U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Burkina Faso, March 1998
Released by the Office of West African Affairs, Bureau of African 

Official Name: Burkina Faso


Area: 274,200 sq. km. (106,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Colorado. 
Cities: Capital--Ouagadougou (pop. 1 million). Other cities--Bobo-
Dioulasso (450,000), Koudougou (90,000). 
Terrain: Savanna; brushy plains, and scattered hills. 
Climate: Sahelian; pronounced wet and dry seasons.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Burkinabe (accent on last "e").
Population (1995): 10.4 million. 
Annual growth rate: 2.8%.
Ethnic groups: 63 ethnic groups among which are Mossi (almost half of 
the total population), Bobo, Mande, Lobi, Fulani, Gurunsi, and Senufo. 
Religions: Traditional beliefs 40%, Muslim 40%, Christian 20%.
Languages: French (official), More, Dioula, others. 
Education: Literacy (1997)--22%: male 29.5%; female 9.2%. 
Health: Infant mortality rate (1995)--99/1,000. Life expectancy--49 
Work force: Agriculture--92%. Industry--2.1%. Commerce, services, and 

Type: Republic. 
Independence: August 5, 1960. 
Constitution: June 11, 1991. 
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state) prime minister (head of 
government). Legislative--two chambers. Judicial--independent. 
Subdivisions: 45 provinces. 
Political parties: Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), Alliance 
for Democracy Federation (ADF), African Democratic Assembly (RDA), Party 
for Democracy and Progress (PDP), and numerous small opposition parties. 
Suffrage: Direct universal. 
Central government budget (1996): $394.5 million. 
Defense: 16% of government budget.

GDP (1996): $2.4 billion. 
Annual growth rate (1996): 6.1%.
Per capita income (1996): $300. 
Avg. inflation rate (1996): 6.1%.
Natural resources (limited quantities): manganese, gold, limestone, 
marble, phosphate, zinc. Agriculture (34% of GDP): Products--cotton, 
millet, sorghum, rice, livestock, peanuts, shea nuts, maize. 
Industry (27% of GDP): Type--mining, agricultural processing plants, 
brewing and bottling, light industry. 
Trade (1995): Exports--$306 million: cotton, gold, livestock, peanuts, 
shea nut products. Major markets--European Union, Taiwan. Imports--$731 
Official exchange rate: Floats with French franc. Communaute Financiere 
Africaine (CFA) francs 100=1 FF; CFA francs 595=US$1. 

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 W 
National Park--contain lions, elephants, hippopotamus, monkeys, 
warthogs, 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 

Burkina Faso's 10 million people belong 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 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 Mogho Naba, who hold court in Ouagadougou.

About 5,000 Europeans reside in Burkina Faso.

Most of Burkina'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 Burkinabe to Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana for 
seasonal agricultural work. A plurality of Burkinabe 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 elite.

Few Burkinabe have had formal education. Schooling is free but not 
compulsory, and only about 29% of Burkina's primary school-age children 
receive a basic education. 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.

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 

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 Cote d'Ivoire 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 Yameogo, 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, Yameogo 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 Yameogo, suspended the constitution, dissolved 
the National Assembly, and placed Lt. Col. Aboukar Sangoule 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 reelected 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 as 
the supreme governmental authority, thus eradicating the 1977 

Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from trade unions and was 
overthrown two years later, on November 7, 1982, by Maj. Dr. Jean-
Baptiste Ouedraogo 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 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 Compaore. 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, Compaore, Capt. Henri 
Zongo, and Maj. Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lengani-all leftist military 
officers-dominated the regime.
On August 4, 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning 
"the country of honorable 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.

The CDRs, which were formed as popular mass organizations, deteriorated 
in some areas into gangs of armed thugs and clashed with several trade 
unions. Tensions over the repressive tactics of the government and its 
overall direction mounted steadily. On October 15, 1987, Sankara was 
assassinated in a coup which brought Capt. Blaise Compaore to power.

Compaore, Capt. Henri Zongo, and Maj. Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lengani 
formed the Popular Front (FP), which pledged to continue and pursue the 
goals of the revolution and to "rectify" Sankara's "deviations" from the 
original aims. The new government, realizing the need for popular 
support, tacitly moderated many of Sankara's policies. As part of a 
much-discussed political "opening" process, several political 
organizations, three of them non-Marxist, were accepted under an 
umbrella political organization created in June 1989 by the FP.

Some members of the leftist Organisation pour le Democratie 
Populaire/Movement du Travail (ODP/MT) were against the admission of 
non-Marxist groups in the front. On September 18, 1989, while Compaore 
was returning from a two-week trip to Asia, Lengani and Zongo were 
accused of plotting to overthrow the Popular Front. They were arrested 
and summarily executed the same night. Compaore reorganized the 
government, appointed several new ministers, and assumed the portfolio 
of Minister of Defense and Security. On December 23, 1989, a 
presidential security detail arrested about 30 civilians and military 
personnel accused of plotting a coup in collaboration with the Burkinabe 
external opposition.

In 1990, the Popular Front held its first National Congress, which 
formed a committee to draft a national constitution. The constitution 
was approved by referendum in 1991. In 1992, Compaore was elected 
president, running unopposed after the opposition boycotted the election 
because of Compaore's refusal to accede to demands of the opposition 
such as a sovereign National Conference to set modalities. The 
opposition did participate in the following year's legislative 
elections, in which the ODP/MT won a majority of seats.

The government of the Fourth Republic includes a strong presidency, a 
prime minister, a Council of Ministers presided over by the president, a 
two-chamber National Assembly, and the judiciary. The legislature and 
judiciary are independent but remain susceptible to outside influence.

