Burkina Faso is a landlocked West African country with an area of approximately 274,200 km2 (105,900 sq mi). Mali to the northwest, Niger to the northeast, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and the Ivory Coast to the southwest border the landlocked country. Burkina Faso’s current population is 22,397,851, according to Worldometer’s elaboration of the most recent United Nations data as of February 11, 2023. Burkina Faso is located on a large plateau that slopes slightly to the south. The country’s three major rivers, the Black Volta, the Red Volta, and the White Volta, all of which converge in Ghana to the south to form the Volta River, have deeply incised the lateritic (red, leached, iron-bearing) layer of rock that covers the underlying crystalline rocks.
The majority of the people in Burkina Faso live in rural areas. The Mossi are the largest ethnic group, accounting for nearly half of the total population; others include the Lobi, Bobo, and Gurunsi, all of whom speak a Voltaic language; and Fulani, Mande, and Senufo are also significant minorities. The official language of the country is French, but Oyula is widely spoken in business. Muslims constitute 50% of the population, while 40% adhere to traditional beliefs and 10% are Roman Catholics. Burkina Faso is a multilingual country with an estimated 70 languages spoken throughout the country. Sixty-six of these languages are indigenous. Burkina Faso’s official language is French. Mossi is the most widely spoken language in Burkina Faso, with nearly 40% of the population speaking it. The majority of people in the country’s urban areas are multilingual, whereas the rural population uses their native languages for everyday activities.
Agriculture accounts for 32% of the country’s GDP and employs 80% of the working population. It primarily consists of livestock rearing. People grow sorghum, pearl millet, and maize, particularly in the south and southwest (corn). Subsistence agriculture or livestock raising employs approximately nine-tenths of the population. Cotton lint, foodstuffs, beverages, textiles, shoes, bicycle parts, and basic consumer goods constitute the majority of the country’s industry. Burkina Faso has a small mining industry that produces manganese, phosphates, and gold-bearing quartz; however, other small mineral deposits go untapped. The country has a reasonably good road system. A railroad connects Ouagadougou to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s seaport, via Bobo-Dioulasso and Banfora; it is currently being extended NE to Tambao. The top five export commodities in 2017 were, in order of importance: gems and precious metals, cotton, ores, slag, ash, fruits, nuts, and oil seeds.
Hunter-gatherers lived in the northwestern part of modern-day Burkina Faso from 14000 BCE to 5000 BCE. The Bobo, Lobi, and Gurunsi were the main inhabitants of present-day Burkina Faso by around AD 1100. Invaders from Ghana conquered central and eastern Burkina Faso, establishing the Mossi states of Ouagadougou, Yatenga, and Tengkodogo in the center and Gourma in the east. During the European Scramble for Africa, beginning in the early 1890s, a series of European military officers attempted to claim parts of what is now Burkina Faso. These colonialists and their armies fought the local peoples at times, but they also formed alliances with them and signed treaties with them. The territory of Burkina Faso was invaded by France, becoming a French protectorate in 1896.
Until 1919, the region of modern-day Burkina Faso was administered as part of the French colony of Soudan (then called Upper Senegal-Niger and now mostly part of Mali). For administrative purposes, it was divided in 1932 between Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, and Niger. Upper Volta was restored as a separate territory within the French Union in 1947, and it became an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1958. Upper Volta gained full independence on August 5, 1960. On 4 August 1984, then-President Thomas Sankara renamed the country “Burkina Faso” from the Republic of Upper Volta. The words “Burkina” and “Faso” are derived from different languages spoken in the country: “Burkina” is Mossi for “upright,” indicating the people’s pride in their integrity, whereas “Faso” is Dioula for “fatherland” (father’s house).
