civil unrest.

1999. There is a general 1-day strike over privatization, low salaries, and the assassination of Zongo. The government responds with a program to promote unity and national reconcilation.

2000. In all, 22 state-owned enterprises are privatized.

2001. Burkina Faso suffers severe drought.


Militancy on the part of trade unions and human rights organizations is likely to continue, despite concessions announced by President Campaore in 1999. These concessions include setting up an inquiry into the death of Norbert Zongo, assuring the military that their delayed housing allowances will be paid in installments, and appointing a new prime minister who has incorporated members of the opposition into his cabinet.

The new prime minister, Paramango Ernest Yonoli, appointed in October 2000, will have to prove himself to the public, particularly with regard to the task of carrying out privatization and civil service reforms in the face of trade union opposition. Yonoli announced a new cabinet that includes figures from the moderate opposition parties. Teacher and student protests have thrown the school system into chaos, and the University of Ouagadougou has been closed since the riots that followed Zongo's death. Civic groups and opposition parties have also kept up the pressure for justice. Three presidential guards finally have been imprisoned over the assassination of Zongo, but this will hardly satisfy the opposition, who want those senior figures in the government that were behind the assassination to be brought to justice.

Despite international economic aid, GDP growth is expected to slow to 4 percent in 2001, due mainly to civil unrest, which creates a climate of political instability and discourages investment, and the impact of the drought, which has resulted in poor harvests. Prospects for cotton earnings will remain sluggish, but debt relief is under way under World Bank and IMF supervision. Aid from these organizations in the form of a Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative should help Burkina Faso's situation.


Burkina Faso has no territories or colonies.


A la découverte du Burkina Faso. <>.Accessed October 2001.

"Burkina Faso: Economy." NewAfrica. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Burkina Faso. London, England: EIU, 2000.

Embassy of Burkina Faso. <>.Accessed October 2001.

Hodd, M. "Burkina Faso." The Economies of Africa. Aldershot, England: Dartmouth Publishing, 1991.

Kelly, R. C., et al., editors. "Burkina Faso Country Review1999/2000." <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Burkina Faso, March 1998. <>. Accessed October 2001.

Jack Hodd




Communauté Financiére Africaine Franc (CFA Fr). One CFA franc equals 100 centimes. There are banknotes of 500, 1,000, 2,500, 5,000 and 10,000 CFA francs and coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, and 500 CFA francs.


Cotton, animal products, and gold.


Machinery, food products, and petroleum.


US$12 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$220 million (2000 est.). Imports: US$610 million (2000 est.).

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Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso (burkē´nə fä´sō), republic (2005 est. pop. 13,925,000), 105,869 sq mi (274,200 sq km), W Africa. It borders on Mali in the west and north, on Niger in the northeast, on Benin in the southeast, and on Togo, Ghana, and Côte d'Ivoire in the south. Ouagadougou is the capital and largest city. In addition to the capital, other cities include Bobo-Dioulasso, Koudougou, Kaya, and Ouahigouya.

Land and People

The country is made up mainly of vast monotonous plains and of low hills that rise to c.2,300 ft (700 m) in the southwest. Precipitation is low (nowhere exceeding 45 in./114 cm annually), and the soil is of poor quality. Rainfall is heaviest in the southwest, which is covered largely with savanna; the rest of the country is semidesert. Burkina Faso has several unnavigable rivers. In the southwest is the Komoé (Comoé) River, which flows through Côte d'Ivoire to the Gulf of Guinea; in the center are the Mouhon (Black Volta), Nazinon, and Nakambe (White Volta) rivers, which join in Ghana to form the Volta; and in the northeast are several small tributaries of the Niger.

The majority of Burkina Faso's population live in rural areas. Of some 50 ethnic groups, the principal group is the Mossi, who account for almost half of the total population; others include the Lobi, Bobo, and Gurunsi, all of whose members speak a Voltaic language; Fulani, Mande, and Senufo also constitute sizable minorities. French is the country's official language, and Oyula is spoken in commercial circles. Muslims account for 50% of the population, while 40% follow traditional beliefs and approximately 10% are Roman Catholics.


Burkina Faso is one of the poorest nations in the world, with few natural resources; the great majority of its workers engage in subsistence farming. Less than 10% of the country's land area is cultivable without irrigation, and droughts have further limited agricultural production; however, several dams intended for irrigation and hydroelectricity, including the Ziga dam on the Nakambe River, which supplies the capital, were constructed in the 1990s. The principal cash crop is cotton; other agricultural commodities include peanuts, shea nuts, sesame, sorghum, millet, corn, and rice. Cattle, sheep, and goats are raised.

The country's industry is limited largely to the production of cotton lint, foodstuffs, and basic consumer goods. Burkina Faso has a small mining industry that produces manganese, phosphates, and gold-bearing quartz; other small mineral deposits remain untapped. The country has a comparatively good road network. A railroad runs from Ouagadougou to the seaport of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, via Bobo-Dioulasso and Banfora; it is currently being extended NE to Tambao.

The annual cost of Burkina Faso's imports is usually much higher than its earnings from exports, and the nation relies on debt servicing from other countries. The principal imports are capital goods, foodstuffs, and petroleum; the leading exports are cotton, live animals, and gold. The chief trading partners are China, France, Côte d'Ivoire, and Singapore. Large numbers of the male labor force migrate to Côte d'Ivoire and (to a lesser extent) Ghana for seasonal work, but their labor contributes little to the national economy.


Burkina Faso is a parliamentary republic governed under the constitution of 1991, as amended. The executive branch is headed by a president, who is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of a 111-member National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected to serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 45 provinces.


Early History

By about AD 1100 the principal inhabitants of the western part of present-day Burkina Faso were the Bobo, Lobi, and Gurunsi. Invaders from present-day Ghana conquered central and E Burkina Faso, establishing the Mossi states of Ouagadougou, Yatenga, and Tengkodogo in the center and the state of Gourma in the east. The conquerors were far outnumbered by their subjects, but by using religion (based on ancestor worship) and a complex administrative system (which allowed for some local autonomy) they created powerful states that endured for more than 500 years. Ouagadougou was headed by the Morho Naba and at its peak was divided into several provinces, which were subdivided into a total of about 300 districts. The Mossi states had strong armies, which included cavalry units, and were able to repel most attacks by the Mali and Songhai empires during the period from the 14th to 16th cent.

The Colonial Period

Near the end of the 19th-century scramble for African territory among the European powers, France gained control over the region. In 1895 the French peacefully negotiated a protectorate over Yatenga; in 1896 they forcefully occupied Ouagadougou; and in 1897 they annexed Gourma and the lands of the Bobo, Lobi, and Gurunsi peoples. An Anglo-French agreement in 1898 established the boundary with the Gold Coast (now Ghana).

The region of present-day Burkina Faso was administered as part of the French colony of Soudan (then called Upper Senegal-Niger and now mostly part of Mali) until 1919, when it was made a separate protectorate as Upper Volta. In 1932, it was divided among Côte d'Ivoire, Soudan, and Niger for administrative convenience. In 1947, Upper Volta was reestablished as a separate territory within the French Union, and in 1958 it became an autonomous republic within the French Community.

Independence to the Present

On Aug. 5, 1960, Upper Volta achieved full independence. The constitution of 1960 established a strong presidential government, and Maurice Yaméogo of the Voltaic Democratic Union (UDV) became the first president. He reduced the traditional power of the Mossi states, but his authority was weakened by ethnic conflicts and the poor performance of the economy. In late 1965, Yaméogo was overwhelmingly reelected president, but in Jan., 1966, at the height of demonstrations against the government's austerity program, he was ousted in a bloodless coup by a group of army officers headed by Lt. Col. Sangoulé Lamizana, who became head of state. Lamizana dissolved the national assembly and temporarily prohibited political activity.

In 1970 a new constitution was approved in a national referendum; Lamizana was to remain in power until 1975, when he would be replaced by an elected president. The UDV did well in the 1970 legislative elections and Lamizana appointed Gérard Kango Ouedraogo to be prime minister. However, in 1974, the army, headed by Lamizana, again intervened in the political process, dissolving the national assembly, ousting Ouedraogo, and suspending the 1970 constitution.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Upper Volta received a great deal of financial aid from France. The country (especially the north) was severely affected by the long-term drought that began in the late 1960s and continued into the 1970s. Upper Volta was involved in a border dispute with Mali in 1974 over land containing mineral reserves. The dispute resulted in a national strike and demands for higher wages and a return to civilian rule.

