Upper Volta

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Upper Volta:

see Burkina FasoBurkina Faso
, republic (2015 est. pop. 18,111,000), 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.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Upper Volta


(French, Haute-Volta), Republic of the Upper Volta (République de Haute-Volta), state in West Africa. Borders on Mali in the north and northwest, Niger in the east, Dahomey in the southeast, and Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast in the south. Area, 274,200 sq km. Population, 5.3 million (1969 estimate). Capital, Ouagadougou. Administratively divided into five departments.

Constitution and government. Upper Volta is a republic. The present constitution was approved by a referendum on June 14, 1970. The head of state is the president, who is elected by the population for a period of five years on the basis of universal and direct elections. During the four-year period after the constitution came into effect, only the highest officer of the army could be elected president. The president possesses extensive powers: he is the commander in chief of the armed forces and also the chairman of the Supreme Council of Defense; he appoints ministers on the basis of the recommendation of the prime minister; he appoints all the high civil and military officials; and he has the right to dissolve parliament before the appointed date.

The Council of Ministers governs Upper Volta. The prime minister is elected by parliament from among the individuals proposed by the president. During the first four years military men were to make up one-third of the members of the government.

A parliament—the unicameral National Assembly—is elected by the population for a period of five years. All citizens at least 21 years of age may participate in the elections. The legislative powers of parliament are limited; it can adopt laws only within defined areas.

The local government offices in the cities and rural collectives are special delegations, the members of which are appointed by the government. Each delegation is headed by the commandant of the district or region. In 1965 the so-called Regional Development Organization was established in rural areas; it consists of consultative bodies—general councils and administrative councils—which deal with questions of economic and social development.

The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court (which also performs the function of constitutional supervision), a court of appeals, and courts of first instance. In 1967 an extraordinary court was established to examine cases of subversive activity and corruption. Courts of customary law still exist.


Natural features. In relief the country is an undulating plateau (elevations of 200-500 m), above which individual mountains rise to elevations up to 750 m. Most of the territory is made up of crystalline Precambrian rocks; in the country’s southwest the ancient foundation of the African platform is covered with Silurian sandstones. There are deposits of gold, manganic, copper, and uranium ores, limestone, and gypsum, but they have not been adequately prospected. The climate is equatorial-monsoonal, with a sharply defined dry season (November to March), during which a hot, dry wind—the harmattan—blows. The average monthly temperature varies from 24-26° C (December or January) to 30-35° C (April or May). Annual precipitation is 500-1,000 mm. The river network is sparse. The major rivers are the Volta Noire and Volta Blanche rivers and a tributary, the Volta Rouge. During the dry season all the rivers become much shallower or dry up. The soils are red and red-brown; lateritic crust is widespread. Typical and high-grass savannas dominate the vegetative cover; sections of sparse savanna forests and brush are encountered. Forest occupies about 9 percent of the area of Upper Volta. The rapacious extermination of wild animals has decreased their numbers, but lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and antelope are encountered. The tsetse fly is prevalent in the southern part of the country.

Population. The bulk of the population (82 percent; all figures from 1967 estimate) belongs to the Gur language group (central Bantoid), including the Mossi (45 percent of the total population), Lobi, Ambuin, Ga, Bobo, Grusi, Gurma, and Senufo peoples. Other individual groups of peoples speak Mande languages (the Busa, Bisa, San or Samo, Soninke, and Diola) and languages of the Atlantic family (Fulbe). The northern regions of the country are inhabited by the Songhai (their language forming a distinct language family) and Tuareg (whose language belongs to the Berber group). There are about 4,000 Europeans (French). The overwhelming majority of the population adheres to local traditional religions. A portion of the Mande peoples, as well as the Fulbe, Songhai, Tuareg, Bobo, and others profess Islam. There are about 140,000 Christians (some of the Mossi, the Lobi, and others). The official language is French.