- Capital City:
Total: 274,200 sq km
Land: 273,800 sq km
Water: 400 sq km
- Land boundaries:
Total: 3,611 km
- Border countries (6):
Benin 386 km,
Cote d’Ivoire 545 km,
Ghana 602 km,
Mali 1,325 km,
Niger 622 km,
Togo 131 km
Coastline: 0 km
- Total: 3611 km
Warm, dry winters;
Hot, wet summers
Mostly flat to dissected, undulating plains; hills in the west and southeast
Mean elevation: 297 m
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Mouhoun (Black Volta) River 200 m
Highest point: Tena Kourou 749 m
- Natural resources:
Manganese, limestone, marble; small deposits of gold, phosphates, pumice, salt
- Land use:
Agricultural land: 43%
Arable land 20.8%; Permanent crops 0.3%; Permanent pasture 21.9%
Other: 36.6% (2011 est.)
- Irrigated land:
550 sq km (2012)
- Population – distribution:
The population is concentrated in the central and southern parts of The country; the east, north, and southwest are less populated
- Natural hazards:
People and Society
Burkina Faso has a young age structure – the result of declining mortality combined with steady high fertility – and continues to experience rapid population growth, which is putting increasing pressure on the country’s limited arable land. More than 65% of the population is under the age of 25, and the population is growing at 3% annually. Mortality rates, especially those of infants and children, have decreased because of improved health care, hygiene, and sanitation, but women continue to have an average of almost 6 children. Even if fertility were substantially reduced, today’s large cohort entering their reproductive years would sustain high population growth for the foreseeable future. Only about a third of the population is literate and unemployment is widespread, dampening the economic prospects of Burkina Faso’s large working-age population.
Migration has traditionally been a way of life for the Burkinabe, with seasonal migration being replaced by stints of up to two years abroad. Cote d’Ivoire remains the top destination, although it has experienced periods of internal conflict. Under French colonization, Burkina Faso became the main labor source for agricultural and factory work in Cote d’Ivoire. Burkinabe also migrated to Ghana, Mali, and Senegal for work between the world wars. Burkina Faso attracts migrants from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Mali, who often share common ethnic backgrounds with the Burkinabe. Despite its food shortages and high poverty rate, Burkina Faso has become a destination for refugees in recent years and hosts about 33,500 Malians as of May 2017.
- Ethnic groups:
Mossi 52%, Fulani 8.4%, Gurma 7%, Bobo 4.9%, Gurunsi 4.6%, Senufo 4.5%, Bissa 3.7%, Lobi 2.4%, Dagara 2.4%, Tuareg/Bella 1.9%, Dioula 0.8%, unspecified/no answer 0.3%, other 7.2% (2010 est.)
Tigrinya (official), Arabic (official), English (official), Tigre, Kunama, Afar, and other Cushitic languages
French (official), native African languages belonging to Sudanic families spoken by 90% of the population.
Ethnicity, Language, and Religion
Its population of over 15 million people belongs to two major West African cultural groups, the Voltaic and the Mande. The Voltaic are far more numerous and include the Mossi, which make up almost half of the population. The Mossi claim descent from warriors who migrated to present-day Burkina Faso and established an empire that lasted more than 800 years. Predominantly, farmers, the Mossi are still bound by the traditions of the Mogho Naba, who holds court in Ouagadougou. Other ethnic groups include the Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, and Fulani. In addition to the African population, about 5,000 Europeans reside in Burkina Faso.
The most significant ethnic divide in the country is between Mossi farmers and Fulbe herders. The root of the conflict lies in the long history of Mossi’s domination over its neighbors. In recent years the conflict has escalated along job activity lines. The high population density, rapidly growing population, growing pressure on natural resources, the growth of herds, and the extension of cultivated areas all contribute to the tensions between divergent culturally-based resource users. A minority of scholars has challenged this rationale, asserting that it is not really an ethnically-based conflict over resource-use decisions, but rather a “modern” struggle to conceal personal wealth. The result is nonetheless the same. The rich Mossi and Fulbe societies have been clashing with increasing frequency.
Burkina Faso’s most ritualized ethnic group is likely the Dagara centered in Birifu. While comprising only three percent of the total population of the country, Dagara ritualistic beliefs transcend much of Burkinabe society. At the center of these rituals are the Bagr rituals. Bagr rituals form a series of private and public events that last a season or even a year. They guide social and cultural life. Fundamental to this set of beliefs is the consideration of fate.