A new constitution was promulgated in 1977, and multiparty presidential and legislative elections were held in 1978; Lamizana was returned to office, but in 1980 he was overthrown in a military coup by Col. Saye Zerbo. Labor unrest characterized Zerbo's brief tenure and Maj. Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo launched a successful coup in 1982. Ouédraogo's regime proved to be short-lived as well; he was ousted by Capt. Thomas Sankara in 1983 in a bloody coup.

Sankara cultivated ties with Libya and Ghana, adopting a policy of nonalignment with Western nations. He adopted a more liberal policy toward the opposition and increased the government's focus on economic development. In symbolic rejection of the nation's colonial past, Upper Volta became Burkina Faso in 1984; the name is a composite of local languages and is roughly translated as "the land of incorruptible men." The country's dispute with Mali over the Agache border was revived in 1985. In 1986, Sankara dissolved his cabinet and appointed civil servants to government ministries. Subsequently, he proposed the formation of a single political party.

Sankara and other officials were assassinated in 1987, and Capt. Blaise Compaoré seized control. Compaoré, unlike his predecessor, began to attract foreign investment and expanded the private sector. In 1991 a new constitution was approved, and in the subsequent presidential election Campaoré (the only candidate) was elected. In 1992 the country held its first multiparty parliamentary elections since 1978; Compaoré's party won over two thirds of the seats amid widespread charges of fraud. The party made even bigger gains in the 1997 elections, and Campaoré, facing weak opponents, was reelected in 1998. In May, 2002, the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) retained control of the national assembly, winning 57 seats. The president was again reelected in 2005, enormously outspending an opposition splintered among 12 candidates.

In Dec., 2006, several days of armed clashes between soldiers and police disrupted life in Ouagadougou; the violence began when police stopped a group of soldiers in civilian clothes and a fight broke out. Burkina's southern neighbor, meanwhile, has accused it of aiding N Ivorian rebels. The governing party increased its majority in the national assembly after the May, 2007, elections. Compaoré was reelected president in Nov., 2010; again facing weak opponents, he won by a landslide. In the first half of 2011, however, unrest in the country increased, and there were a series of protests, strikes, riots, and even army and police mutinies in the capital and other cities. The Dec., 2012, legislative elections were again a victory for Compaoré's party and its allies.

In Oct., 2014, a proposed constitutional amendment ending presidential term limits led to violent protests against Compaoré that forced his and his government's resignation. The military appointed Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as interim ruler, but international pressure was applied by the African Union and others to appoint a civilian transitional government. Former foreign minister Michel Kafando subsequently was named interim president, but Zida became prime minister and several key cabinet posts went to the military. In recent years relations have been strained at times with Côte d'Ivoire, which has been accused by the government of mistreating Burkinabe there.


See P. B. Hammond, Yatenga: Technology in the Culture of a West African Kingdom (1966); D. M. McFarland, Historical Dictionary of Upper Volta (1978).

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Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Burkina Faso
Region: Africa
Population: 11,946,065
Language(s): French, native African languages
Literacy Rate: 19.2%
Number of Primary Schools: 3,233
Compulsory Schooling: 7 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 1.5%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 755
Libraries: 21
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 700,995
  Higher: 8,911
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 40%
  Secondary: 7%
  Higher: 1%
Teachers: Primary: 14,037
  Higher: 352
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 50:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 31%
  Secondary: 5%
  Higher: 0.4%

History & Background

Similar to other French West African colonies, Burkina Faso (known as Upper Volta until 1983) based its educational system on that of France up until it achieved independence in 1960. Six years of primary education, beginning at age six, was followed by up to seven years of secondary instruction. Less than 1 percent of the population actually enrolled in secondary education; those who did graduate were forced to seek higher education in France as none existed at the time in Upper Volta. During the 1950s, the French government increased the percentage of the national budget spent on education from 13 percent to 23 percent. As a result, primary education enrollment jumped from 2 percent to 6 percent. Concerned that such a sizable portion of the budget was needed to maintain such a meager enrollment rate, education officials began examining ways to make education more accessibleparticularly to girls and to children living in rural areaswhile at the same time increasing the economic efficiency of the system.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Societe d'Etudes pour le Developpment Economique et Social (SEDES) began examining the educational system of Upper Volta in 1959. Later that year the French agency put forth the Christol and Medard Report, which recommended a modest expansion of the current primary education efforts, along with the development of a system of rural nonformal education as a means in offering relevant education at a modest cost to larger segments of the population. According to the terms of the proposal, rural education centers (RECs) would be set up only in communities that requested such a facility and were also willing to fund it; enrollment would be restricted to children ages 12 to 14 years. Also, the three-year curriculum would consist of reading, writing, French language, arithmetic, humanities, physical fitness, and agriculture training. Local instructors, while not required to possess the qualifications of a formal educator, would receive training specific to the REC program. The Voltaic Legislative Assembly approved the recommendations of the Christol and Medard Report, seeing the rural system as a means of temporarily increasing access to some sort of education, particularly agricultural training, until the nationone of the poorest in the worldwas better able sustain the cost of universal primary education.

Despite the Ministry of Agriculture's heavy promotion of rural education, enrollment in the RECs dropped by roughly 20 percent between 1970 and 1971, mainly because "conventional primary schooling was regarded by the population in general as a means of escaping traditional society and economy and gaining access to the modern and privileged sector. To close off this only option for a better life was unacceptable to those living in the rural areas, so they just refused to send their children. . ." (Haddad 204). The rural education system was dealt another blow by a successful populist revolt, led by Captain Tomas Sankara in the early 1980. Believing the two-tiered educational system was elitist, the new regime began examining more equitable solutions to the nation's education dilemma. It was not only the rural education segment of the system that needed reform, but also primary enrollment rates were only 19 percent in 1983, compared to 14 percent a decade earlier. Although most officials agreed that a reduction in primary education costs was essential for an increase in accessibility, how to go about doing this remained an issue for debate well into the 1990s.

Educational SystemOverview

School enrollment in Burkina Faso is among the lowest in Africa. In 1992 primary enrollment reached 28 percent; roughly 37 percent of these students were girls. Free primary education is not compulsory. French is the primary language of instruction at all educational levels, and the academic year runs from October to June.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Burkinabe children attend primary school between the ages of 7 and 13. After six years of study, students must pass a final examination to receive a primary school certificate of completion. The student-teacher ratio is 64:1, notably higher than the 40:1 student-teacher ratio average for all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Secondary Education

Secondary education in Burkina Faso is divided into two tracks: lower and upper. Lower secondary school consists of four years of general study. Upon successful completion of a final exam, students are awarded the Brevet d'Etudes du Premier Cycle. Those who wish to continue their education may either continue at an upper secondary school for another three years of general study or seek entrance to a vocational school to pursue a twoor three-year program of training for teachers, nurses, midwives, police officers, customs officials, or public administrators. Those who successfully complete such a program are awarded the Certificat d'Aptitude Professionnelle, while upper secondary graduates who pass their Baccalaureate exam earn a Diplome de Bachelier de l'Enseignement du Second Degre. The student-teacher ratio in secondary education is roughly 65:1.

Higher Education

Ouagadougou University (founded in 1974) was the only institution of higher education in Burkina Faso until 1995, when the Polytechnical University, in Bobo-Dioulasso, was established. The Institut des Sciences de l'Education, now known as Ecole Normale Superieure de Koudougou, moved to Koudougou in 1996. Most departments at the universities began offering doctoral programs in 1998, with the exception of the Faculty of Health Care Sciences of Ouagadougou University, which launched the first doctoral degree program in the country in 1994. Although enrollment at higher education institutions jumped nearly 62 percent in 1999bringing the total number of higher education students in Burkina Faso to roughly 10,000many Bukinabe students continue to seek higher education in France, Senegal, or Côte d'Ivoire.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Secondary and Higher Education oversee all curricula-based decisions regarding scheduling, examinations, grading, and syllabi.

Teaching Profession

Primary school teachers are usually required to complete lower secondary school, as well as a two-year program at the Ecole Nationale des Enseignants du Primaire, (ENEP) which awards graduates the Certificat de Fin d'Etudes des ENEP. Secondary school teachers are required to attend either a university or a teachertraining institute to earn a teaching license. Higher education teachers must hold doctoral degrees.


Despite improvements in school enrollment, mainly at the higher education level, literacy rates in Burkina Faso remain among the lowest in the world. Only 29.5 percent of males and 9.2 of females were considered literate in 1997. Education officials continue to examine methods of making education more accessible to all residents, particularly those in remote farming communities.


