Profile - Burkina Faso


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Burkina Faso, formerly Upper Volta, republic in western Africa, bounded on the north and west by Mali, on the east by Niger, and on the south by Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire. The area of Burkina Faso is 274,200 sq km (105,900 sq mi). Ouagadougou is the capital and largest city.

Burkina Faso is located on a plateau sloping generally to the south and situated from about 200 to 700 m (about 650 to 2,300 ft) in elevation. The plateau is drained to the south by the Black Volta (Mouhoun), Red Volta (Nazinon), and White Volta (Nakanbe) rivers and to the east by small rivers connecting with the Niger; none are navigable. Most of the country is covered with grass and small trees. Animals include the elephants, hippopotamuses, buffalo, antelope, and crocodiles.

A Climate  A dry, cool season in Burkina Faso extends from November through March; a hot, dry one from April through May; and a hot, wet one from June through October. Rainfall decreases from more than 1,000 mm (more than 40 in) in the southwest (the most agriculturally productive part of the country) to less than 250 mm (less than 10 in) in the north and is heaviest in the summer. Average temperatures in Ouagadougou vary from 24° C (76° F) in January to 28° C (83° F) in July.

B Natural Resources  Burkina Faso is known to have rich deposits of manganese and gold and also resources of copper, iron ore, cassiterite (tin ore), and phosphates. Water supply is a problem in so dry a country and offers few opportunities for irrigation. Some 12 percent of the land is cultivated.

Despite relatively infertile land, Burkina Faso supports a large rural population. The people belong to two major West African cultural groups, the Voltaic and the Mande. The Voltaic are the most numerous and include the Mossi, who constitute nearly half the population. Other principal ethnic groups are the Fulani, Lobi, Bobo, Senufo, Gourounsi, Bissa, and Gourmantche.

A Population Characteristics  The population of Burkina Faso (1998 estimate) is 11,266,393. The overall population density is 41 persons per sq km (106 per sq mi). Some 83 percent of the population lives in rural areas.

B Political Divisions and Principal Cities  
Burkina Faso is divided into 30 provinces, which are subdivided into 250 departments. Ouagadougou has 634,479 inhabitants (1991 estimate). Other major cities are Bobo-Dioulasso, an important economic center (268,926), and Koudougou (51,926, 1985 estimate).

C Language and Religion  
French is the official language. Languages of the Sudanic family are spoken by about 90 percent of the population. About 40 percent of the people of Burkina Faso follow traditional religions. About 50 percent are Muslim, and 10 percent are Christian, mostly Roman Catholic.

D Education  Education is free and officially compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 14. However, only 39 percent of all primary school-age children were enrolled in 1996; only 9 percent of secondary school-age children attended school. The literacy rate for the adult population is 19 percent.

A university with an enrollment of 8,900 is at Ouagadougou, and government grants are available for higher education in European and African universities. A number of individuals study at Dakar, Senegal, at Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and overseas.

The basis of the economy of Burkina Faso is agriculture, primarily for subsistence consumption. Although economic assistance, chiefly from the European Union, has subsidized Burkina Faso since independence, the nation remains one of the world’s poorest. The national budget for 1993 included $467.1 million in revenues and $471 million in expenditures.

A Labor  
The total labor force of Burkina Faso numbers 5.2 million, with 92 percent engaged in agriculture. Unemployment and underemployment are widespread, and many workers seek employment permanently or seasonally in richer nations to the south, especially Côte d’Ivoire.

B Agriculture  Aridity and erosion seriously hamper agricultural development, and most farming is concentrated in southern and southwestern Burkina Faso. Leading food crops, with 1998 production amounts in metric tons, were cereal grains, including sorghum, millet, rice, and corn (2 million); and pulses (66,000 metric tons). The chief cash crop was cotton (343,106 metric tons), which accounts for a large share of the country’s export income. The principal wealth of Burkina Faso is its livestock: 4.5 million cattle, 7.9 million goats, 6.2 million sheep, 586,600 pigs, 24,500 horses and asses, and 20.5 million poultry. Efforts were under way to rebuild the nation’s livestock industry following severe losses due to the recurrent drought in the region known as the Sahel between the late 1960s and early 1980s.

C Mining and Manufacturing  Mining is of modest importance to the economy. Mineral output in the early 1990s included manganese, phosphates, and gold. Still in its infancy, manufacturing in Burkina Faso is principally related to processing agricultural products, particularly cotton, oils and fats, and sugar, and the production of such consumer items as soap, footwear, motorcycles, and motor scooters.

D Energy  Some 66 percent of the country’s electricity is produced in thermal installations, most of which burn refined petroleum; the remainder is produced by hydroelectric facilities. In 1997, Burkina Faso generated 220 million kilowatt-hours of electricity.

E Currency and Banking  The currency of Burkina Faso is the CFA franc, issued by the Central Bank of West Africa (584 CFA francs equal U.S.$1; 1997 average). An official exchange rate of 1 French franc equal to 50 CFA francs was in force from 1948 to January, 1994, when the CFA franc was devalued by 50 percent. The country has several banks that finance economic development.

