Burkina Faso

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Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso (burkēˈnə fäˈsō), republic (2020 est. pop. 20,900,000), 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 A.D. 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 Sept., 2015, there was a coup attempt by the presidential guard, which remained loyal to the former president, but the army did not join the coup and the surrender of the guard was negotiated and the force disbanded.

Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was elected president in the first round of the voting in Nov., 2015. Kaboré, who had served as prime minister under Compaoré in the mid-1990s, had broken with the former president in 2014 over plans to end term limits and formed an opposition party. In Oct., 2016, the government said it had foiled a coup attempt involving former members of the presidential guard.

In recent years relations have been strained at times with Côte d'Ivoire, which has been accused by the government of mistreating Burkinabe there. Burkina Faso also has seen growing activity since 2016 by Islamist militants, many of whom have inflitrated the country from Mali in the north. Attacks have occurred in the country's north and in the capital, and since 2018 they have been active in the east, where they control territory in conjunction with local militants; government forces have been accused of brutality toward the Fulani. The attacks became increasingly serious and disruptive in 2019 and 2020, displacing some 1 million people. In Nov., 2020, Kaboré, who was criticized for an inadequate response to militant attacks, won reelection against a divided opposition. A fifth of the polling places did not open, however, due to the threat of militant violence. In Oct. 2021, 37 years after the assassination of Sankara, Compaoré--who is in exile living in the Ivory Coast--and several others were put on trial for Sankara's murder.


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

Official name: Burkina Faso

Capital city: Ouagadougou

 Internet country code: .bf

Flag description: Two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and green with a yellow five-pointed star in the center; uses the popular pan-African colors of Ethiopia

National anthem: “L’ Hymne de la Victoire” / “Ditanyè” (Hymn of Victory)

Geographical description: Western Africa, north of Ghana

Total area: 106,000 sq. mi. (274,200 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; warm, dry winters; hot, wet summers

Nationality: noun: Burkinabe (singular and plural); adjective: Burkinabe

Population: 14,326,203 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Mossi over 40%, other (including Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, Mande, and Fulani) about 60%

Languages spoken: French (official), Dioula and other native languages 90%

Religions: Muslim 60%, indigenous religions 24%, Roman Catholic 17%, Protestant 3%

Legal Holidays:

All Saints' DayNov 1
Assumption DayAug 15
Christmas DayDec 25
Independence DayAug 5
International Women's DayMar 8
Labor DayMay 1
New Year's DayJan 1
Proclamation of IndependenceDec 11
Revolution DayJan 3
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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