French is the official language, however, many indigenous languages (over 60) are typically spoken. Songhay, Senoufo, Sano, Nuni, More, Marka, Lyele, Lobi, Kasem, Karoboro, Jula, Gourma, Fulfulde, Dagara, Cerne, Bwamu, Bomu, Bobo-Madare, Bissa, and Malba-Birifor are among the main languages — most of which belong to Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Mande and Nilo-Saharan ethnolinguistic families of languages. A plurality of Burkinabe (over fifty percent) is Muslim. The introduction of Islam to Burkina Faso was initially resisted by the Mossi rulers. Indeed, even among self-professed Muslims, there is also adherence to traditional African religions. Indeed, about 40 percent of the people are said to follow traditional beliefs. The Christians, both Roman Catholics, and Protestants comprise about a tenth of the population, with their largest concentration in urban areas.
Burkina Faso has made enormous progress in education since 1960 when the country gained independence. The primary education rate has gone from almost 7 percent in 1960 to more than 81 percent in 2012/2013. Progress has been made in reducing gender inequality, with nearly equal female and male primary education rates. The progress seen especially in the last decade may be attributed to the Ten Year Plan for Development of Basic Education, put in place from 2002 to 2011. Important efforts still need to be made to attain universal primary school education.
Statistics from the 2006 national census of population information on children’s demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and the households in which they live show that the national completion rates for different levels of schooling in Burkina Faso hide disparities: the law school enrollment of girls compared to boys, of children in rural areas, compared to urban areas, of children in poor households, compared to privileged households, of orphans compared to those who are not, and of handicapped children compared with nonhandicapped children. Geographic disparities are particularly important. Living in a rural area, for example, is more damaging to a child’s schooling than being a girl. Being an orphaned girl without both parents and living in a rural area considerably limits one’s educational opportunities. Similarly, a handicapped girl living in a rural area faces major obstacles to education.
The country’s 2007 Education Orientation Law introduced universal compulsory free education in 45 national districts with the goal of building an integrated system of education for all students ages 6-16. While the country is among the world’s poorest, school enrollment has risen steadily, and the government and its development partners have implemented reforms including bilingual education in French and national languages to improve access to schooling for all children.
Pre-primary education is not widely available in Burkina Faso; early childhood centers are mainly found in larger cities and towns. Primary education begins at age 6, lasts 6 years, and is obligatory (although attendance is not enforced). It is divided into three levels: two years of preparatory elementary school, two years of elementary school, and two years of middle school. At the end of the final level, students earn a certificate of primary studies (CEP).
Secondary students follow either a two-year or three-year track, depending on whether they wish to end their formal education at the high school level or pursue further studies at a university or technical school. Special multi-lingual schools also have been established to foster proficiency in French and the eight major national languages, as well as life skills training. High school graduates earn a baccalaureate certificate.
There are three institutions of higher learning in Burkina Faso, namely the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso, the Teachers Training College of Koudougou, and the University of Ouagadougou. The University of Ouagadougou is illustrated here, was established in 1974, and has faculties of languages arts & communication, human sciences, legal and political sciences, economic sciences & management, applied sciences, health sciences, life & earth sciences, and an institute of arts & crafts.
Burkina Faso has achieved generally good macroeconomic performance in recent years, attributable to the implementation of economic reforms supported by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In 2008 and 2009, economic activity was negatively affected by several shocks, including an increase in global food and fuel prices, the global economic crisis, and heavy flooding in the capital area in September 2009. These shocks contributed to lower growth and deterioration in the population’s welfare. The government acted promptly in dealing with the adverse impact of the shocks through fiscal stimulus measures to support economic activity. In the meantime, despite a difficult environment, the government implemented structural reforms in tax administration and the cotton sector. By 2010, gold had become the main source of export revenue for the country with gold mining production doubling between 2009 and 2010. Burkina Faso is among the five countries in sub-Saharan Africa charging consumers the highest prices for power.