Grabe, Sven. Nonformal Education for Rural Development, Case Study No. 14: The Rural Education System in Upper Volta. Essex, Canada: International Council for Educational Development, 1972.

Haddad, Wadi D. The Dynamics of Education Policy-making: Case Studies of Burkina Faso, Jordan, Peru, and Thailand. Washington, DC: Economic Development Institute of the World Bank, 1994.

OSEAS-ADCEC. Burkina Faso: Education Profile. Washington, DC: Association of International Educators, 2000. Available from

U.S. Dept. of State. Background Notes: Burkina Faso. Washington, DC: GPO, 1998. Available from

World Higher Education Database 2000. Burkina FasoEducation System. Paris: International Association of Universities/UNESCO International Centre on Higher Education, 1998-1999. Available from

AnnaMarie L. Sheldon

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Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Official name : Burkina Faso

Area: 274,200 square kilometers (105,869 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Tena Kourou (747 meters/2,451 feet)

Lowest point on land: Black Volta River (200 meters/656 feet)

Hemispheres: Northern, Eastern, and Western

Time zone: Noon = noon GMT

Longest distances: 873 kilometers (542 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest; 474 kilometers (295 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest

Land boundaries: 3,192 kilometers (1,983 miles) total boundary length; Benin, 306 kilometers (190 miles); Cote d'Ivoire, 584 kilometers (363 miles); Ghana, 548 kilometers (341 miles); Mali, 1,000 kilometers (621 miles); Niger, 628 kilometers (390 miles); Togo, 126 kilometers (78 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None


Burkina Faso (known as Upper Volta from 1960 until 1984) is a landlocked country (does not have access to the sea) in northwest Africa. It lies west of Niger; northwest of Benin; north of Mali, Togo, Ghana, and Côte d'Ivoire; and east and south of Mali. With an area of 274,200 square kilometers (105,869 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Colorado. Burkina Faso is divided into thirty provinces.


Burkina Faso has no outside territories or dependencies.


High temperatures are typical in Burkina Faso, especially during the dry season. From March to May, the harmattan, a dry east wind, contributes to considerably hot temperatures that range from 40° to 48°C (104° to 119°F). From May to October, the weather is hot, but wet; and from November to March, it is dry and comfortable. January temperatures vary from 7° to13°C (44° to 55°F).

The average annual rainfall varies from 115 centimeters (45 inches) in the southwest to a low of 25 centimeters (10 inches) in the extreme north and northeast portion of the country. The country suffers from recurring droughts.


Burkina Faso is situated on a single, vast plateau known as the Mossi Highlands. Three valleys are carved around the highlands by the Black, White, and Red Volta Rivers, and their main tributary, the Sourou. The rivers are either flooded or dry, making the terrain of this savannah arid and poor. This wild bush country has a mixture of grasslands and small trees. The northern provinces of Burkina Faso are part of the Sahel region, a long strip of savannah that marks the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Though most of the country is flat, there is a hill region in the southwest.


Burkina Faso is a landlocked country.


Burkina Faso has very few permanent natural lakes. One of them, Lake Tengréla, is located beyond the waterfalls of Karfiguéla near the city of Banfora. Lake Bam is found in the northern stretch of the White Volta River.


The longest river in Burkina Faso is the Black Volta (1,352 kilometers/840 miles), located in the southwestern bulge of the country. The two other principal rivers, the White Volta and Red Volta, run north to south in the central plateau region. All of the rivers flow southward and meet in Ghana to form the Volta River and Lake Volta. They are alternately dry or flooded and all are unnavigable.

The hill region of the southwest offers many waterfalls, particularly during the rainy season. The Karfiguéla waterfalls are located just outside of Banfora.


Sahel is an Arabic word that means "shore." It refers to the 5,000-kilometer-long (3,125-mile-long) stretch of savannah that forms the edge of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel spreads east to west from Somalia to Mauritania and Senegal and covers most of the northern portion of Burkina Faso. Sparse rainfall means drought is common in this area, so even crops that need very little water often fail. Soil erosion is a great concern for this region, as the dry soil is blown away by the hot harmattans or washed into the rivers during the rains. To catch rainwater and reduce soil erosion on crop areas, farmers build diguettes around their fields. A diguette is a line of stones built up along the borders of a farmland that essentially creates a barrier to keep the rainwater on the crop field.


The savannah region of Burkina Faso is primarily grassland during the rainy season.

The highest elevation is Tena Kourou at 747 meters (2,451 feet). It is located in a low hilly region near the Mali border, south of Orodara. The hills were formed by the incline of the central plateau.


There are no significant mountain ranges in Burkina Faso.


There are no significant caves or canyons in Burkina Faso.


For the most part, the country consists of a vast plateau in the West African savannah, approximately 198 to 305 meters (650 to 1,000 feet) above sea level. This plateau is slightly inclined toward the south, and it is notched by valleys formed by the three principal rivers, the Black, White and Red Volta Rivers.


Much of Burkina Faso relies on a system of dams and reservoirs to supply water for drinking and agriculture. Some of the largest dams include Douna and Moussodougou in the west; Sourou in the northwest; Bam, Loumbila, and Kanazoé in the central region; and Kompienga in the east. A number of smaller dams are used through the country to create temporary flooding for agriculture.



Baxter, Joan, and Keith Sommerville . Burkina Faso. New York: Pinter Publishers, 1989.

McFarland, Daniel Miles. Historical Dictionary of Upper Volta. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978.

Skinner, Elliott P. African Urban Life: The Transformation of Ouagadougou. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Web Sites

Oxfam's Cool Planet - On The Line - Burkina Faso. (accessed June 13, 2003).

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Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Burkina Faso
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 11,946,065
Language(s): French, native African languages
Literacy rate: 19.2%

Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in western Africa (formerly known as Upper Volta) received its independence from France in 1960. Turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s led to the name change and subsequently to the installation in 1987 of President Blaise Compaoré.

The country is prone to droughts and repeated population movements and has high poverty and low literacy levels. The official language is French, but the major languages are Moré, Dioula, and Fufuldé. Much of the population has only limited contact with the press.

Independent presses exist, but markets are nonspecific, and presses often distribute papers and leaflets that are passed from hand to hand and recopied. Media are also on-line, including TNB: Tévision nationale du Burkina; Sidwaya (Burkinabé daily newspaper); "news" pages from the Burkina government; L'Opinion (weekly magazine); Afrinews Burkina ; L'Observateur Paalga ;and Le Journal du Jeudi (Thursday newspaper, satirical weekly newspaper).

Under President Compaoré, press rules relaxed. However, the 1993 Information Code, says media outlets can be closed if charged with "endangering national security or distributing false news." CSI, the Supreme Council on Information, is charged with media oversight. Non-legal constraints also exist. Norbert Zongo, a journalist investigating the murder of David Ouedraogo, chauffeur of François Compaoré, brother of Blaise Compaoré, was assassinated. Four of the five presidential guards charged with chauffeur's death were later charged with Zongo's death. Reporters Sans Frontiérs, French press freedom advocates, were expelled for investigating Zongo's death. The "Norbert Zongo Festival pour la Liberté d'Expression et de Presse," partly a Zongo remembrance, was initially accepted by the government which later asked for festival cancellation.

Le Collectif, a coalition of human rights advocates and local independent journalists, was charged in December 1999 with "undermining state security" when it attempted to organize a demonstration calling for a final investigation of the murder of Zongo; charges were later dropped. Radio station Horizon FM aired a Le Collectif press release on April 14, 2000, requesting people attend a Zongo rally. Police shut the station down; it reopened late in May. Asked if the charges and closures resulted from Horizon's discussion of the president's family being involved in Zongo's assassination, Bakery Hubert Pare, CSI official said, "Democracy is fine, bur journalists have to know that the interests of the country come first. Journalism is not about insulting state officials."

International organizations see press freedoms in Burkino Faso as problematic. The 1999 listing of press freedom from Freedom House: Press Freedom Survey 1999 designated the Burkina Faso press as "partly free." CAF/SCO, a Dutch foundation supporting independent media, added Burkina Faso to the list of countries in which journalists are at risk. The International Journalists' Network reported harassment of journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists revealed restrictive methods in Burkina Faso in 2002. The World Audit awarded Burkino Faso 57 out of 100 for press freedom. (Lower numbers are preferred: for example, the US is 11/100 and United Kingdom is 16/100.) Reporters Sans Frontiérs lists Burkina Faso as not respecting freedom of the press.