F Commerce and Trade  Like many developing nations, Burkina Faso imports far more than it exports. Imports consist of food, petroleum, textiles, iron, steel, metal products, vehicles, electrical equipment, and machinery. Major exports include raw cotton, gold, and livestock products. In 1996 imports were valued at $545 million, and exports totaled $424 million. Major trading partners for exports include France, Taiwan, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Japan; principal partners for imports are France, Japan, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, China, and the United States.

G Transportation and Communications  A railroad links Ouagadougou to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and current development plans call for it to be extended north to rich manganese ores at Tambao and the Mali border. The country has 12,100 km (7,519 mi) of roads, of which about one-tenth are paved, although a major improvement program has been announced. Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso are served regularly by French airlines. The national airline is Air Burkina. A government-owned television service provides transmissions six days a week, seen in both Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Radio broadcasts are made in French and 13 African languages. The nation has 4 daily newspapers.

Burkina Faso’s constitution was approved by national referendum in June 1991. It allows multiparty politics and guarantees the political and social rights of all citizens.

A Executive and Legislature  Under the 1991 constitution, executive power in Burkina Faso is vested in a president. The president is directly elected to a seven-year term.

The country has a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature, composed of a National Assembly and a House of Representatives. The 111 members of the National Assembly are directly elected to 5-year terms, and the 178 members of the House of Representatives (a purely consultative body) are appointed by the president to 3-year terms.

B Judiciary  The judicial system of Burkina Faso consists of people’s revolutionary tribunals under the supervision of two appeals courts, one in Ouagadougou and the other at Bobo-Dioulasso.

C Health and Welfare  The government provides hospitals and rural medical services and special health services for schools. An old-age and veterans’ pension system was established in 1960, and workers’ insurance plans were started in 1967. Average life expectancy at birth in 1998 was short: only 47 years for women and 45 for men. A meningitis epidemic which raged across West Africa in early 1996 severely hit Burkina Faso, infecting about 40,000 people, 4,000 of whom died by May of that year.

D Defense  Military service is voluntary. The armed forces included 10,000 people in 1997: 5,600 personnel in the army; 200 in the air force; and the remainder in the gendarmerie, a civil police force.

VI HISTORY  The history of Burkina Faso is largely the history of the ancient Mossi Kingdom. Various Mossi states were built up about the 14th century by peoples migrating from the north of modern Ghana. They evolved a strong administrative system and a tradition of divine kingship, which enabled them to prevent their incorporation by any of the Sudanic empires. The kingdom of Songhai, however, conquered the Mossi.

By the 19th century, the Mossi states were weakened. In 1896 the French set up a protectorate over the kingdom of Ouagadougou, and in 1904 the area became part of the colony of Haut-Sénégal-Niger. In 1919 it was made into a separate constituent territory of French West Africa, only to be divided up in 1932 between the French Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire. It was reconstituted as the separate territory of Upper Volta in 1947.

Following the reforms of the French Union in 1957, Upper Volta became, in 1958, a self-governing republic and a member of the new French community. A government was formed, headed by Maurice Yaméogo, leader of the political party known as the Voltaic Democratic Union. In 1959 Upper Volta joined the council of the Entente, a loose association based on mutual political and economic interests. The Entente was composed of Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Dahomey (now Benin), and Togo. After its independence on August 5, 1960, Upper Volta remained an associated state of the European Community (now called the European Union).

Yaméogo was elected president in 1960 and reelected in 1965; he was the sole candidate. Following the adoption by the National Assembly of austerity measures in December 1965, a crisis erupted between the government and the labor unions. At the call of the latter, General Sangoulé Lamizana, then army chief of staff, assumed power on January 3, 1966, and suspended the constitution. Shortly thereafter, the new government embarked on an austerity program of its own, which eventually succeeded in arresting the deterioration of the economy. Under the constitution of 1970, Lamizana became president for four years.

In the early 1970s the effect of a five-year drought threatened famine in Upper Volta and five other West African countries. The resulting economic dislocation brought a second dissolution of the government. Lamizana ruled as dictator until the reintroduction of parliamentary government in 1978, when he won the presidency in a democratic election. Two years later he was ousted in a bloodless military coup; two more coups followed during the next 33 months. On August 3, 1984, the first anniversary of the coup that brought Captain Thomas Sankara to power as head of the National Revolutionary Council, the official name of the country was changed to Burkina Faso, and a new national flag and anthem were decreed. In October 1987, Sankara was ousted and executed in a coup led by his chief adviser, Captain Blaise Compaoré, who ruled as head of the Popular Front. Compaoré, who survived two coup attempts in 1989, introduced limited democratic reforms during 1990, and a new constitution took effect the following year. Compaoré was reelected without opposition in December 1991, and his Organization for Popular Democracy-Labor Movement won a legislative majority in multiparty elections in May 1992. Compaoré faced opposition candidates for the first time in 1998 presidential elections, which he won by a landslide.

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