Economic growth showed 5.9 percent in 2016 and 6.4 percent in 2017 due to the recovery of mining and the return to democratic institutions. The opening up of new industrial mines coupled with a slight rebound in gold and cotton prices and rising grain production paved the way for an acceleration of economic growth in 2016. Real GDP grew at 5.9 percent, well above the 4 percent rate of 2015 and close to the average of 6 percent posted during the 2003-2013 period, according to the World Bank.
Burkina Faso continued to improve its external position in 2016, with a current account [deficit] of 6.8 percent of GDP, compared to 8 percent in 2015. External support and the resumption of foreign direct investments (FDI), particularly in the mining sector, helped narrow the external deficit, noted the World Bank. In August 2017, Burkina Faso announced an US$819 million infrastructure development plan that aimed to create jobs and boost economic growth in the country’s northern region. There, jobless youths had become prime recruitment targets for Islamist militants. The project would prioritize the building of schools, roads, medical facilities, and water infrastructure, according to Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba as cited by Bloomberg. The funds will be disbursed to small and medium-sized businesses to boost employment and prevent the radicalization of young people, he added.
Burkina Faso is part of the West African Monetary and Economic Union (UMEOA) and has adopted the CFA franc. This is issued by the Central Bank of the West African States (BCEAO), situated in Dakar, Senegal. The BCEAO manages the monetary and reserve policy of the member states and provides regulation and oversight of the financial sector and banking activity. Microfinance institutions are governed by a separate law, which regulates microfinance activities in all WAEMU countries. The insurance sector is regulated through the Inter-African Conference on Insurance Markets (CIMA).
- GDP (purchasing power parity):
$35.68 billion (2017 est.)
$33.54 billion (2016 est.)
$31.68 billion (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars
- GDP (official exchange rate):
$13.19 billion (2017 est.)
- GDP – real growth rate:
6.4% (2017 est.)
5.9% (2016 est.)
4% (2015 est.)
- GDP – per capita (PPP):
$1,900 (2017 est.)
$1,800 (2016 est.)
$1,700 (2015 est.)
- Gross national saving:
9.2% of GDP (2017 est.)
7.7% of GDP (2016 est.)
5.3% of GDP (2015 est.)
- GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 46.1% (2017 est.)
- Agriculture – products:
cotton, peanuts, shea nuts, sesame, sorghum, millet, corn, rice; livestock
cotton lint, beverages, agricultural processing, soap, cigarettes, textiles, gold
- Population below the poverty line:
40.1% (2009 est.)
revenues: $2.635 billion
expenditures: $3.332 billion (2017 est.)
Agriculture is by far the most important sector of the country’s economy, providing a livelihood for about four-fifths of the population and accounting for a large portion of Eritrea’s exports. Small-scale cultivation and traditional pastoralism are the main forms of agricultural activity. These are not mutually exclusive occupations since most cultivators also keep animals and most pastoralists cultivate grains when possible. Both cultivators and pastoralists produce primarily for their own subsistence, and only small surpluses are available for trade.
The area of cultivation is limited by climate, soil erosion, and the uneven surface of the plateau. Under Italian and Ethiopian rule, irrigated plantations produced vegetables, fruit, cotton, sisal, bananas, tobacco, and coffee for the growing urban markets, but this agricultural sector was disrupted by the long period of warfare leading to independence. Today staple grain products include sorghum, millet, and an indigenous cereal named teff (Eragrostis tef). Pulses, sesame seeds, vegetables, cotton, tobacco, and sisal also are produced. Among the livestock raised are sheep, cattle, goats, and camels.
Eritrea has 565,000 hectares (1,396,000 acres) of arable land and permanent crops. Three-quarters of Eritrea’s people are subsistence farmers dependent on unreliable rainfall to feed families that average seven children. The present government dissolved the former Ethiopian military regime’s marketing board and reinstituted private markets for agricultural products. Principal crops in 2004 included sorghum, 56,700 tons; millet, 11,600 tons; barley, 16,900 tons; and wheat, 17,200 tons. Legumes, vegetables, fruits, sesame, and linseed are also grown. War, drought, deforestation, and erosion caused about 70–80% of the population to become dependent on food aid.
