Background Notes: Burkina Faso

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Jun 15, 19906/15/90 Category: Country Data Region: Subsaharan Africa Country: Burkina Faso Subject: Cultural Exchange, Resource Management, Military Affairs, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT]


Area: 274,200 sq. km. (106,000 sq. mi); about the size of Colorado. Cities: Capital-Ouagadougou (pop. 500,000). Other cities-Bobo- Dioulasso (250,000), Koudougou (70,000). Terrain: Savanna; brushy plains, and scattered hills. Climate: Sahelian; pronounced wet and dry seasons.
Nationality: Noun and adjective-Burkinab†. Population (1988): 8.5 million. Annual growth rate (1985): 3.3%. Ethnic groups: Mossi, Bobo, Mande, Fulani, others. Religions: Traditional African 45%, Muslim 40%, Christian 15%. Languages: French (official), More, others. Education: Attendance-(1985): 32%. Literacy-27%. Health: Infant mortality rate-152/1,000. Life expectancy-48 yrs. Work force: Agriculture-92%. Industry-2.1. Commerce, services, and government-5.5%. Government Type: Military. Independence: August 5, 1960. Constitution: November 27, 1977 (abolished Nov. 25, 1980). Branches: Executive-president (chief of state, head of government). Legislative-none. Judicial-independent. Subdivisions: 30 provinces. Political parties: Five political organizations recognized under the umbrella organization of the Popular Front; two are Marxist- Leninist, and three are social democratic. Suffrage: N/A. Central government budget (1987): $174 million. Defense (1987 est.): 16% of government budget. National holiday: Revolution Day, August 4. Flag: Two horizontal bands-red and green top to bottom, with a yellow star in the middle.
GDP (1987 est.): $1.6 billion. Annual growth rate (1982-87): 4.3%. Per capita income (1987): $174. Avg. inflation rate 1987, -2.1%; 1988: 4.4% Natural resources (limited quantites): Manganese, gold, limestone, marble, phosphate, zinc. Agriculture (36.4% of GNP): Products-cotton, millet, sorghum, rice, livestock, peanuts, shea nuts, maize. Industry (22% of GNP): Types-mining, agricultural processing plants, brewing and bottling, light industry, Trade (1987): Exports-f.o.b. $233.6 million: cotton, gold, livestock, peanuts, shea nut products. Major markets-C”te d'Ivoire, European Community, China. Imports-c.i.f. $535.8 million. Official exchange rate (1988): Floats with French franc Communaut„ Financi†re Africaine (CFA) francs 50=1FF; about 300 CFA francs=US$1. Fiscal year: Calendar year.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and some of its specialized and related agencies; Organization of African Unity (OAU); Council of the Entente; West African Economic Community (CEAO); Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS-Burkina recently hosted an ECOWAS summit where Blaise Compaore was elected president of the organization); West African Monetary Union (WAMU); Niger Basin Authority; Permanent Inter-State Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS); INTELSAT; Sahel Club; Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); Nonaligned Movement; Lome Convention.


Burkina Faso is a landlocked Sahel country that shares borders with six nations. It lies between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea, south of the loop of the Niger River. The land is green in the south, with forests and fruit trees, and desert in the north. Most of central Burkina Faso lies on a savanna plateau, 198- 305 meters (650-1,000 ft.) above sea level, with fields, brush, and scattered trees. Burkina Faso's game preserves-the most important of which are Arly, Nazinga, and Park W-contain lions, elephants, hippopotamus, monkeys, warthog, and antelopes. Tourism is not well developed. Annual rainfall varies from about 100 centimeters (40 in.) in the south to less than 25 centimeters (10 in.) in the extreme north and northeast, where hot desert winds accentuate the dryness of the region. Burkina Faso has three distinct seasons: warm and dry (November-March); hot and dry (March-May); and hot and wet (June- October). Rivers are not navigable.


Burkina Faso's 8.5 million people belong to two major West African cultural groups-the Voltaic and the Mand„. The Voltaic are far more numerous and include the Mossi, which make up about one- 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 emperor, the Moro Naba, who holds court in Ouagadougou. About 5,000 Europeans reside in Burkina Faso. Most of Burkina Faso's people are concentrated in the south and center of the country, sometimes exceeding 48 per square kilometer (125/sq. mi.). This population density, high for Africa, causes annual migrations of hundreds of thousands of Burkinab† to C”te d'Ivoire and Ghana for seasonal agricultural work. A plurality of Burkinab† adhere to traditional African religions. The introduction of Islam to Burkina Faso was initially resisted by the Mossi rulers. Christians, predominantly Catholics, are largely concentrated among the urban Žlite. Few Burkinab† have had formal education. Schooling is free but not compulsory, and only about 29% of Burkina Faso's primary school-age children receive a basic education. The country's sole institution of higher education, the University of Ouagadougou, was founded in 1974.