During the period 1963-69 the growth in population averaged 2.1 percent per year. The economically active population (1967) is 2.3 million, 94 percent of whom are engaged in agriculture. The urban population is 14 percent. Industrial and office workers amount to about 33,000 people, one-third of whom are government officials. The average population density is 19 per sq km. Most of the population is concentrated in the country’s central regions, where there are 70-100 people per sq km; the eastern and northern regions are sparsely settled, with 1-4 people per sq km. The country’s economic backwardness, the limited area of fertile land, and the seasonal nature of agricultural work force the population to migrate to neighboring countries in search of a living (by estimates, 100,000-450,000 people a year). The important cities (1966 estimate) are Ouagadougou (115,000 in 1969), Bobo Dioulasso (70,000), Koudougou (28,000), Ouahigouya (10,000), and Kaya (10,000). The Gregorian calendar is official.

Historical survey. The first state formations on the territory of Upper Volta took shape during the 11th through 14th centuries. The most significant were the Mossi and Yatenga in the central part of the country and the Fada Ngourma in the east. In these states the early feudal relations that formed were intertwined with tribal clan relations. In 1896 the territory of Upper Volta was invaded by French troops. They met stubborn resistance, however, particularly from the Mossi state. Only by 1901 were the French colonialists able to become firmly established in the country. The local feudal rulers were made completely dependent on the colonial administration. In 1904, Upper Volta was made part of the French colony of Upper Senegal-Niger. In 1916 an uprising against colonial rule erupted in Upper Volta, prompted by the introduction of a system of forced labor and mass levies of soldiers for the French Army.

In 1919, Upper Volta was made into a separate administrative unit of French West Africa, but in 1932 the French regime divided the territory of Upper Volta among the colonies of the Ivory Coast, Niger, and the French Sudan. Only in 1947 was the country restored to its contemporary boundaries as an “overseas territory” of France.

After World War II the anti-imperialist movement developed in Upper Volta, as in the other countries of Africa. In 1947 the Voltaic section of the African Democratic Rally (RDA) was founded; with the support of broad strata of the nation, it led the struggle for liberation. In 1958 the Voltaic section of the RDA—amalgamated not long before with the Party of Social Enlightenment of the African Masses (which was founded in 1954) and several other political organizations—was named the Voltaic Democratic Union (UDV). That same year, the party of the Movement for National Liberation and the local section of the African Regrouping Party were formed. National trade-union associations began to take shape.

In the context of the growth of the national liberation movement the French colonialists were obliged to change the forms of their regime. In February 1958 the Executive Council of Government was established in Upper Volta. It was headed by O. Coulibably, the leader of the Voltaic section of the RDA. After the majority of the participants in the referendum of Sept. 28, 1958, approved the new French constitution, Upper Volta acquired the status of a member state of the French Community. The country was proclaimed an autonomous republic. The first national government was formed, headed by M. Yameogo, the leader of the UDV. In December 1959 he also became president of the country.

The further development of the national liberation movement forced the French government to sign an agreement granting Upper Volta independence (June 11, 1960). Independence was officially proclaimed on Aug. 5, 1960; on Nov. 30, 1960, a new constitution was adopted. Upper Volta left the French Community. It concluded, however, a number of agreements with France (April 1961) that left the former mother country with important economic and political positions in the country.

On Sept. 20, 1960, Upper Volta was accepted into the United Nations. In March 1961 it participated in the conference of 12 French-speaking African countries in Yaoundé and joined the Afro-Malagasy Union founded there (from 1965, the Afro-Malagasy Common Organization; from 1970, the African, Malagasy, and Mauritian Common Organization), which maintained close economic and political ties with France and other Western states. As early as 1959, Upper Volta, the Ivory Coast, Dahomey, and Niger had established the economic and political union known as the Council of Understanding (in 1966, Togo joined the council).