In 1995, Burkina held its first multiparty municipal elections since 
independence. With minor exceptions, balloting was considered free and 
fair by the local human rights organizations which monitored the 
contest. The president's ODP/MT won over 1,100 of some 1,700 councillor 
seats being contested.

In February 1996, the ruling ODP/MT merged with several small opposition 
parties to form the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP). This 
effectively co-opted much of what little viable opposition to Compaore 
existed. The remaining opposition parties regrouped in preparation for 
1997 legislative elections and the 1998 presidential election. The 1997 
legislative elections, which international observers pronounced to be 
substantially free, fair, and transparent, resulted in a large CDP 
majority--101 to 111 seats.

Principal Government Officials
President--Blaise Compaore
Prime Minister--Kadre Desire Ouedraogo

Ministers of State
Environment and Water--Salif Diallo
Integration and African Solidarity--Bongnessan Arsene Ye

Economy and Finance, Government Spokesman--Tertius Zongo
Foreign Affairs--Ablasse Ouedraogo
Justice--Larba Yarga
Territorial Administration and Security--Yero Boly
Commerce, Industry, and Crafts--Idrissa Zampalegre
Energy and Mines--Elie Ouedraogo
Higher Education and Scientific Research--Christophe Dabire
Basic Education and Mass Literacy--Banworo Seydou Sanou
Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Planning--Joseph Kabore
Civil Service and Institutional Development--Juliette Bonkoungou 
Employment, Labor, and Social Security--Elie Sarre
Agriculture--Michel Koutaba
Regional Integration--Viviane Yolande Compaore
Parliamentary Relations--Cyril Goungounga
Communications and Culture--Mahamadou Ouedraogo
Health--Ludovic Alain Tou
Youth and Sports--Andre Joseph Tiendrebeogo
Transport and Tourism--Bedouma Alain Yoda
Social and Family Affairs--Bana Ouandaogo
Animal Resources--Alassane Sere
Promotion of Women--Alice Tiendrebeogo 

Minister Delegates
Budget--Daouda Bayuli
Finance--Hamidou Wibgha
Water Resources--Soma Barro
Housing and Urban Planning--Idsiaka Drabo
Employment Promotion--Emile Kabore
Ambassador to the United States--Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba
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 the world with per 
capita GNP of $300. More than 80% of the population relies on 
subsistence agriculture, with only a small fraction directly involved in 
industry and services. Drought, poor soil, lack of adequate 
communications and other infrastructure, a low literacy rate, and a 
stagnant economy are all long-standing problems. The export economy also 
remains subject to fluctuations in world prices.

Though hobbled by an extremely resource-deprived domestic economy, 
Burkina remains committed to the structural adjustment program it 
launched in 1991. It has largely recovered from the devaluation of the 
CFA in January 1994, with a 1996 growth rate of 5.9%.

Many Burkinabe migrate to neighboring countries for work, and their 
remittances provide a substantial contribution to the balance of 
payments. Burkina 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.

The agricultural economy remains highly vulnerable to fluctuations in 
rainfall. The Mossi Plateau in north central Burkina faces encroachment 
from the Sahara. The resultant southward migration means heightened 
competition for control of very limited water resources south of the 
Mossi Plateau. Most of the population ekes out a living as subsistence 
farmers, living with problems of climate, soil erosion, and rudimentary 
technology. The staple crops are millet, sorghum, maize, and rice. The 
cash crops are cotton, groundnuts, karite (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 others are 
set to be privatized. Burkina's exploitable natural resources are 
limited, although a manganese ore deposit is located in the remote 
northeast. Gold mining has increased greatly since the mid-1980s and, 
along with cotton, is a leading export moneyearner.

A railway connects Burkina with the excellent deepwater port at Abidjan, 
Cote d'Ivoire, 1,150 kilometers (712 mi.) away. Burkina has over 13,000 
kilometers (7,800 mi.) of roads, although only about 14% are paved.

Burkina has excellent relations with European--including the European 
Union--North African, and Asian donors, which are all active development 
partners. France, in particular, continues to provide significant aid 
and supports Compaore's developing role as a regional powerbroker. 
Compaore has mediated a political crisis in Togo and helped to resolve 
the Tuareg conflict in Niger. Several thousand Tuareg refugees from 
Mali, who sought protection in Burkina, will be repatriated by the end 
of 1997. Burkina maintains cordial relations with Libya.

U.S. relations with Burkina Faso, once strained because of Burkina's 
past involvement in Liberia's civil war, are improving. U.S. interests 
in Burkina are to promote continued democratization and greater respect 
for human rights.

U.S. trade with Burkina is still extremely limited--$14.5 million in 
U.S. exports in 1995--but investment possibilities exist, especially in 
the mining and communications sectors.

In response to the drought that plagued the Sahel countries from 1968 to 
1974, the U.S. provided significant emergency food assistance to Burkina 
Faso. 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.
While the overall amount of U.S. assistance to Burkina dropped with the 
1995 closure of the USAID mission in Ouagadougou, the U.S. contributes 
about $10 million to a feeding program managed by an American non-
governmental organization. The embassy also maintains a variety of 
programs to support social and economic development projects throughout 
the country. 

In 1995, the Peace Corps program resumed, after a 10-year absence, with 
volunteers working in rural health. In 1997, the program was expanded to 
include education. 

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador-Sharon Wilkinson
Deputy Chief of Mission--Stephen Brundage
Political/Economic Officer; Commercial Attache--Linda Cowher
Administrative Officer--John Olson
Peace Corps Country Director--Jan Wessel
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Anne Grimes
The U.S. 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, 
D.C. 20521-2440, tel: (226) 30-67-23/24/25, fax: (226) 31-23-68 or (226) 

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