Until the end of the 19th century, the history of Burkina Faso was dominated by the empire-building Mossi, who are believed to have come from central or eastern Africa sometime in the 11th century. For centuries, the Mossi peasant was both farmer and soldier, and the Mossi people were able to defend their religious beliefs and social structure against forcible attempts to convert them to Islam by Muslims from the northwest. When the French arrived and claimed the area in 1896, Mossi resistance ended with the capture of their capital at Ouagadougou. In 1919, certain provinces from the Ivory Coast were united into a separate colony called the Upper Volta in the French West Africa federation. In 1932, the new colony was dismembered in a move to economize; it was reconstituted in 1937 as an administrative division called the Upper Coast. After World War II, the Mossi renewed their pressure for separate territorial status, and on September 4, 1947, Upper Volta became a French West African territory again in its own right. A revision in the organization of French Overseas Territories began with the passage of the Basic Law (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956. This act was followed by reorganizational measures approved by the French parliament early in 1957 that ensured a large degree of self-government for individual territories. Upper Volta became an autonomous republic in the French Community on December 11, 1958. Upper Volta achieved independence on August 5, 1960. The first president, Maurice Yam„ogo, was the leader of the Voltaic Democratic Union (UDV). The 1960 constitution provided for election by universal suffrage of a president and a national assembly for 5-year terms. Soon after coming to power, Yam„ogo banned all political parties other than the UDV. The government lasted until 1966 when after much unrest-mass demonstrations and strikes by students, labor unions, and civil servants-the military intervened. The military coup deposed Yam„ogo, suspended the constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, and placed Lt. Col. Aboukar Sangoul„ Lamizana at the head of a government of senior army officers. The army remained in power for 4 years, and on June 14, 1970, the Voltans ratified a new constitution that established a 4-year transition period toward complete civilian rule. Lamizana remained in power throughout the 1970s as president of military or mixed civil-military governments. After conflict over the 1970 constitution, a new constitution was written and approved in 1977, and Lamizana was re-elected by open elections in 1978. Lamizana's government faced problems with the country's traditionally powerful trade unions, and on November 25, 1980, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in a bloodless coup. Colonel Zerbo established the Military Committee of Recovery for National Progress (CMRPN) as the supreme governmental authority, thus eradicating the 1977 constitution. Since then, the country has been under military rule. Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from trade unions and was overthrown 2 years later, on November 7, 1982, by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ou„draogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). The CSP continued to ban political parties and organizations, yet promised a transition to civilian rule and a new constitution. Factional infighting developed between the moderates in the CSP and the radicals, led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, who was appointed prime minister in January 1983. The internal political struggle and Sankara's leftist rhetoric led to his arrest and subsequent efforts to bring about his release, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaor„. This release effort resulted in yet another military coup d'etat on August 4, 1983. After the coup, Sankara formed the National Council for the Revolution (CNR), with himself as president. Sankara also established Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) to "mobilize the masses" and implement the CNR's revolutionary programs. The CNR, whose exact membership remained secret until the end, contained two small intellectual Marxist-Leninist groups. Sankara, Compaor„, Capt. Henri Zongo and Maj. Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lengani, all leftist military officers, dominated the regime. The CNR's policies focused on the peasantry and the redistribution of wealth, yet were more nationalist than Maoist. On August 4, 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning "the country of upright people." Sankara, a charismatic leader, sought by word, deed, and example to mobilize the masses and launch a massive bootstrap development movement. But many of the strict austerity measures taken by Sankara met with growing resistance and disagreement. Despite his initial popularity and personal charisma, problems began to surface in the implementation of the revolutionary ideals. One of the key problems involved the conflicting role of the CDR's and the several trade unions. The latter attempted to retain their traditional independent power base, but the government moved to block efforts and arrested and intimidated union leaders. At the same time, the CDR's, which were formed as popular mass organizations, deteriorated in some areas into gangs of armed thugs. By 1987, tensions over the repressive tactics of the government and its overall direction were mounting steadily. On October 15, 1987, Sankara was assassinated and Compaor„ became leader of the newly formed Popular Front (FP).