In the socioeconomic sphere Upper Volta adopted a course aimed at the development of private enterprise and the attraction of foreign capital to the country (from France, the USA, West Germany, and other capitalist states). Attempting to suppress the opposition, the government banned all political parties other than the UDV, implemented laws (1963) expanding the powers of the president, and so on. However, all these measures did not achieve their aim. The discontent of the masses with the policies of the Yameogo government—policies which brought a decline in the standard of living of the population—took the form of open action. A general strike began on Jan. 3, 1966, in response to the summons of the trade unions. There were antigovernment demonstrations in Ouagadougou and several other cities. The government was also opposed by the army command, which replaced President Yameogo on Jan. 4, 1964. Lieutenant Colonel S. Lamizana became head of state and government. (From 1964 he held the post of chief of general staff; in 1967 he was given the rank of brigadier general and in 1970, divisional general; he held the office of head of government until February 1971.) The constitution was suspended, activity by the political parties temporarily banned, and the parliament dissolved. In December 1966 the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Upper Volta adopted a resolution keeping power in the hands of the army for a period of four years. The restriction of the activity of political parties was officially abolished in December 1969. The referendum held on June 14, 1970, brought the approval of a constitution that provided for a gradual transition to a civilian regime and the introduction of the post of prime minister. In accordance with the new constitution, elections were held on Dec. 20, 1970, as a result of which the UDV obtained an absolute majority of the seats in the National Assembly (37 of 57). G. K. Ouedraogo, the leader of the UDV, became prime minister as of Feb. 13, 1971.

Diplomatic relations between Upper Volta and the USSR were established in 1967. In February 1967 the two countries signed an agreement on scientific and cultural cooperation and in March 1968, a trade agreement.


Political parties, trade unions, and other social organizations. The Voltaic Democratic Union (Union Démocratique Voltaïque, UDV) was founded in 1947. It held a monopoly in the political life of Upper Volta until 1966. It enjoys considerable influence among the peasantry. The African Regrouping Party (Parti du Regroupement Africain) was founded in 1958. It enjoys limited influence in the southwest of the country. The National Liberation Movement (Mouvement Pour la Libération Nationale) was founded in 1958. It stands for the achievement of economic independence for Upper Volta and the development of relations with the USSR and the other socialist countries. The Trade Union Association of Voltaic Workers, which was founded in 1958, belongs to the Pan-African Federation of Trade Unions; it maintains ties with the World Federation of Trade Unions. The African Confederation of Believing Workers was founded in 1950; it belongs to the Pan-African Union of Believing Workers. The Voltaic Organization of Free Trade Unions was founded in 1960; it belongs to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. There are also branch (unaffiliated) trade union organizations. There are more than 12,000 trade union members in Upper Volta. There is a General Union of Voltaic Students.


Economic geography. Upper Volta is an extremely backward agrarian country. French capital holds the dominant positions in the economy (85 percent of all capital investment), controlling foreign trade, much of industry, and the purchasing and sale of a substantial portion of the livestock-raising output. The average annual per capita income is US $44 (one of the lowest figures in Africa). After the proclamation of independence, certain measures aimed at developing the economy were carried out. The country’s industrial development is retarded by the preservation of precapitalist relations of production; the acute shortage of capital, skilled labor power, and raw materials; the small capacity of the internal market; and the high cost of transportation and electrical energy.

AGRICULTURE. Of the gross national product, 67 percent is provided by agriculture. It is primitive and seminatural. The land belongs to the communities, but a substantial portion is in the hands of the tribal chiefs. Small-peasant farming is the basic type. Farming methods are backward; the hoe and wooden plow are the implements used. The lack of water, soil erosion, and the arid climate also are obstacles to the development of agriculture.

Table 1. Area and yield of main agricultural crops
 1948-521Area (hectares) 196119681948-521Yield (tons) 19611968
Cotton...............99,00023,00082,0003,0002 1,0002 12,0002  
1 Yearly average 2 Cotton fiber      

Extensive pasture livestock raising plays a leading role in the economy. During 1967-68 the livestock population included 2.6 million head of cattle, 1.7 million sheep, and 2.4 million goats. Cattle and livestock produce are exported to neighboring countries—the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Cultivated land amounts to over 9 percent of the total territory of the country; much of it is under food crop cultivation (sorghum, millet, corn, rice, and peanuts, of which there is some exporting), whereas industrial crops cover a smaller area (cotton, the shea butter tree). Millet and sorghum are planted, for the most part, in the north and center of the country, rice primarily in the south, and corn everywhere. (See Table 1 for the area and yield of the main agricultural crops.) Cassava and sweet potatoes are also important in feeding the indigenous population. There is vegetable raising in the suburbs of Bobo Dioulasso and Ouagadougou.

