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
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
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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
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
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
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
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
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
Principal U.S. Officials
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)
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends
that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information
Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration
practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of
instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the
addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Public Announcements are
issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist
threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose
significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of
this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs
at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel
Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the
Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov and the
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem
number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set
terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop
bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the
password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries
international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory
Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs
Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on
obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication).
This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings;
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by
the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is
available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the
NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
Return to Africa Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage