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« "Godfatherism" in Nigerian Politics | Main | Ohanaeze and the Igbo Leadership Question »

January 31, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #5 of 54: Burkina Faso

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 5. BURKINA FASO

Formal Name: Republic of Burkina Faso.

Term for Citizens: Burkinabes.

Capital: Ouagadougou. Population: 862,000.

Independence Achieved: August 5, 1960, from France.

Major Cities: Ouagadougou, Bobo Dioulasso.


Burkina Faso is in West Africa. It is bordered by Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, and Togo. The area of the country is 105, 869 square miles. The country is a plateau, drained mostly in the south by the River Volta. The country has two seasons, wet and dry, with the dry being more pronounced.


The population is estimated to be 13,002,000.

Ethnic Groups: There are many ethnic groups: Senufo, Habe, Lobi, and Mande in the western part of the country; Mossi and Gourounsi, Nininsi peoples in the center. The Fulani, Taureg, and Songhai in the northeast. Hausa, Yarse, and Dioula traders are found everywhere. Zerma slave raiders that devastated whole villages before the French came live in the country.

Languages: each of these ethnic groups speaks its own language; Mossi and Dogon are the major ethnic groups and languages. French is the official language.

Religion: Most people in the country identify themselves as Muslims, with a pocket of Christians.

Education: There is free primary education. Literacy rate is estimated at 26.6%.

Economy: The economy is largely subsistence based on agriculture and livestock herding. The soil is mostly sterile laterite, and drought is a constant fact of life. Corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum, peas, beans, fonio, rice, and yams are basic foodstuff. Cotton, groundnuts, and sesame seeds are exported. GDP estimate: $13.6 billion; Per Capita GDP: $360. Monetary Unit: CFA Franc BCEAO (XOF).

History and Government:

What used to be called Upper Volta was a French West African colony. Upon independence from France, the country inherited French type presidential government. However, a series of military governments soon ensued. A strong military man, President Blaise Campaore, currently rules the country. He governs through a prime minister who is in charge of the day-to-day affairs of the government. The country is divided into 13 regions and 45 provinces.


Burkina Faso, formally known as Upper Volta, is one of those African countries with virtual one man rule and sham façade of democracy.

Upper Volta was part of the 16th century Songhai Empire. In 1886, the French conquered the Mossi Kingdom of Ouagadougou and made it a French Protectorate. Two years later, 1898, the surrounding regions were added to the Protectorate. In 1904, this enlarged region was integrated into French West Africa. French West Africa included what are now Mali, Senegal, and Niger, Chad, Dahomey, etc. In 1919, Upper Volta was separated from French West Africa and made a separate colony, a colony that nevertheless included Ivory Coast, Mali and Niger. In 1932, Upper Volta became a separate colony, essentially what it is today.

The country obtained its independence from France on August 5, 1960. Subsequently, there were a series of military coups, the first in 1966. The military returned power to civilians in 1978, but in 1980 there was another military coup. In 1983, there was a counter coup by Captain Thomas Sankara. Sankara changed the name of the country to Burkina Faso in 1984, meaning “the land of honest men”.

In 1987, Sankara’s assistant, Blaise Compaore, masterminded a palace coup and killed him and took over power. Mr. Campaore and his family are still in power in 2006.

In June 1991, Mr. Campaore wrote a constitution that established a semblance of democracy. He established two houses of legislature (National Assemble and House of Representatives). The President was to be elected for a 7 year term, as in France. Of course, Mr. Campaore managed to be elected unopposed. In 2000, Campaore changed the constitution and reduced the term of the presidency to five years. In 2005, he managed to be reelected in a landslide.

Mr. Campaore is an executive president. He selects the prime minister who, in theory, selects the ministers that work with him. The president can sack the Cabinet at any time he wishes. Indeed, he can dissolve the National Assembly. Essentially, Burkina Faso is a one man ruled country with external appearances of democratic institutions in place.

The country is divided into 13 regions and 45 provinces. The leaders of these units of governance are kept in leash by the president.

There seems some sort of freedom of speech in the country, as exhibited by the presence of private media outlets. However, it is reported that journalists who speak out against the president often go missing and, therefore, that the media self censors to be alive.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest African countries. It relies mostly on agricultural produce for its revenue (Sorghum, millet, corn, groundnuts and cotton). The income per capita of the country is estimated at around $360, or about a dollar a day.

There are very few opportunities to be employed in the country; thus, many Burkinabes emigrate to other countries in search of employment. It is reported that over three million Burkinabes are in the Ivory Coast, alone. This massive presence of Burkinabes in the Ivory Coast, apparently, is creating tension between the two countries. It is reported that the current military rebellion going on in Northern Ivory Coast is supported by persons from Burkina Faso.

Ghana was at one time inundated by Burkinabes until it asked them to leave the country in 1967.

On paper, education is free in Burkina Faso and children are supposed to be in school until age 16. But only about 29% of elementary school age children actually go to school. There is one university, the University of Ouagadougou and one technical University, the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso. Literacy rate is 27%. Burkina Faso is the most illiterate country in all of Africa.

Burkina Faso seems to have a beak future both economically and politically. Mr. Blaise Campaore, so far, has managed to keep the Mossi, the Dogon and other ethnic groups in a precarious peace, but given the personal rule of his government, no one can quiet predict what could happen in the future.

Democratic institutions have not taken hold in Burkina Faso; there is no political culture of successful transfer of power to other leaders. As long as the current strong man keeps opposition in check peace reigns, but if another strong man comes to the scene, who knows what could happen in Burkina Faso tomorrow?

January 30, 2006

Posted by Administrator at January 31, 2006 08:04 AM


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