Sheep, goats, cattle (especially zebu), and camels make up the majority of Eritrea’s livestock. The government is emphasizing the development of agriculture and animal husbandry in order to decrease the reliance on international relief, caused by war and drought. With Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia, access to about 1,011 km (628 mi) of the Red Sea coastline was obtained. Because Eritrea now controls the coastline, long-term prospects for the development of offshore fishing and oil are good. The total catch rose from 475 tons in 1993 to 6,689 tons in 2003. The Eritrean navy patrols the coastal waters to limit poaching by unauthorized non-nationals. The development of local fishing will decrease the dependence on foreign food aid, even though fish has not been a major source of Eritreans’ protein intake.
Banking and Finance
The Burkinabe financial system appears to be dominated by multinational, pan-African banks, accounting for around 90 percent of total financial system assets. The banking sector, comprised of 12 commercial banks, is highly concentrated, with the three largest banks holding nearly 50 percent of total financial sector assets. Banks are generally adequately capitalized but remain vulnerable due to their overexposure to the cotton sector. The government’s position in the banking system, a source of vulnerability in the past, appears to have stabilized, and compliance with regional prudential norms has marginally improved. As of end-June 2011, the majority of banks met the new regional minimum capital requirement of CFAF 5 billion.
According to a report by the Central Bank of the West African States (BCEAO) about 41 microfinance institutions (MFIs) operate in the country, serving around 800,000 customers. Authorities have, in recent years, embarked on a series of reform programs to improve the business environment and facilitate financial transactions. Recent measures include the creation of specialized commercial chambers in the court system, as well as reforms to ease property registration and transaction procedures. Authorities have also adopted a new law on decentralized financial systems, enacted in 2009, which, in cooperation with the BCEAO, introduced a single authorization system, strengthened application examination procedures, and reinforced prudential rules and mandatory certification of accounts.
As of March 2013, Burkina Faso received a sovereign rating of B from Standard and Poor. Regional and national fixed incomes markets are still in their early development stages. Issuance by corporate entities remains limited. Investors can directly access primary markets, and various brokers and dealers provide indirect access, while foreign investors participate through local banks. Commercial banks still largely dominate the investor base as the main purchasers of treasury bills and bonds. Access to secondary markets within the WAEMU remains limited; transactions can only be conducted by certified intermediaries, while most investors adopt a buy-and-hold approach.
Manufacturing and Industries
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. The Burkinabe industry reflects an interesting diversity but is dominated by unprofitable state-controlled corporations. Important sectors are food processing, textiles, and leather, although small-scale 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 production (gold is the country’s second-largest export) has increased markedly in recent years. 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.
Gold Mining often plays a significant role in Burkina Faso’s economy. Burkina Faso has become Africa’s 4th biggest producer of gold in 2012. Production of mineral commodities is limited to cement, dolomite, gold, granite, marble, phosphate rock, pumice, other volcanic materials, and salt. Child slavery is commonplace in the gold industry. According to the Ministry of Finance, gold has become the top export commodity. In 2011, it earned Burkina Faso 127 billion CFA (US$247 million). Between 2007 and 2011, it brought in 440 billion CFA, accounting for 64.7 percent of all exports and 8 percent of GDP. Production rose from 23 tonnes in 2010 to 32 tonnes in 2011. Gold mines are spread across the country’s northern, western, southwestern, and central regions.
- Electricity access:
Population without electricity: 14,100,000
Electrification – total population: 17%
Electrification – urban areas: 56%
Electrification – rural areas: 1% (2013)
- Electricity – production:
944 million kWh (2015 est.)
- Electricity – consumption:
1.321 billion kWh (2015 est.)
- Electricity – exports:
0 kWh (2016 est.)
- Electricity – imports:
443 million kWh (2015 est.)
- Electricity – installed generating capacity:
306,000 kW (2015 est.)