River fishing is developed; the catch is 3,500 tons a year. In 1968, 3.7 million cu m of round wood was processed.

INDUSTRY. Only about 20 percent of the gross national product is provided by industry. The main branch is the processing of agricultural raw materials. Sources of energy include two thermal electric power plants (Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso) and one diesel plant in Ouahigouya, with a total capacity of 14,000 kilowatts. The production of electrical energy in 1968 amounted to 22.8 million kilowatt-hours. Manganic ore is extracted in Tambao (in the northeast).

The manufacturing industry is represented by small and medium-size enterprises. Industrial installations are concentrated primarily in Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso. There is oil extracting (the production of oil, fats, and soap from peanuts and shea kernels) and cotton ginning (plants in Bobo Dioulasso, Ouagadougou, and Koudougou), two rice-polishing plants (Bobo Dioulasso, Banfora), two packing houses, a sugar refinery (Banfora), a textile combine (Koudougou), a tannery, a shoe factory (Ouagadougou), a bicycle plant, a galvanized steel sheet plant, and a sawmill. Handicraft production is developed, including carpet wares, production of sisal fiber, and leather working.

TRANSPORTATION. In 1966, 517 km of the Abidjan-Ouagadougou railroad lay within Upper Volta; there were about 17,000 km of motor roads, 9,000 km of which had paved surface (65 km asphalt). The road from the Mali border through Bobo Dioulasso, Ouagadougou, and Fada Ngourma to the Republic of Niger serves as a foreign-trade route. The country has two major airports—in Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso.

EXTERNAL ECONOMIC RELATIONS. In 1967 the exports of Upper Volta amounted to US $22 million, whereas imports amounted to US $36 million. Agricultural produce (essentially cattle and livestock produce, which total 40-60 percent of the value of exports) accounts for 90 percent of the value of the country’s exports; imports are dominated by consumer goods, textiles, clothing, cola nuts, and foodstuffs. Upper Volta’s main foreign trade partners (1967) are France (45.2 percent of imports and 13.5 percent of exports), Ghana (about 2 percent and 13.6 percent), and the Ivory Coast (49.3 percent of exports). The monetary unit is the African franc. One US dollar is equal to 277.71 African francs (July 1970).


Armed forces. The armed forces of Upper Volta consist of ground forces, an air force, and a gendarmerie. The president is the commander in chief. The minister of national defense and the staff of the armed forces exercise direct leadership of the troops. The army is recruited on the basis of a universal military service act; the term of active military service is 18 months. The total number of armed forces (1970) is about 2,000 men, including about 1,000 men in the gendarmerie. Ground forces (about 900 men) consist of a detached infantry battalion, reconnaissance squadron, parachute company, engineer company, and maintenance subunits. The air force (about 100 men) is in an embryonic stage; it has no combat aircraft.

Health and social welfare. In 1969 the birth rate per 1,000 of population was 53 and the death rate 30.5; infant mortality was 182 per 1,000 live births. The life span for men was 32.1 years and for women, 31.1 years. Infectious pathology predominates. More than 75 percent of the children between two and nine years of age are afflicted with malaria. Intestinal infections are widespread, particularly amebiasis (47 cases per 10,000 inhabitants in 1964) and urogenital schistosomiasis. Outbreaks of smallpox and meningococcic meningitis are recorded every year. Mortality from measles is as high as 4 percent. The number of people afflicted by leprosy was 142,000 (1965), by onchocerciasis 280,000 (1967), and by trachoma 700,000 (1964). The incidence of sleeping sickness has decreased to .009 percent (1965) as a result of the measures that have been adopted. The most intensive breeding grounds of schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, wuchereriasis, sleeping sickness, and natural foci of yellow fever are located in the southern regions of the country.

