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Burkina Faso

Atlas Burkina Faso

Country (long form)
Total Area
105,869.21 sq mi
274,200.00 sq km
11,946,065 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
French (official), native African languages belonging to Sudanic family spoken by 90% of the population
19.2% total, 29.5% male, 9.2% female (1995 est.)
indigenous beliefs 40%, Muslim 50%, Christian (mainly Roman Catholic) 10%
Life Expectancy
46.29 male, 47.18 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFAF) = 100 centimes
GDP (per capita)
$1,100 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture N/A%, industry N/A%, services N/A%
cotton lint, beverages, agricultural processing, soap, cigarettes, textiles, gold
peanuts, shea nuts, sesame, cotton, sorghum, millet, corn, rice; livestock
Arable Land
cotton, animal products, gold
machinery, food products, petroleum
Natural Resources
manganese, limestone, marble; small deposits of gold, antimony, copper, nickel, bauxite, lead, phosphates, zinc, silver
Current Environmental Issues
recent droughts and desertification severely affecting agricultural activities, population distribution, and the economy; overgrazing; soil degradation; deforestation
Telephones (main lines in use)
30,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
0 (1995)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
1 (1999)

Much of Burkina Faso is populated by descendants of the Mossi empire, founded when a band of horsemen from nearby Ghana galloped through at the turn of the 15th century. Unlike other African countries that governed through non-hierarchical village systems, the Mossi organised a blue-blooded empire that even The Firm at Windsor Castle would be hard pressed to match. They developed courts of law, administrative bodies, ministerial positions, and a cavalry to protect the realm. The later proved to be critical in resisting the hostile advances of their Muslim neighbours and explains why, even today, Burkina Faso is one of the few West African countries that's not predominantly Muslim.

Things remained relatively stable in Upper Volta (as it was then known) until the French began nosing around in 1897. Having already moved into the neighbourhood, they decided to bring a little imperial je ne s'ais quoi to the area by subdividing the region more times than an acre block in Manhattan. Bits of Upper Volta were given away to Mali, Niger and Côte d'Ivoire with all the sang-froid of a generous thief. The final nail in the coffin was the blackbirding of natives from Upper Volta to work on French plantations in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.

For the next 60 years Côte d'Ivoire remained the precious princess of the region and Upper Volta the poor and ugly second cousin. When outright colonisation finally started to lose its sex appeal in the middle of the 20th century, Upper Volta was one of the most vocal in calling for the return of independence. In 1960, Maurice Yaméogo, himself a Mossi, was elected as the country's first president. Unfortunately Yaméogo confused electoral success with a mandate to do as he pleased. A set of disastrous economic policies, coupled with a liberal attitude toward corruption, led to riots and demonstrations by the general populace. In 1966, a military-led coup ousted Yaméogo from office for, among other things, feathering his own nest with public funds.The power vacuum created by Yaméogo's absence ushered in nearly two decades of coups and counter coups, culminating in Captain Thomas Sankara, a young left-wing socialist, taking over the reins.

Sankara turned out to be something of a maverick. Showing a flair for the public flourish, he renamed the country Burkina Faso (which translates as 'country of honest men' or 'country of the incorruptibles'), and immediately set about implementing a set of radical socialist policies. In blitzkrieg style, he immunised every child against measles and yellow fever, trained home-grown doctors for every rural village, built over 350 schools, reduced ministerial privileges and overspending, started building a railway line to the Niger border, and painted Ouagadougou a non-Marxist white. These unabashedly socialist policies made him a hero to the general populace but did nothing for his standing among the elite. There was a collective intake of breath in the well-to-do circles when he slashed ministerial salaries by 25%, and tribal leaders worried that his habit of consultation with the people at a grassroots level undermined their traditional authority.

Western countries, too, did a fair bit of brow-furrowing and hand wringing over Sankar's friendship with Gaddafi - that and the fact that he was never shy about denouncing western imperialism. Predictably, he didn't last long. In an et tu Brutus moment, Sankara's comrade and close advisor, Captain Blaise Campaoré, staged a successful coup that ended with Sankara being taken to a spot outside Ouagadougou and shot. Campaoré immediately restored the status quo, reinstating government salaries to pre-Sankara levels and cutting food subsidies. But these measures have only emphasised a feeling of malaise in Burkinabé society. The disgruntled citizens miss Sankara, the United States are miffed over Burkina Faso's chummy relationship with Liberia, Campaoré is under siege by a population stirred up over the death of journalist Norbet Zongo, and there appears to be a general lack of direction in the government.

Relations with neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire have suffered recently due to the expulsion of some 12,000 migrant Burkinabé farmers who are now refugees in the environs of Gaoua. The civil war that has effectively isolated Burkina Faso from its southern neighbour has been a blow to the economy, particularly in the south of the country. Although new links are being forged with Ghana, Burkina Faso's future prospects are still to a large part connected to the train of events transpiring southward.