- Electricity – from fossil fuels:
86.9% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
- Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
- Telephones – fixed lines:
Total subscriptions: 75,727
Subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (July 2016 est.)
- Telephones – mobile cellular:
Subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 77 (July 2016 est.)
- Internet country code:
- Internet users:
Percent of population: 14.0% (July 2016 est.)
The tourist industry has not really taken off in the country and, as such, the facilities can be rough and ready and a little more planning is needed for travelers than in more tourist-orientated African countries. The lack of tourists is not necessarily a bad thing however and some of the spots you will visit have a really unspoiled feeling about them and the family-run guesthouses feel very intimate and welcoming. The cities in Burkina Faso do not offer many sights or tourist attractions as such but the music and other forms of performing arts on offer are truly some of the greatest on offer in Africa.
Ouagadougou, more commonly known by the abbreviated name Ouaga, is the capital city of Burkina Faso and also the home of the country’s administration and economic centers. The architecture here is far from inspiring and the sights will leave you underwhelmed (except for the impressive Roman Catholic cathedral) but the city is a true hive of performing arts inspiration. Dance, live music, awesome festivals, and craft markets make for a memorable and rewarding travel experience and make a trip to Ouaga worthwhile.
The city of Bobo-Dioulasso, which fortunately also has an abbreviated name; Bobo, is the second largest city in Burkina Faso. Despite its size, the city has a laid-back and exclusive feel which makes it a favorite resting spot for travelers from all backgrounds and with all budgets. The city is worth exploring in the daytime but the main attraction here is the nightlife. The live music and restaurants in the city are some of the best in Burkina Faso. The local music on offer in various clubs and bars attracts the residents of the city as well as tourists from Europe and The States.
Banfora is situated in one of the most beautiful regions of Burkina Faso, the Comoe Province. The town is not much of a draw for tourists in itself but the location is perfect; the nearby attractions include Tengrela Lake, which is a great place to spot hippos, especially in the dry season, and the Karfiguela Waterfalls which make for a great hiking or picnic spot. The falls have their own parking area with security for self-drive holidaymakers.
Gorom Gorom is a town in the north of Burkina Faso, situated at what was once an important location at the crossroads of the Sahel. The main reason to visit the town is without question the market. Each Thursday, traders from all over the country travel to sell their wares at this impressive market. It is a great place for souvenir shopping with items ranging from jewelry to handcrafted leather items.
The northwestern part of today’s Burkina Faso was populated by hunter-gatherers between 14,000 and 5,000 BC. Their tools, including scrapers, chisels, and arrowheads, were discovered in 1973 through archaeological excavations. Agricultural settlements were established between 3600 and 2600 BC. The Bura culture was an Iron-Age civilization centered in the southwest portion of modern-day Niger and in the southeast part of contemporary Burkina Faso. The iron industry, in smelting and forging for tools and weapons, had developed in Sub-Saharan Africa by 1200 BC.
The iron industry, in both smelting and forging for tools and weapons, had developed in Sub-Saharan Africa by 1200 BC. Named for the Bura archeological site near Bura in southwest Niger, the Bura culture produced a variety of distinctive artifacts made of clay, iron, and stone. However, it is not yet known how the entire Bura system linked up to other ancient African cultures and to such later Islamic-influenced Sahelian kingdoms as Ghana, early Mali, later Mali, or Songhai.
The first-millennium Bura-Asinda culture in the West African Sahel has been radio-carbon dated as starting in the 3rd century AD and lasting until the 13th century. But very little is precisely understood about this “shadowy” and “mysterious” civilization and its culture because it was discovered only a few decades ago in 1975, and it was not until 1983 that the first archeological excavation commenced.
Axes belonging to a Neolithic culture have been found in the north of Burkina Faso. The Bobo, the Lobi, and the Gurunsi are the earliest known inhabitants of the country. About the 15th century CE, conquering horsemen invaded the region from the south and founded the Gurma and Mossi kingdoms, in the eastern and central areas, respectively. Several Mossi kingdoms developed, the most powerful of which was that of Ouagadougou, located in the center of the country. Headed by an emperor, the Morho Naba (“great lord”), the Ouagadougou Mossi state defeated attempted invasions by the Songhai and Fulani empires yet maintained valuable commercial links with major western African trading powers, including the Dyula, the Hausa, and the Asante.