In 1967 there were two general hospitals with 1,100 beds. In all there were 2,600 beds (0.5 per 1,000 residents). Outpatient service is provided by two outpatient divisions of the hospitals, 23 public health centers, and 221 dispensaries. In 1967 about 70 doctors were working in the country (one doctor for 76,000 people); there were over 100 midwives and nurses. A school to train nurses was established in Ouagadougou in 1962.


Economic damage is inflicted primarily by trypanosomiasis (85 outbreaks during 1962-68), pulmonary pneumonia of cattle (38 outbreaks in 1964; 84 in 1968), and pasteurellosis (225 outbreaks during 1962-68). Infectious diseases of agricultural animals are prevalent (anthrax, emphysematous carbuncle, and foot-and-mouth disease). Characteristic of desert and typical savannas are pasteurellosis, pulmonary pneumonia, cattle plague, rabies, and helminthiases; trypanosomiases (the tsetse fly is the carrier) is characteristic of the high-grass savannas. A system of veterinary control points has been organized (along cattle-drive routes), and a fight against plague and pulmonary pneumonia in cattle is being waged.


Education. France’s protracted colonial domination has had a negative effect on the condition of culture and education in the country. In 1962, 98 percent of the population was illiterate. Since the proclamation of independence, the government has devoted much attention to the development of public education. The system of education in Upper Volta was formed under French influence. Instruction in the schools is in French. The system of preschool institutions has as yet been developed only to an insignificant degree. (In 1965 there was a total of 1,100 children in kindergartens.) Elementary education has been compulsory and free for children of ages 6 to 14 since 1965. The period of study in the elementary schools is six years (the two-year preparatory, elementary, and secondary programs). There are also three-year rural schools, which do not provide a complete elementary education. In order to enter secondary school, it is necessary to pass entrance examinations after the completion of a six-year elementary school. The complete program of study in the secondary school (lycée) is seven years (four plus three); the first four years of study correspond to incomplete secondary school (collège). Vocational training is, in the main, carried on upon completion of primary school and lasts from one to five years. Elementary school teachers are trained in pedagogical courses that follow after elementary school and include five years of instruction. During the 1967-68 academic year there were about 130,000 students in elementary schools, about 32,000 students in rural schools, over 10,000 students in secondary schools, over 2,000 students in the system of vocational and technical training, and 1,447 people in the pedagogical courses. Young people receive higher education abroad. The Society of Cultural Mutual Aid and the House of Youth, with a small library, have been established in Ouagadougou.


Press, radio, and television. The following are published in Ouagadougou (1970): the weekly newspaper Carrefour africain (since 1960; circulation, 2,500); the daily bulletin Bulletin quotidien d’information (circulation, 1,200), and the official weekly journal Journal officiel de la République de la Haute-Volta (since 1959). All the newspapers listed are controlled by the government.

There has been radio broadcasting in Upper Volta since 1959. There are radio stations in Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso; broadcasting is in French and 13 local languages (Mossi, Dioula, Grusi, and others). A small television studio has operated in Ouagadougou since 1963. The government service, Voltaic Radio and Television, was established in 1959.


Folk art. Traditional wood sculpture associated with ancestor worship is foremost among the creative modes of the peoples of Upper Volta. It achieves its expressiveness by means of accentuated geometrization of spaces and rhythms and the sharp contraposition of vertical and horizontal planes. Statuettes and masks are sometimes decorated with representations of antelope horns or with a long, vertically reinforced slat with a carved polychrome design. Metal figurines depicting ancestors and scenes from the lives of the gods are encountered less frequently. Metal ornaments covered with decorative plant patterns and pendant amulets in the form of scaly snakes are widespread. Artistic goods made from the skins of snakes and crocodiles (bags, briefcases, and belts) and the hides of animals, decorated with stamped or traced designs, are produced. The walls of dwellings (circular or rectangular in layout, with conical or flat roofs) are sometimes decorated with wall paintings or ceramic bas-reliefs.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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