President Compaor„ and the Popular Front pledged to continue and pursue the goals of the revolution and to "rectify" Sankara's "deviations" from the original aims. Compaore, Zongo, and Lengani formed the core of the FP, along with three small groups of leftist military and civilians. The new government, realizing the need for popular support, tacitly changed many of Sankara's policies. The FP lowered the price of beer, rehired civil servants fired by Sankara, raised civil servants' salaries, and disarmed the CDR's, which were renamed Revolutionary Committees (CR). The political situation has stabilized and moderated considerably since October 1987. As part of a much-discussed political "opening" process, several political organizations, three of them non-Marxist, have been accepted under an umbrella political organization created in June 1979 by the Popular Front. Right-wing political organizations associated with the pre-1983 period remain on the fringes.
Principal Government Officials
President of the Popular Front, Chief of State, Head of Government-Capt. Blaise Compaor„ Ministers People's Defense and Security Affairs-Maj. Boukary Jean-Baptiste Lengani Economic Promotion-Capt. Henri Zongo Coordination with the Popular Front-Oumarou Cl„ment Ou„draogo Peasant's Cooperative Action-Capt. Laurent S„dogo External Relations-Issouf Go Information and Culture-B„atrice Damiba Health and Social Action-Kanidoua Nabao Sports-Capt. Theodore Kilimit„ Hien Labor, Social Security and Public Functions-Salif Sampebogo Finances-Bintou Sanogho Guardian of the Seal, Minister of Justice-Sambo Antoine Komi Transport and Communications-Thomas Sanon Secondary and Higher Education, Scientific Research- Mouhoussine Nacro Primary Education and Literacy-Alice Tiendreb„ogo Environment and Tourism-Maurice Dieudonn„ Bonanet Territorial Administration-Jean L„onard Compaor„ Commerce and People's Supply-Fr„d„ric Assumption Korsaga Equipment-Daprou Kambou Water-Alfred Nombr„ Agriculture-Albert Guigma Secretary General of the Government and the Council of Ministers-Prosper Vokouma Ambassador to the United States-Paul Kabor„ Burkina Faso maintains an embassy in the United States at 2340 Massachusetts Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332- 5577).


Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in Africa, with GNP per capita estimated at $174. Approximately 80% of the population relies on subsistence agriculture, with only a small fraction directly involved in industry and services. The agricultural economy remains highly vulnerable to fluctuations in rainfall. Drought, poor soil, lack of adequate communications and other infrastructure, a low literacy rate, and a stagnant economy are all longstanding problems. The export economy also remains subject to fluctuations in world prices. Many Burkinab† migrate to neighboring countries for work, and their remittances provide a substantial contribution to the balance of payments. Burkina Faso suffers chronic budget and balance-of- payments deficits and increasing arrears. It is attempting to improve the economy by developing its mineral resources, improving its infrastructure, making its agricultural and livestock sectors more productive and competitive, and stabilizing the supplies and prices of food grains. President Compaor„ has spoken increasingly of the need for an active business community, and attitudes within the private sector seem positive for the future. Currently, Burkina is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to obtain economic support. About 87% of the labor force works in the agricultural sector. These subsistance farmers eke out a living amidst problems of climate, soil composition, soil erosion, and rudimentary technology. The staple crops are millet, sorghum, maize, and rice, and the cash crops are cotton, groundnuts, karit„ (shea nuts) and sesame. Livestock, once a major export, has declined. Industry, still in an embryonic stage, is located primarily in Bobo-Dioulasso, Ouagadougou, Banfora, and Koudougou. Manufacturing is limited to food processing, textiles, and other import-substitution, heavily protected by tariffs. Some factories are privately owned, and government policy shows increasing support for expansion of the private sector. Burkina Faso's exploitable natural resources are limited, although a manganese ore deposit is located in the remote northeast. Gold mining has increased significantly since the mid-1980s, and in 1988 gold replaced cotton for the first time as the country's leading export money earner. The Abidjan-Niger railroad (RAN) connects Burkina with the excellent deepwater port at Abidjan, C”te d'Ivoire, 1,150 kilometers (712 mi.) away. Burkina Faso has about 11,150 kilometers (7,120 mi.) of roads, although only 1,300 kilometers have all-weather surfaces.


After taking power, the Sankara regime proclaimed its affinity with Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and the Soviet Union while trying simultaneously to obtain increased support from its principal donors in Western Europe and the United States. The Compaor„ regime has focused on good relations with neighbors and a less confrontational stance with Western nations, while maintaining its rhetorical support for anti-imperialistic states.