The Mossi Kingdoms
The Mossi Kingdoms sometimes referred to as the Mossi Empire, were a number of different powerful kingdoms in modern-day Burkina Faso which dominated the region of the upper Volta river for hundreds of years. The kingdoms were founded when warriors from the Mamprusi area, in modern-day Ghana, moved into the area and intermarried with local people. Centralization of the political and military powers of the kingdoms begin in the 13th century and led to conflicts between the Mossi kingdoms and many of the other powerful states in the region.
The origins of the Mossi state are claimed by one prominent oral tradition to come from when a Mamprusi princess left the city of Gambaga because of a dispute with her father. This event dates in different oral histories to be anytime between the 11th and the 15th centuries. According to the story, the princess Yennega escaped dressed as a man when she came to the house of an elephant hunter from the Boussansi tribe named Ryallé. He initially believed she was a man but one day she revealed that she was a woman and the two married. They had a son named Wedraogo or Ouédraogo who was given that name from the horse that Niennega escaped from Gambaga.
The increasing power of the Mossi kingdoms resulted in larger conflicts with regional powers. The Kingdom of Yatenga became a key power attacking the Songhai Empire between 1328 and 1477 taking over Timbuktu and sacking the important trading post of Macina. When Askia Mohammad I became the leader of the Songhai Empire with the desire to spread Islam, he waged a holy war against the Mossi kingdoms in 1497. Although the Mossi forces were defeated in this effort, they resisted attempts to impose Islam. With the conquest of the Songhai by the Moroccans of the Saadi dynasty in 1591, the Mossi states reestablished their independence.
By the 18th century, the Mossi kingdoms had increased significantly in terms of economic and military power in the region. Foreign trade relations increased significantly throughout Africa with significant connections to the Fula kingdoms and the Mali Empire. These relations included military attacks on many times with the Mossi being attacked by a variety of African forces. Although there were a number of jihad states in the region trying to forcibly spread Islam, namely the Massina Empire and the Sokoto Caliphate, the Mossi kingdoms largely retained their traditional religious and ritual practices.
The first European explorer to enter the empire was German Gottlob Krause in 1888. However, by 1894, the British sent an explorer into the area who convinced the leaders to sign a treaty of protection. Starting in the early 1890s a series of British, French, and German military officers made attempts to claim parts of what is today Burkina Faso. At times these colonialists and their armies fought the local peoples; at times they forged alliances with them and made treaties. The colonialist officers and their home governments also made treaties amongst themselves. Through a complex series of events, what it became Burkina Faso eventually became a French protectorate in 1896.
The Franco-British Convention of 14 June 1898 created the country’s modern borders. In the French territory, a war of conquest against local communities and political powers continued for about five years. In 1904, the largely pacified territories of the Volta basin were integrated into the Upper Senegal and Niger colony of French West Africa as part of the reorganization of the French West African colonial empire. The colony had its capital in Bamako. The language of colonial administration and schooling became French. The public education system started from humble origins. Advanced education was provided for many years during the colonial period in Dakar.
Between 1915 and 1916, the districts in the western part of what is now Burkina Faso and the bordering eastern fringe of Mali became the stage of one of the most important armed oppositions to colonial government: the Volta-Bani War. The French government finally suppressed the movement but only after suffering defeats. It also had to organize the largest expeditionary force of its colonial history to send into the country to suppress the insurrection. Armed opposition wracked the Sahelian north when the Tuareg and allied groups of the Dori region ended their truce with the government.