Africa Report. The Press Is Free, but Will Burkinabé Buy It? September-October 1991.

Burkina Faso: World Audit Democratic Profiles. 2001.

Available from

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2001. 2002. Available from

Citizens for Public Justice. CPJ Dangerous Assignments. 3 April 2001. Available from

Citizens for Public Justice. CPJ Dangerous Assignments. 3 April 2001. Available from

Communication Assistance Foundation/Stichting Communicatie Ontwikkelingssamenwerking (CAF/SCO). 2000. Available from

Embassy of Burkina Faso. 2002. Available from

Freedom House. Press Freedom Survey 2000. 2000. Available from

Freedom House. Freedom in the World: Burkina Faso. 2001. Available

International Journalists' Network (IJN). Repression of Freedom Continues This Year in Much of Africa. 26 April 2001. Available from

International Media Issues. French-speaking Nations Assailed on Press Restrictions. 27 August 1999. Available from

International Media Issues. Watchdog Group Says Burkina Faso Journalist Likely Slain over Critical Reporting. 6 January 1999. Available from

L'Association de l'Institut d'Enterprise. The Burkinabé Media Are On Line!. 2002. Available from

Tanau, Sarah. Burkino Faso: Spotlight on Press Freedom, ANB-BIA Supplement. 15 August 1999. Available from

Emily Dial-Driver

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Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso


274,200sq km (105,869 sq mi)



capital (population):

Ouagadougou (839,800)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Mossi 48%, Mande 9%, Fulani 8%, Bobo 7%


French (official)


Traditional beliefs 45%, Islam 43%, Christianity 12%


CFA franc = 100 centimes

Republic in west Africa. Burkina Faso is a little larger than the United Kingdom, but has only one-sixth of the population. It consists of a plateau, c.200–700m (650–2300ft) above sea level, which is cut by several rivers, most of which flow s into Ghana or e into the Niger River. During droughts, some of the rivers dry up and their valleys become marshes. The capital, Ouagadougou, lies in the centre of the country.

Climate and Vegetation

Burkina Faso is hot throughout the year, with most rain occurring between May and September, when it is often humid. Rainfall is erratic and droughts are common. Rainfall is heaviest in the sw, which is covered by savanna. The rest of Burkina Faso is the semi-desert region of the Sahel, which merges into the Sahara. Overgrazing, deforestation, and soil erosion are common problems in the Sahel, causing desertification in many areas of the country. Large areas of woodland border the rivers. The se contains the Arly Park and ‘W’ National Park, which Burkina Faso shares with Benin and Niger. A third wildlife area, Po Park, lies s of Ouagadougou.

History and Politics

The people of Burkina Faso are divided into two main groups. The Voltaic group includes the Mossi (largest single group) and the Bobo. The other main group is the Mande. Some Fulani herders and Hausa traders also live in Burkina Faso. From c.1100, the Mossi invaded the region and established small, highly complex states. The Moro Naba, an absolute monarch, ruled the powerful Ouagadougou kingdom. These semi-autonomous states fiercely resisted domination by the larger Mali and Songhai Empires. In the 1890s, as part of the ‘scramble for Africa’, France gained control of the region. In 1919, it became the French protectorate of Upper Volta. In 1947, Upper Volta gained semi-autonomy within the French Union, and in 1958 became an autonomous republic within the French Community.

Upper Volta achieved independence in 1960, and adopted a strong, presidential form of government. Persistent drought and austerity measures led to a military coup in 1966. Civilian rule partially returned in 1970, but the military, led by Sangoulé Lamizana, regained power in 1974. Lamizana became president after elections in 1978, but was overthrown in 1980. Parliament and the constitution were suspended and a series of military regimes ensued. In 1983, Thomas Sankara gained power in a bloody coup.

In 1984, as a symbolic break from the country's colonial past, Sankara changed Upper Volta's name to Burkina Faso (‘land of the incorruptible’). In 1987, Sankara was assassinated and Captain Blaise Campaoré seized power. Campaoré became president in unopposed elections in 1991. Elections in 1992 were the first multiparty ballots since 1978. In 1998 elections, Campaoré gained a landslide victory. More than 7% of the population have HIV – the second highest rate of infection in Africa (after Uganda).


Burkina Faso is one of the world's poorest countries (2000 GDP per capita, $US1000). Since independence, recurrent drought has left it dependent on foreign (particularly French) aid. Nearly 90% of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, mainly at subsistence level. Less than 10% of the land is fertile without irrigation, and Burkina Faso remains reliant on food imports. The main industry is the rearing of cattle and sheep. The chief exports are livestock, peanuts, cotton, maize, millet, and sorghum. Burkina Faso has few resources. There are some deposits of gold, manganese, zinc, lead, and nickel in the n, but lack of an adequate transport network means that they are largely unexploited. Indeed, Burkina's largest gold mine closed in 1999. It manufactures basic consumer items, such as footwear and bicycles. Much of the male labor force is forced to migrate to the Ivory Coast and Ghana to work in factories and farms. A high rate of infant mortality (more than one in ten) means that each woman has on average seven children.

Political map

Physical map


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Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Culture Name


Alternative Names

Formerly Upper Volta (Haute Volta)


Identification. In 1984, Thomas Sankara's revolutionary government changed the name Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, thus discarding the name the French had given their former colony. Burkina Faso is an artificial word, using linguistic elements from the country's largest languages: Burkina means "free man" in Mooré; Faso means "land" in Dyula. Burkina Faso is thus identified as the "country of the free men." Its inhabitants are called Burkinabè; the "bè" is a suffix from another language of the country, Fulfulde.

Burkina Faso is a multiethnic nation with about sixty ethnic and linguistic groups. The country is roughly divided into two parts, each with different historical backgrounds and political cultures: the eastern and central regions were historically dominated by kingdoms, emirates, and chieftaincies such as the Mossi at the center, the Gurmanché in the extreme east and the Fulbe and Tuareg in the north. The western and southern regions contain a number of ethnic groups, which were politically less centralized. The largest of these groups are the Bisa and Gurunsi in the south, the Lobi and Dagara in the southwest, the Bobo in the west, and the Bwaba and Samo in the northwest.

Location and Geography. The country covers 105,869 square miles (274,200 square kilometers) in the center of West Africa, north of Ghana and Ivory Coast. It is a landlocked, flat country with an average altitude between 650 and 1,300 feet (200 and 400 meters) above sea level. There are some elevations in the west, the highest point being the Tenakourou (2,457 feet; 749 meters). The largest part of the former Upper Volta lies within the catchment area of the three northern tributaries of the Volta river, the Mouhoun, the Nazinon, and the Nakambe (formerly the Black, Red, and White Volta). The capital Ouagadougou lies almost in the geographical center of the country. It was the capital of a powerful Mossi kingdom and became the seat of French colonial administration in 1919.

The tropical climate has a wet season and a dry season. The northern Sahelian zone, which is adjacent to the Sahara desert, is much drier than the south, with only six to twenty-four inches (150 to 600 millimeters) of rain falling between June and September. In the southernmost Sudanic zone, rains usually start in May and end around October. Here the annual precipitation is from 35 to 51 inches (900 to 1300 millimeters). Rains show extreme variations from year to year, in both timing and quantity. They typically fall during short violent thunderstorms.

The country's vegetation varies with trees and thick bush in the south and near-desert conditions in the north. The landscape changes dramatically according to the seasons. In the driest months, extreme drought and the Harmattan, a dusty cold wind from the Sahara, desiccate all vegetation; widespread manmade bushfires add to the burnt aspect of the landscape. With the first rains, leaves sprout on trees and bushes and the savannah grass grows to several yards within a few months.

Demography. According to the 1996 census, there were 10,469,747 Burkinabè, with a population growth rate of about 2.5 percent. Central Intelligence Agency and World Bank estimates indicated a population of over 11 million by 1999. With an average life expectancy of forty-five years, 50 percent of the population is less than fifteen years old. The Mossi ethnic group makes up almost half of the population; Fulbe, Gurmanché, Bobo-Dyula, Bisa, Dagara-Lobi, and Gurunsi are each between 5 and 8 percent of the total population.

