About Burkina Faso
Most of the area known today as Burkina Faso was once dominated by the Mossi people, who established their empire around 1500. In 1897, France imposed its rule over the people of Burkina Faso, but it was not until 1947 that the French colony of Haute Volta (Upper Volta) was created. Full independence from the French came on August 5, 1960, with Maurice Yaméogo as the nation’s first president.
Four of the six presidents after Yaméogo came into power through military coups. Thomas Sankara, who, after a coup, led the country from August 1983 until his death on October 15, 1987, was arguably the most influential of Burkina Faso’s presidents. Sankara’s charismatic leadership style, which emphasized self-sufficiency and a lean and efficient government that transferred wealth from urban centers to rural areas, was popular with citizens and created a sense of hope in the country. In 1984, the country’s name was changed from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso: “Country of the Upright/ Honorable People.”
The current president, Blaise Compaore, has been in power since Sankara’s death. Compaore was the only candidate in an election held after four years of military rule, and he was sworn-in as president of the fourth republic on December 24, 1991. Compaore has won the last two presidential elections, held in 1998 and 2005, by wide margins.
Burkina Faso is an independent republic with a unicameral National Assembly of 111 members (called deputies) who serve five-year terms. Political and constitutional reforms have moved Burkina Faso incrementally toward democratization. In 1991, a new constitution was passed through a referendum, laying the foundation of the fourth republic.
Burkina Faso has few natural resources, and 90 percent of its population engages mainly in subsistence agriculture (producing peanuts, shea nuts, sesame, cotton, sorghum, millet, corn, rice, and livestock). Agricultural production is limited and risky because of poor soils and cyclical droughts. A significant portion of the labor force migrates annually to neighboring coastal countries, in search of unskilled employment. Due to an ongoing conflict and unrest in Côte d’Ivoire during the last six years, however, that number has deminished. . Burkina Faso is landlocked, which drives up the price of imports and is a significant obstacle to maintaining the competitiveness of exports. The primary exports—cotton, livestock, and gold—are subject to major price and yield fluctuations as a result of agricultural production conditions in the case of cotton and livestock and global market prices in the case of gold. These factors, combined with a relatively undeveloped infrastructure, have contributed to Burkina Faso’s classification as one of the poorest countries in the world (with a per capita gross domestic product of $240). The country ranked 169 out of 173 in the 2002 United Nations Human Development Index.
The population of Burkina Faso is approximately 11 million, with an annual growth rate of about 2.8 percent. Sharing borders with six countries, Burkina Faso is composed of a rich mix of people representing over 60 language or ethnic groups. The major groups include the Mossi (48 percent), Fulani (10 percent), Mande (7 percent), Lobi-Dagari (7 percent), Bobo (7 percent), and Senufo (6 percent). Islam is practiced by about 50 percent of the population; Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) by about 20 percent; and indigenous beliefs, which continue to play a major role in the lives of many Burkinabé regardless of their religious orientation, by approximately 30 percent.
The Burkinabé are known for their tolerance and acceptance of ethnic and religious diversity. While Islam is practiced by a significant portion of the population, religious fundamentalism is rare. In addition, it is very common to find Christians, Muslims, and animists in the same family participating in one another’s religious celebrations, and marriage across ethnic lines is widely accepted.
The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou and the International Arts and Crafts Show of Ouagadougou are two major events that highlight Burkina Faso’s role as a country devoted to cultivating the arts. Artists and art connoisseurs from all over the world come to Ouagadougou for these events, injecting the society with new levels of creative talent.
The people of Burkina Faso are the country’s greatest resource. Despite their poverty, they remain dignified, extremely hardworking, and very welcoming to foreigners. Peace Corps Volunteers could not find a more hospitable group of people to work with than the Burkinabé.
Burkina Faso, a landlocked country that sits on the edge of the Sahel, is mostly flat with undulating plains. It has an area of 105,869 square miles, slightly larger than Colorado. It is bordered on the north by the Sahelian countries of Mali and Niger and on the south by Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. While the northern part of the country consists mostly of desert, the southern and central regions are forested. There are two distinct seasons in Burkina Faso: the rainy season from June to October and the dry season from November to May. The climate is warm and dry from November to March, hot and dry from March to May, and warm and wet during the rainy season. The average temperature in the rainy and cool seasons ranges from 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night to 95 degrees during the day, with temperatures rising to over 100 degrees in the hot season. Average rainfall ranges from approximately 40 inches in the south to less than 10 inches in the north.