The Burkinab† Armed Forces, including the gendarmerie, number about 8,500, and include 7,000 army and 200 air force personnel, in addition to 1,300 paramilitary gendarmerie and other security forces. The air force has nine fixed-wing aircraft. Military regiments are stationed in Ouagadougou, Dedougou, Dori, Ouahigouya, Bobo-Dioulasso, and Po. Burkina Faso's military has played an important role in the nation's history. Frequently, the military has controlled the government or has guaranteed the power of civilian leaders. In addition, military personnel often perform development tasks requiring special engineering or other technical skills not generally found in the civilian population. The United States sponsors a specialized military training program for Burkina Faso that has brought about 30 military personnel to the United States. France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, North Korea, the Netherlands, Morocco, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, and Libya also have provided training for the Burkinab† military.


The United States generally has good relations with Burkina Faso and supports its economic development. US commercial interests are small but growing in Burkina Faso. Minerals exploration, solar energy, communications equipment, water resources, livestock production, and food processing offer potential areas for commercial investment. The US development assistance program in Burkina Faso grew out of the US response to the drought that plagued the Sahel countries from 1968 to 1974. Between 1973 and 1975, Burkina Faso was a major recipient of US emergency food assistance. Following this, the United States and other international donors began to work with the Sahel countries to plan and implement long term development assistance programs. Fiscal year 1989 budget figures are $9.5 million in food aid and $2.9 million in project aid. The United States maintained a Peace Corps program in Burkina Faso until the 1987, when the Sankara government allowed the agreement to lapse.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador-David H. Shinn Counselor of Embassy-Robert M. Beecroft Political/Economic Officer; Commercial Attach„-David C. Becker Political/Military Officer-Michael E. Dougherty Administrative Officer-Walter J. Woolwine AID Representative-Wilbur G. Thomas Public Affairs Officer (USIS)-Cynthia B. Caples The US Embassy in Burkina Faso is located on Avenue Raoul Follereau in Ouagadougou. Its mailing addresses are: (international mail) 01 B.P. 35, Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso; (US mail) Ouagadougou/DOS, Washington, DC 20521-2440; tel. (226) 30-67- 23/24/25), telex: AEMB 5290 BF; FAX: (226) 30-89-03.


Customs: Visas and yellow fever innoculations are required for entry. Climate and clothing: Except for the rainy season (June-Oct.), the climate is similar to Arizona's. Summer clothing is suitable for Ouagadougou; a light wrap is recommended during the cool season (Nov.-Feb.). Health: Local medical services are limited. Unwashed fruits and vegetables and undercooked meats are unsafe to eat. Tap water is not potable; bottled mineral water is available at hotels and restaurants. Malaria suppressants should be started 2 weeks before arrival and continue 8 weeks after departure. Burkina has chloroquine-resistant malaria. Typhoid and gamma globulin (hepatitis) innoculations are recommended for travel in rural areas. Do not swim in lakes or streams, which may be infested with bilharzia. Health requirements change; check latest information. Transportation: Ouagadougou's international airport is served by several weekly flights from Paris, Abdijan, Niamey, Bamako, Dakar, Algiers, Moscow, and Tripoli. Air Burkina operates all year between the capital and other large towns in Burkina Faso, as well as to Niamey, Bamako, Lome, Cotonou, and Abidjan. Ouagadougou is linked by paved roads to Lome, Abidjan, Niamey and Bamako, and by rail to Abidjan. The uncertainty of road conditions complicates transportation elsewhere. Taxis are available in large towns. Telecommunications: Long-distance telephone service is via satellite. Cable, telex, and FAX services are available. Cable and telex are more reliable. Ouagadougou is five standard time zones ahead of eastern standard time. Tourist attractions: Although by international standards tourist facilities seem limited, Burkina Faso does present tourist opportunities for the adventurous traveler. Worthwhile visits include the National Museum and artisan centers in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, the Nazinga, Arly and Park W game preserves, and interesting market towns such as Gorom-Gorom. For details, write the Office National Du tourisme du Burkina Faso, 01 B.P. 624, Ouagadougou. Every other February, Burkina hosts a widely attended International African Film Festival called FESPACO.
Further Information
These titles are provided as a general indication of material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications. Andriamirado, Sennen. Il s'Appelait Sankara. Paris: Jeune Afrique Livres, 1989. Blumenthal, Susan. Bright Continent. Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984. Politique Africaine, V.20 (December 1985), "Le Burkina Faso." Paris: Eds Karthala, 1985. Savonnet- Guyot, Claudette. Etat et Societe au Burkina. Paris: Eds. Karthala, 1986. Skinner, Elliot P. The Mossi of the Upper Volta: The Political Development of a Sudanese People. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964. . "Sankara and the Burkinabe Revolution," in Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 26, No. 3, Sept.1988, pp. 435-457. Thompson, Virginia. West Africa's Council of the Entente. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972. Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- June 1990 Editor: Juanita Adams Department of State Publication 8201 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402 (###)