Linguistic Affiliation. French, the language of the former colonizing power, is the official language. It is used in schools, the army, the media, and by people who attend school if they are not from the same ethnic group. Since many people do not go to school, they have little or no knowledge of the French language. Widespread vernacular languages include Mooré in the center of the country and Dyula in the west; a few other languages are also used in radio programs and on television news. Among more than sixty languages spoken in Burkina Faso, thirty-eight belong to the Gur or Voltaic language family, including Mooré, Bwamu, Dagara, and Lobiri. The Mande language family includes twelve languages, such as Bisa, Sane, Dyula, and Bobo. Other language families include only one or two languages; the most important of these is Fulfulde spoken by the cattle rearing Fulbe people. Many Burkinabè grow up speaking several national languages as well as French.

Symbolism. The national flag is divided in two equal horizontal fields, with red on top and green below; a yellow five-pointed star sits in the center. The national motto has been changed to reflect the political changes since the country gained its independence from France in 1960. The first motto, "Unity-Work-Justice," was changed 1984 during the socialist Sankara revolution to the Fidel Castro-inspired "fatherland or death we shall overcome;" the motto was changed again in 1991 during the "rectification" of Blaise Compaoré, to "Unity-Progress-Justice."

The years of Sankara's revolution in the 1980s had a profound impact on the national identity. The country's symbols, such as the country's name and national anthem, were given renewed importance and reflect a pride in being Burkinabè. The national hymn highlights the ongoing anti-colonial struggle and the ideology of national pride that are part of the national character of the "free and upright men." National identity was also forged during two frontier wars (19741975 and 19851986) with Mali. Another important rallying point for national feelings is soccer: the national team ("Etalons" or Stallions) uses the symbol of the military strength of the Mossi kingdoms.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Burkina Faso's ancient and precolonial history is only known in fragments, due to the lack of early and consistent written sources and the limited archaeological information available. Recent excavations have shown that rich and stratified societies lived in permanent villages in the northeast around the year 1000 c.e. In the south, the origins of the impressive but still undated "Lobi" ruins remain a mystery. The Mossi appear to have founded their kingdomsthe most important being Wagadugu, Yatenga and Tenkodogoaround the fifteenth century c.e. Written sources mention the Mossi in connection with raids on the Sahelian towns of Timbuktu and Walata, and throughout the Middle Ages as anti-Islamic enemies of the Mali and Songhay kings. Another early important precolonial kingdom was Gurma in the east. In the nineteenth century, several smaller states with an Islamic ideology formed, such as the Fulbe states of Liptako, Jelgooji, Barani, and the Marka states of Wahabu and Boussé. States like Kong and Kenedugu expanded into southern Burkina Faso. Within or between the spheres of influence of these states, politically non-centralized societies could maintain their autonomy and sometimes even expand.

French colonial armies conquered and occupied the territory beginning in 1895, thus thwarting the northern advances of the concurring colonial powers Britain and Germany. After the First World War, which brought massive oppression, popular uprisings, and their bloody suppressions, the French carved out the Upper Volta colony as an administrative unit from French West Africa. In order to assure a supply of labor to the French coastal colonies, Upper Volta was dissolved in 1932 and its territory divided among the Ivory Coast, French Sudan (now Mali), and Niger.

The traditional Mossi aristocracy and the emerging intellectual elite protested against the dissolution of Upper Volta, and their continued agitation was rewarded in 1947 by the reconstitution of the colony. After the reconstitution, some directly voted deputies represented Upper Volta in the French parliament in Paris. These deputies, under their influential leader Ouezzin Coulibally, developed a true national conscience for the first time.

During the 1958 referendum, a majority of the population preferred to remain a largely autonomous colony within the French-African Community instead of becoming independent. Nevertheless, one year later Maurice Yaméogo of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) declared the Republic of Upper Volta and became its first president. On 5 August 1960, Upper Volta proclaimed its national independence from France.

Yaméogo adopted a pro-Western foreign policy while moving towards a single party political system and assuming almost dictatorial rights. In this, he followed the example of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, president of the Ivory Coast and leading RDA figure, who was very influential in Burkina Faso's politics following independence. In 1966, the army overthrew Yaméogo; the coup was encouraged by the trade unions, which were angered by Yaméogo's austerity measures. Sangoulé Lamizana, chief of army staff, served as the new president. The country alternated between periods of military and civil rule, and in 1977 and 1979 new constitutions were adopted, marking the short lived second and third republics. Colonel Saye Zerbo came to power in a 1980 coup, but was deposed in 1982 by a coalition of conservative and socialist officers; they installed Surgeon-Major Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo as president. Thomas Sankara became his minister and later prime minister.

Sankara was young, ambitious, and charismatic, a popular hero of the 1975 frontier war with Mali. He was a strident anti-colonialist and Marxist. Tensions within the government grew until Sankara finally ousted the conservative faction and took over power on 4 August 1993, backed by a number of left-wing parties and trade unions. The following four years profoundly changed the country's political and social landscape as Sankara introduced many reforms. His foreign policy embraced socialist countries like Libya and Cuba, and he promoted an anti-imperialist ideology of autarchy and national pride; many foreign development organizations were forced to leave the county. Dropping the old colonial name, Upper Volta, and choosing the new name, Burkina Faso, was derived from the indigenous languages, but was perhaps the most symbolically important of his measures. The political leadership along with Comity for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), a mass organization with a presence in almost every village, encouraged mass mobilization and self-help. In Ouagadougou and other towns, vast housing programs were instituted; in the countryside, numerous schools and community clinics were built. Sankara also curtailed the elite's privileges: civil servants were dismissed or were forced to give parts of their salary for development projects; all traditional authorities were abolished, especially the powerful Mossi aristocracy. Drastic measures virtually eradicated corruption.

The regime gradually moved towards a totalitarian system. Sankara, who became increasingly isolated, was killed on 15 October 1987 by the troops of his old friend and colleague, Blaise Compaoré. Sankara's violent death made him a martyr for his ideas; he remains an idol among the youth in Burkina Faso and other parts of Africa.

In the years following the bloody 1987 coup, Blaise Compaoré embarked on a policy called rectification, meant to change most of the revolutionary policies of his predecessor. In 1990 Compaoré's party, ODP-MT (Organization for Popular Democracy/Work Movement, later the Congress for Democracy and Progress or CDP), renounced Marxism-Leninism. In June 1991, a new constitution marked the return to multiparty democracy and the beginning of the fourth Republic. In the December 1991 elections however, Compaoré was voted president under unusual conditions: the opposition had boycotted the elections, Compaoré was the sole candidate, and only one quarter of the voters turned out. In the following years, the opposition was divided into old conservative parties and a multitude of revolutionary Sankarist groups disillusioned with Compaoré's rectification. The opposition, which denounced the government's lack of equity and transparency, again boycotted the 1997 presidential elections and presented no convincing candidate. Compaoré was reelected with 87.5 percent of the vote, and a voter turnout of 56 percent.

The fourth Republic is marked by a reorientation to the West. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed a structural adjustment program that is meticulously followed; current political stability makes Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, a prime destination for Western donors. In the late 1990s, the amount of development funds flowing into the country exceeded the central government expenditures.

Ethnic Relations. The population of Burkina Faso has always been highly mobile. The landscape provides few natural barriers and the traditional economic activities of shifting cultivation, semi-nomadic pastoralism, and trade require some degree of migration. Today's ethnic groups are the result of this high level mobility. Cultural exchangeeven assimilationand linguistic flexibility were frequently more important than cultural difference. But clear ethnic identities did sometimes develop in precolonial times, and the colonial transformation of the political landscape sometimes favored the hardening of ethnic borders. Generally, though, community networks transcended ethnic boundaries; this is especially true for long distance traders like the Dyula or the Yarse, and for the semi-nomadic Fulbe. Limited economic resources in the overpopulated central plateau also resulted in the migration of the Mossi people to all parts of the country during the twentieth century.

The nation's boundaries were inherited from the colonial powers. These had demarcated them in a sometimes arbitrary way, separating people from the same ethnic group while enclosing people without any cultural or historical affinities. In spite of this, a national identity has formed and there are currently no serious separatist movements and no major ethnic conflicts. One reason may be the importance of a powerful cultural device, the joking relationship, which helps to ease potential tensions. When joking partnersthey could be strangers or friendsmeet, they insult each other in a sometimes rude but always humorous way; it is absolutely forbidden to take any offence. Joking relationships are highly developed among many ethnic groups, especially between the Mossi and Samo, the Bisa and Gurunsi, the Fulbe and Bwaba/Bobo, and the Guin/Karaboro and Lobi/Dagara.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

A predominantly rural country, about 90 percent of the population lives in more than eight thousand villages. The highest population density (over fifty persons per square km) is in the center, in the socalled Mossi plateau. This contrasts with the large, virtually uninhabited spaces in the southwest, the extreme east, and the northwhere the majority of the national parks are located and land use is highly restricted. The late twentieth century saw a rapid increase in urbanization, illustrated through the exponential growth of the capital Ouagadougou. Its population grew from approximately 100,000 in 1970 to 752,236 in 1996. One of every two people living in cities lives in Ouagadougou; the city's growth rate is estimated at 6.4 percent annually. The capital's growth is partly at the expense of the country's second town, Bobo-Dioulasso. With about the same number of inhabitants on the eve of independence, Bobo-Dioulasso is today less than half as populated as Ouagadougou (312,330 inhabitants in 1996). No other city approaches these two in population.