French Upper Volta was established on 1 March 1919. The French feared a recurrence of armed uprisings and related economic considerations. To bolster its administration, the colonial government separated the present territory of Burkina Faso from Upper Senegal and Niger. The new colony was named Haute Volta, and François Charles Alexis Édouard Hesling became its first governor. Hessling initiated an ambitious road-making program to improve infrastructure and promoted the growth of cotton for export. The colony was dismantled on 5 September 1932, being split between the French colonies of Ivory Coast, French Sudan, and Niger. In 1947, however, Upper Volta was reestablished to become an overseas territory of the French Union, with a territorial assembly of its own.
French Upper Volta
The French Union was established by the French constitution on October 27, 1946 (Fourth Republic). Under it, it was said that there were no French colonies, but that metropolitan France, the overseas departments, and the overseas territories combined to create a single French Union or just one France. On 4 September 1947, France revived the colony of Upper Volta, with its previous boundaries, as a part of the French Union. The French designated its colonies as departments of metropolitan France on the European continent.
On 11 December 1958, the colony achieved self-government as the Republic of Upper Volta; it joined the Franco-African Community. A revision in the organization of French Overseas Territories had begun with the passage of the Basic Law (Loi Cadre) of 23 July 1956. This act was followed by reorganization measures approved by the French parliament early in 1957 to ensure a large degree of self-government for individual territories. Upper Volta became an autonomous republic in the French community on 11 December 1958. Full independence from France was received in 1960.
The Republic of Upper Volta declared independence on 5 August 1960. The first president, Maurice Yaméogo, was the leader of the Voltaic Democratic Union (UDV). The 1960 constitution provided for the election by universal suffrage of a president and a national assembly for 5-year terms. Soon after coming to power, Yaméogo banned all political parties other than the UDV. Yaméogo’s government was viewed as corrupt and said to perpetuate neo-colonialism by favoring French political and economic interests which had allowed politicians to enrich themselves but not the nation’s peasants or the small class of urban workers.
The first President, Maurice Yameogo, amended the constitution soon after taking office to ban opposition political parties. His government lasted until 1966 when the first of several military coups placed Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana at the head of a government of senior army officers. Lamizana remained in power throughout the 1970s, as President of a military and then elected governments. With the support of unions and civil groups, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in 1980.
The Relentless Coup d’état
Infighting developed between the right and left factions of the CSP. The leader of the leftists, Capt. Thomas Sankara was appointed the prime minister in January 1983 but was subsequently arrested. Efforts to free him, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaoré resulted in a military coup d’état on 4 August 1983. The coup brought Sankara to power and his government began to implement a series of revolutionary programs which included mass vaccinations, infrastructure improvements, the expansion of women’s rights, encouragement of domestic agricultural consumption, and anti-desertification projects.
On 15 October 1987, Sankara, along with twelve other officials, was killed in a coup d’état organized by Blaise Compaoré, Sankara’s former colleague, and Burkina Faso’s president until October 2014. After the coup and although Sankara was known to be dead, some CDRs mounted an armed resistance to the army for several days. A majority of Burkinabé citizens hold that France’s foreign ministry, the Quai d’Orsay, was behind Compaoré in organizing the coup.
Following the coup, Compaoré immediately reversed the nationalizations, overturned nearly all of Sankara’s policies, returned the country back into the IMF fold, and ultimately spurned most of Sankara’s legacy. Limited democratic reforms were introduced in 1990 by Compaoré. Under the new constitution, Compaoré was re-elected without opposition in 1991. In 1998 Compaoré won the election in a landslide. In 2004, 13 people were tried for plotting a coup against President Compaoré and the coup’s alleged mastermind was sentenced to life imprisonment. As of 2014, Burkina Faso remains one of the least developed countries in the world.
In September 2015, the Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP) seized the country’s president and prime minister and declared the National Council for Democracy the new national government. However, on 22 September 2015, the coup leader, Gilbert Diendéré, apologized and promised to restore the civilian government. On 23 September 2015, the prime minister and interim president were restored to power. General elections were held in Burkina Faso on 29 November 2015. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré won the election in the first round with 53.5% of the vote, defeating businessman Zéphirin Diabré who took 29.7%. Kaboré was sworn in as President on 29 December 2015.