Burkina Faso


One of the poorest countries in the world, landlocked Burkina Faso has a high population density, few natural resources, and a fragile soil. About 90% of the population is engaged in mainly subsistence agriculture, which is highly vulnerable to variations in rainfall. Industry remains dominated by unprofitable government-controlled corporations. 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. Maintenance of macroeconomic progress depends on continued low inflation, reduction in the trade deficit, and reforms designed to encourage private investment. Burkina's economy has suffered badly because of political troubles, and because it is so poor, about two thirds of the population are forced to go abroad to find jobs. Burkina imports most of the goods and the resources it consumes.


Burkina Faso is one of the friendliest and, until recently, one of the safest, countries in all of Africa. Although it receives only a small number of tourists per year, it is an excellent destination for anyone interested in seeing a beautiful West African country and exploring African culture and music.


Until the end of the 19th century, the history of Burkina Faso was dominated by the empire-building Mossi. The French arrived and claimed the area in 1896, but Mossi resistance ended only with the capture of their capital Ouagadougou in 1901. The colony of Upper Volta was established in 1919, but it was dismembered and reconstituted several times until the present borders were recognized in 1947.

Independence from France came to Upper Volta, which was renamed Burkina Faso, in 1960. From 1984 until 1987, it was under the leadership of Thomas Sankara, otherwise known as the Che Guevara of Africa. Sankara's regime proved to be very popular, where he was averting the power and influence through the World Bank and IMF and encouraging worldwide aid to fight disease. Most of his programs were successful, though it was not successful enough to protect the country from political turmoil. He was ridiculed in the West by his authoritarian rule, banning free press and unions. In 1987, a coup led by Blaise Compaoré Sankara's colleague executed Sankara along with twelve of his officers, citing deterioration of relations with foreign countries.

For 27 years from 1987, Blaise Compaoré was dictator. Things did not improve during his years in office, and many of Sankara's policies for stability and economic growth were largely dismantled, making Burkina Faso one of the poorest countries on Earth. Political unrest has worsened, and economic reforms remain very uneven.


Burkina Faso's seventeen million people belong to two major West African cultural groups—the Voltaic and the Mande whose common language is Dioula. The Voltaic Mossi make up about one-half of the population. The Mossi claim descent from warriors who migrated to present-day Burkina Faso from Ghana and established an empire that lasted more than 800 years. Predominantly farmers, the Mossi kingdom is still led by the Mogho Naba, whose court is in Ouagadougou.

While over 60 ethnic groups and just as many languages can be found in Burkina, the country may also be divided into these primary ethnic regions:

Extreme north
Far north, just south of the Tourags
Central plateau centred around Ouagadougou and stretching north to Ouahigouya and south to the Ghanaian border
Southern Burkina Faso between Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso
South-west along the borders with Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire
West centered around Bobo-Dioulasso
Southwest along the borders with Mali and Côte d'Ivoire

Burkina Faso is an ethnically integrated, secular state. Most of Burkina's people are concentrated in the south and centre of the country, sometimes exceeding 48 per square kilometre 125 mi². Several hundred thousand farm workers migrate south every year to Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana. These flows of workers are obviously affected by external events; the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire have meant that hundreds of thousands of Burkinabé returned to Burkina Faso. A plurality of Burkinabé are Muslim, but most also adhere to traditional African religions. The introduction of Islam to Burkina Faso was initially resisted by the Mossi rulers. Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, comprise about 25% of the population, with their largest concentration in urban areas.

Few Burkinabé have had formal education. Schooling is in theory free and compulsory until the age of 16, but only about 54% of Burkina's primary school-age children are enrolled in primary school due to actual costs of school supplies and school fees and to opportunity costs of sending a child who could earn money for the family to school. The University of Ouagadougou, founded in 1974, was the country's first institution of higher education. The Polytechnical University in Bobo-Dioulasso was opened in 1995. The University of Koudougou was founded in 2005 to substitute for the former teachers' training school, Ecole Normale Superieure de Koudougou.