Traditional architecture varies by region and ethnic group. It ranges from the temporary straw hut of the Fulbe and the tent of the Tuareg to the round hut made of adobe bricks and covered by a straw roof (used by the Mossi, Bisa, and Gurmanché). In the south, the Bobo, Dagara, Gurunsi, and Lobi build huge, castle-like houses with solid wood and mud walls and flat roofs. Over a hundred persons can live in these structures, which are sometimes colorfully decorated. Villages in the south may consist of a dozen widely-dispersed huge houses. Markets in the center of villages and towns are not only spaces for commercial activities but communication centers were news is exchanged, marriages are arranged, and company is enjoyed.

Imported building material, such as the zinc sheets for roofing, is becoming increasingly important in the countryside. In cities, large boulevards, representative roundabouts, football stadiums, and multi-storied administrative buildings like the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States in Ouagadougou symbolize modernity. An entire new quarter, called Ouaga 2000 and containing villas, embassies, and a congress center, has been built on the southern fringes of the capital. There is a drastic disparity between cities and the countryside in matters of revenue, health, education, and general infrastructure.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The main staple food is tô, a kind of paste prepared with millet or corn flour. It is eaten lukewarm and accompanied by a sauce. The most popular sauces are made with baobab and/or sorrel leaves and contain condiments, which vary from region to region. Shea butter or groundnut paste is frequently added. In the southernmost regions yams are grown and eaten, while in the north, especially among the Fulbe, milk is an important part of diet. Local delicacies also include a kind of caterpillar which is highly cherished among the Bobo and which is very nourishing due to its high protein content. In rural areas, meat is rarely eaten. Livestock is primarily kept not for nutrition but to pay a bride price or to offer sacrifice. The exception is the weekly market where meat is prepared and sold. Frequently this is pork baked in an oven, considered a delicacy. In urban areas rice and pasta have replaced tô. In the morning wooden kiosks offer customers a breakfast of coffee, fried egg, and fresh French-style baguette. In Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso there is an array of international restaurants with French, Italian, Chinese, and Lebanese cuisine.

In the evenings, upperclass people sit outside in garden restaurants where beef barbecue, fried fish, and chicken are served with bottled beer. There are two national brands, Sobbra and Brakina. For the majority bottled beer is too expensive, and they drink the popular locally brewed millet beer called dolo instead. It is always prepared by a woman, the dolotière, who runs a bar called a cabaret. Dolo is served in a calabash after having been cooked for over three days in huge jars. The preparation of dolo is an important income for rural women and the millet beer varies in strength and taste according to region. Bangui is a palm wine made in the Banfora region. Other locally-prepared drinks are liquor, soured milk (gappal ), and juice made from the fruit of the tamarind tree, ginger, or bissap leaves. In the north and west, tea plays an important role.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Meat is rare in daily dishes, but is eaten during ceremonial and ritual occasions including wedding ceremonies, celebrating the birth of a child, and funerals. All ethnic groups celebrate local festivals during which special food is prepared, and local beer is frequently consumed.

Muslims celebrate Tabaski, the Islamic 'Id al-Kabir (or 'Id al-Adha), which includes the sacrificing and eating of a ram by each family. During the month of Ramadan they are only allowed to eat and drink after sunset.

Basic Economy. One of the poorest countries in the world, the average person has a yearly per capita purchasing power parity of only $860 (1997 World Bank estimate). The country is landlocked, and has few natural resources and a fragile tropical soil, which has to support a comparatively high population density. Overgrazing and deforestation are serious problems which have lead to soil degradation, erosion, and desertification.

About 85 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, almost entirely at the subsistence level. Less than 10 percent of the agricultural production is cash crops. There is little irrigation and people practice mainly rainfall hoe culture, which is highly vulnerable to variations in precipitation. In all regions, the rainfall pattern tends to vary dramatically from year to year in timing, quantity, and regional distribution. There are good and bad years and this may change from one village to the next. Recurring droughts are the most dangerous natural hazards, sometimes leading to famine. The typical short, violent storms contribute to problems of soil erosion and crop damage.

The most important crop is millet (sorghum and penisetum). In certain regions corn, rice, groundnuts, vegetables, and yams are cultivated. The savannah environment is ideal for extensive livestock grazing, except for those southern areas infested by tsetse fly. The country supports an estimated four million cattle and almost fourteen million sheep and goats. Most agricultural communities do have some livestock, but the Fulbe and Tuareg of the northern regions are considered real pastoralists. Although most communities have permanently settled, they cherish the semi-nomadic lifestyle and many Fulbe still follow their herds of cattle. Meat is inexpensive and animals are exported to the coastal countries.

The main export remains labor. Since early colonial days, migrant laborers from Burkina Faso went to work in the gold mines and plantations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Today more than a million Burkinabè live permanently in the Ivory Coast and many more are seasonal migrants. A considerable number of Burkinabè live in France.

Land Tenure and Property. According to law, the state owns all land. Large areas have been declared national parks or used for state-assisted development schemes. Wild hunting, fishing, and wood cutting are not allowed. Illegal access to these resources often brings villagers into conflict with the agents of the national water and forest administration.

In towns and cities, urban space is divided into plots for which individual property titles can be acquired. In recent years, the allotment of plots is speeding up in towns and on the outskirts of the bigger cities. In rural communities, access to land is dictated by length of settlement: the lineage or clan whose ancestor is said to have founded the settlement has special rights to land, and usually provides the earth-priest. This essentially religious office holder is also necessary to legalize land rights, regulate land-use claims, and determine where houses may be built. In former kingdoms or chiefdoms, land disputes were frequently settled before the traditional ruler or Muslim authorities. The coexistence of cattle herders and agriculturalist in many areas carries a high potential for conflict. The national body for land use planning attempts to mediate these conflicts at the local level.

Wealthy individuals, investors from the cities, and village associations sometimes work big fields in the bush to grow cash crops, mainly cotton. Other big agricultural enterprises are state owned, like the large irrigated sugar cane plantations near Banfora.

Commercial Activities. Most of the country's commercial activities fall within the informal economy. There are many small traders and craftsmen, with the most successful established in permanent shops in the urban central markets. A growing artisan community produces souvenirs such as woodcarvings, leather- and basketworks, and speciality fabrics for the expanding tourism market.

Major Industries. Generally, unprofitable government-controlled corporations still dominate industry. but in recent years more emphasis has been given to the private sector. In compliance with IMF guidelines, a number of state companies have been privatized since 1991. This rarely yielded the expected results, yet there are signs for economic progress. Following the African franc currency devaluation in January 1994, the government updated its development program in conjunction with international agencies, and exports and economic growth have increased. Agro-industry accounts for over 55 percent of the overall industrial production and is dominated by the powerful cotton processor Société de Fibres Textiles (SOFITEX). Bobo-Dioulasso was once the country's industrial center due to its fertile agricultural land and, since 1933, to the railway connection with the Ivory Coast. After independence, industries and businesses are have progressively shifted towards the capital Ouagadougou.

Gold is the third most important export item after cotton and animal products and is a fast-growing industry. The nonindustrial mining sector employs thousands of mobile freelance miners who extract gold with primitive technology and are largely uncontrolled by the state. In the late 1990s, several dozen international mining companies began operations in the country, prospecting and exploiting the known gold deposits.

Trade. Almost all external trade is with countries to the south, especially with the harbors in the Ivory Coast and Togo. The few tarred roads are the connection to the coastal countries, along with a railway line to Abidjan. According to 1997 estimates, the country had a strong trade deficit: imports totaled $700 million, while exports were worth only $400 million. Main imports are machinery and food products, corn, barley, and rice, as well as fuel for transportation and to generate electricity. Cotton is of increasing importance, accounting for 73.4 percent of national exports. Meat, livestock, and hides are also important; gold and agricultural products such as green beans, mangos, sesame, groundnuts and shea butter make up the remaining exports.

Division of Labor. The state is the country's largest employer. Civil service jobs are preferred to work in the private sector, as job security is much higher and while wages are low, they are paid regularly. Competence is important in civil service recruitment, but kinship and regional affinity play important roles. Since the implementation of a structural adjustment program, employment in the civil service has been drastically reduced, except in education, health, and tax administration. Frequently one person's income must feed many people. While the official pension age for employees is between the ages of fifty-three and fifty-five, people in subsistence agriculture work as long as their health permits. They also start at a young age, as work is considered part of children's education.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Many of the country's traditional societies have their own hierarchies. The Mossi society differentiates between aristocrats (Nakomse), commoners (Talse), and slaves or captives (Yemse). The Nakomse are people of power whose ancestors were horse-riding warriors and founders of the Mossi kingdoms. They were not necessarily rich in a materialistic sense, but they controlled people. They had many followers and they took slaves, which were frequently integrated into their families. The offspring of these slaves can hardly be differentiated from other people, yet their slave origin may still be remembered. In other societies too, a family's slave origin is known; most obvious is the demarcation between nobles and slaves in the extreme north among the Tuareg.

Apart from class stratification, individuals are also categorized by occupation. In the west, which is influenced by Mande tradition, blacksmiths and praise singers (Griots) form caste-like groups (Nymakallaw) and are sometimes feared for their occult powers. There are also groups of traders, the Dyula in the west and the Yarse among the Mossi, who are generally respected.

Social and material inequality increased dramatically during the 1990s. Equality was one of the main principles during Sankara's time; flashy cars were confiscated and even high state officials had to work on farms and participate in the daybreak mass sports. Since the 1994 devaluation of the African franc, the situation has changed. Unemployment and poverty has increased in spite of a growing economy. A few individuals have acquired great wealth, seen by many as proof of growing corruption and a flawed privatization policy.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Obvious social inequality is still shocking in an environment of widespread poverty, and wealth is not generally advertised. While more huge villas with satellite dishes are being built and expensive cars make their appearance on Ouagadougou's streets, there is a certain carefulness in the display of wealth. Thus the uniform dress code of the Sankara time, the Faso Danfani, is widespread even among the wealthy. An exception is the rich Lebanese community, which controls many profitable businesses.

Political Life

Government. The political system of the fourth Republic is based on a constitution which is inspired by the French presidential democracy. The parliament has two chambers. The Assemblée Nationale has 111 members elected by popular vote every five years. Each of the forty-five provinces has a fixed number of representatives. The Chambre des Représentants was instituted in 1999 and is purely consultative. The 120 appointed members are representatives of religious groups, traditional rulers, trade unions, women's organizations and other social groups. The cabinet with thirty-five ministers is headed by the prime minister who is named by the president. The president, the real power center in the political structure, is elected by popular vote for a seven-year term. There is no limit in the number of terms a president may serve. Constitutional changes may soon shorten the term of office to five years.

Leadership and Political Officials. The political class is a limited group, where most personalities know each other well. This is both because Burkina Faso is a small country and also because much of the elite studied abroad in the same universities, in either Paris, where the country maintains a student hostel in the rue Fessart, in Dakar, or in Moscow. Political leaders who were student activists have replaced the first generation of politicians active before independence. Many of today's political class came up during the Sankara revolution and were part of the CDR, an institution created by Sankara to enforce revolutionary ideals. Political agendas are often secondary, and political parties are seen as pressure groups used to bring a certain set of people to power. Nevertheless, politicians are seen as regular people who may be approached like anybody else, not as a detached elite.

The biggest political party is the Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (CDP). The main opposition parties are the Parti pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (PDP), mainly rooted in the west, and the Alliance pour la Démocratie et le Fédéralisme Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (ADF-RDA), with a strong base in Yatenga province and in the town of Koudougou. Efforts have been made to unite the extra-parliamentarian opposition in the Group of Fourteenth, a coalition with changing constituent parties and political pressure groups founded on 14 February 1998.

Social Problems and Control. Crime rates are rising, but traditionally have been very low. Thieves may be lynched in some rare cases, a practice disappearing due to campaigns of national human rights organizations. Criminals are usually delivered to the police or the gendarmerie, a military police with a reputation of an uncorrupted elite force. Armed robbery is still a very rare phenomenon.

Social unrest comes from students and politicized youthpolitical demonstrations sometimes turn into violent scenes. These demonstrations increased after the murder of the critical and very popular journalist Norbert Zongo in December 1998. This crime, attributed to the immediate entourage of president Compaoré, catalyzed widespread discontent with the political regime and created a volatile political situation with frequent strikes and social unrest.

Military Activity. After the frontier wars with Mali in the mid-1970s and 1980s, the country had no military conflicts with its neighbors. However, some African countries criticize the nation for its contacts with rebel groups: According to a UN report, some political leaders are involved in illegal arms and diamond trafficking with rebel groups in Angola and Sierra Leone.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

State employees and employees in parastatals and larger private companies benefit from social security, but for the vast majority there is no social welfare.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The numerous development projects are an important economic and social factor. They can be multilateral like those financed by World Bank, United Nations, or the European Union, or they can be initiated by national development agencies. The most important donor countries are France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, the United States, and Japan. Furthermore, hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as charity organizations, churches, town partnerships, and initiatives by concerned groups and individuals are working on various development related issues in the fields of health, education, and poverty relief. Public education campaigns target issues like female excision and the sustained development of natural resources. In the villages, solidarity groups of men, women, and youth form to propose concrete development projects to donors.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In most rural areas both women and men work in agriculture. Men are expected to furnish the millet, while women are in charge of all other things. In an urban context, this is translated into the man's responsibility to give "Naã Songo," "the money for sauce." Male and female tasks in rural areas are clearly differentiated. Hunting and butchering is always a male activity while the collection of firewood and water is seen, among other duties, as female tasks. In the urban sector, women are employed in almost all positions, though to a lesser degree than men. Girls in the modern cities are encouraged to pursue higher education and many scholarships are reserved for them.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. A woman's role is considered to be that of a wife and mother; a woman in her thirties who is unmarried or childless carries a severe social stigma. A married woman who is childless barrenness is usually attributed to the womenbears enormous pressure from her husband's family and is likely to be sent away without any material resources. The family head is always a man, who represents the family to the outside world. Nevertheless, women have a good deal of say in domestic and economic matters and they may be successful in commerce or other jobs. Besides her job, a career woman is expected to raise children and to fulfill domestic tasks. She is aided in this by relatives from the village who regularly perform household tasks for urban families.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Today arranged marriages, which were the rule in former times, are rare, especially in urban contexts. In a customary marriage, the husband pays bride price to the bride's family. The amount varies according to ethnic group from symbolic to substantial contributions that take many years to acquire. The differences in bride price tend to hinder interethnic marriages, which are nevertheless practiced among a number of neighboring groups. Women join their husbands after marriage, and this forges an alliance between two families. Divorce is possible; any children stay with the husband's family, and the family receives the bride price should the woman remarry. If the husband dies, the widow is expected to marry a brother of her late husband. The World Bank estimates that about one-third of households are polygynous. Polygyny is practiced in traditional and Muslim contexts, but is opposed by the Christian churches.

Urban and educated people may choose to have a civil marriage. Progressive family law gives many rights to women; some men even refrain from marrying at the registrar for fear of having too many duties in case of divorce.

Domestic Unit. Extended family is very important and relatives from the husband's or wife's side may live together with the nuclear family. Three, four, or more generations living under one roof is common. Average household size is more than eight people in rural areas and more than six people in urban areas (World Bank). Especially in rural areas, a number of related households may live together in a compound. Old age and experience are highly regarded; generally the head and authority of the compound is a family elder.

Inheritance. A deceased man's widow and brothers decide the inheritance. If there are sons of a mature age, the property goes to them and they take care of their mother. According to modern family law, even illegitimate children have the right to inherit from their father. Customary law shows numerous variations according to ethnic group, but usually there are quite precise rules on inheritance. Belongings may be handed down both in the mother's as well in the father's line. Children are usually considered to belong to the father's family; illegitimate children, though, are considered to belong to their maternal uncles.

Kin Groups. The clan or lineage plays a major role in both traditional and urban settings. These are solidarity groups with a common name, customs, and taboos, and are founded on the idea of common descent. The most widespread type is the patri-clan, were belonging is defined through the male line. A clan or lineage can be made up of several thousand persons which may be dispersed, with each settlement made up of members of different clans, or as a locally defined unit on its clan territory. Marriage partners come from outside the clan. While in precolonial times clans were important for assistance in economic matters and warfare, they now serve as mutual assistance networks for city dwellers and as pressure groups for political office.


Infant Care. Infants and children up to two or three years have almost constant physical contactwith the mother, an aunt, or an elder sister. They are regularly tied with a wrapper to a woman or girl's back and carried around while the woman does domestic work or is farming. Elder siblings are strongly involved in rearing the younger ones; especially the first-borns have much responsibility.

Child Rearing and Education. Infant care and child rearing is the responsibility not only of the biological parents, but of the whole compound and, in rural areas, the entire village. The aim of all education is not to encourage an individual personality but to integrate children into the social environment.

Primary school education starts at age seven. About one third of all children go to primary school; in urban areas the rate is about three times as high as in the countryside. In many villages, children walk for hours to reach the school. Classes are quite large, with an average of about fifty pupils. School attendance varies according to region and gender: Most of the southern and western provinces have attendance rates of fifty percent and more, while in some northern and eastern provinces less than twenty percent attend school. Nationally, two girls for every three boys attend primary school, and only half as many girls as boys go to secondary school.

Higher Education. The University of Ouagadougou, founded only in 1974, dominates higher education with about eight thousand enrolled students. In 1997, the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso opened its doors. The école Nationale d'Administration et de la Magistrature (ENAM) in Ouagadougou trains higher state officials, and the école Normale Supérieure (ENS) is in Koudougou. All together about ten thousand students are enrolled in post-secondary schools, less than one percent of the population. Only one-third are women. University graduates are a tiny and respected elite, carrying the hopes of their parents and sometimes of an entire ethnic group. Even for university graduates, however, it is increasingly difficult to find jobs.


Hospitality and politeness is important to the Burkinabè. Salutations are an elaborate procedure always involving shaking hands. Conversations are rarely direct, and general issues are discussed first to set everybody at ease. Women are expected to refrain from wearing very short skirts and low-cut dresses, and from smoking in public. Officials and uniformed people are always approached with respect. They and official buildings should not be photographed. When the national flag is lowered, everyone is expected to stand still. As a rule, elders, even if only a few years older, are treated with high respect.


Religious Beliefs. A tolerant country in matters of religion, Burkina Faso has no major conflicts between the religions. Approximately 45 percent continue to hold traditional beliefs. About 43 percent practice Islam, which has been strong for centuries among the Marka, Dyula, and Fulbe, and since the colonial era among the Mossi. Christianity, spread by missionaries in colonial times, is mostly rooted in the south, the west, and among the urban elite; 6 percent are Roman Catholics and 6 percent Protestant.

Religious Practitioners. Muslims have the Iamam who leads the Friday prayer, and Christians have the standard clergy. In traditional religion, there are many religious offices and functions, but hardly any full-time religious specialists. Each ethnic group has its own specialists. The most important ones may be labelled earth priests, fortunetellers, rainmakers, or healers. Religious practitioners are chosen through family tradition or because they are called by a spirit. Traditional religion is tolerant, non-proselytizing, and flexible. Certain cults and religious specialists gain popularity beyond the local level because people feel that they can offer effective help for certain problems. Witchcraft and magic are powerful antisocial forces, but they are important in every-day life and ensure adherence to cultural norms.

Rituals and Holy Places. The sacrifice of chicken, guinea fowl, or even bigger livestock is the core ritual of traditional religious practice. The animals are offered to a wide range of spiritual forces symbolized by shrines or by conspicuous natural features such as hills, rocks, caves, trees, crossroads, termite hills, rivers, and ponds. Traditional compounds may contain dozens of shrines and power objects. A number of ethnic groups practice initiation rituals for youth. Others have powerful secret societies, which perform with masks on certain occasions.

The monotheistic religions have their own holy places. Among Catholics there is a strong cult of Saint Mary, and a number of sanctuaries have been erected for veneration. The Muslims honor some of the old mosques from the early times of Islamization, like the ones in Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouahabou.

Death and the Afterlife. Hardly any death is considered natural, especially in case of accident or the death of a younger person. Fortunetellers or necromancers may be consulted to find out whether the victim either transgressed certain socio-cultural norms or was a victim of witchcraft. Among Muslims, burial takes place within 24 hours, and is devoid of much ceremony. Traditional believers in most ethnic groups, however, celebrate long and elaborate funeral rituals to elevate the deceased to the sphere of the ancestors. The ancestors are integral part of the living community and are thought to affect lives; in many places, they are worshipped in special shrines. Christian churches adapt in different ways to these beliefs.

Medicine and Health Care

Knowledge of traditional healing methods is quickly declining. Some specialists still know much about herbs, roots, and barks and the traditional bonesetters are still consulted in rural areas. Psychological problems are treated through possession rituals. Western medicine, however, has made profound impact. Vaccination campaigns reach even remote settlements and at village markets medicinal pills and tablets can be purchased. They are comparatively cheap but of doubtful quality. Bigger villages have a dispensary run by a nurse. Although treatment is free, the prescribed drugs are quite expensive. Medical treatment by a doctor or in hospitals is much too expensive for the average person.

Secular Celebrations

National holidays honor independence and the Sankara revolution: On 11 December 1959, the Republic was proclaimed and on 5 August 1960, Upper Volta became independent. The revolution is honored on 4 August, the date when Thomas Sankara came to power in 1983. His death in 1987 is remembered on 15 October.

In former kingdoms, royalty is celebrated in yearly festivals. Every Friday morning the Mogho Naaba, king of Ouagadougou, makes a public appearance with his court in front of the palace. A more modern introduction are carnival-like mask processions in Ouagadougou, such as Carnival Dodo or Carnival Salou. The National Week of Culture (SNC) is celebrated annually in Bobo-Dioulasso. All artistic expressions are united there: theater, music, dance, sculpture, literature, and cinema from all corners of the country, along with exhibitions, cooking contests, horse races, and traditional wrestling.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The state promotes artistic expression through help in organization, logistics, and infrastructure more than by direct funding. A number of different festivals are organized, including the successful biennial Pan African Film Festival (FESPACO), held in Ouagadougou since 1965. The festival attracts more than 5,000 participants and has aided the development of francophone African cinema.

Literature. In a society where the majority is illiterate, oral tradition is central to pass history and culture from generation to generation. A number of ethnic groups have Griots, specialized narrators; in others youth is taught by elders during initiation rituals. There is also a written literature including works by well-known writers like Augustin Sondé Coulibally, Jean Baptiste Somé, and Monique Ilboudo which are read in schools and have been honored through national awards. A major obstacle for the development of a national literature is the scarcity of publishers.

Graphic Arts. Sculpture in wood, leather- and basketworks, hand-dyed fabrics, lost wax casting, and pottery are highly-developed traditional crafts. Many objects such as masks, figurines, and music instruments are produced for use in sacred contexts and are seen as power objects. A growing artisan group produces souvenirs and art pieces for the expanding tourism market. They may recall traditional forms or be of modern artistic expression. The showroom for this production is the biennial International Arts and Crafts Fair (SIAO) in Ouagadougou, attended by many artists of neighboring countries. Arts and craft production is also shown in Ouagadougou's National Center for Arts and Crafts (CNAA), where artists are trained and work together.

Performance Arts. A number of theater and music festivals are held; among the most important are the National Culture Week (SNC) in Bobo-Dioulasso and the Atypical Nights of Koudougou, a theater festival. Individuals also celebrate occasions like births or weddings with spontaneous music and dance. Dancing and music groups exist for all occasions, and Bobo-Dioulasso's Djembe drumming tradition is internationally famous.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Scientific research is aimed primarily at promoting economic and social development. The National Scientific Research Center (CNRST) has a number of institutes in many disciplines, sometimes working in cooperation with foreign research bodies. While the country adopts technological innovations from abroad, efforts are also made to understand indigenous knowledge systems and to enhance their status.


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Richard Kuba and Pierre Claver Hien

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Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso


The people of Burkina Faso are known as the Burkinabe. The main ethnic group in Burkina Faso is the Mossi, who make up about 55 percent of the total population. They are mainly farmers and live in the central portions of the country. The Bobo, the second-largest ethnic group (about 1 million), are mostly farmers, artisans, and metalworkers living in the southwest around Bobo-Dioulasso.

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"Burkina Faso." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 20 Jul. 2018 <>.

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