Burkina Faso History, Language and Culture

History of Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso was once a part of the Great Mossi Empire, one of the strongest of ancient African kingdoms. The Mossi kingdom was established by invaders from the south, who displaced the Bobo, Lobi and Gurunsi tribes that occupied the region at the time. The region itself is in the path of several historic migrations of population. The Mossi Empire was still in place when the whole region was annexed by the French in 1896. After a period as part of the colony of Upper Senegal-Niger, the territory was reorganised as the separate colony of Upper Volta in 1919. It was then carved up between Côte d'Ivoire, Niger and 'French Sudan' in 1932, only to be reconstituted as an independent entity in 1947, as an 'Overseas Territory' of France.

Internal self-government was granted in 1957, with full independence (as Upper Volta) following three years later. The early years of independence were largely dominated by the military, notably the regime of General Sangoul J Lamizana, who ousted the civilian government of Maurice Yameogo in 1966 and ruled until 1980. Lamizana was followed by another military government, followed in turn by a rebellion in 1983, which brought a group of young radical officers to power under the leadership of Thomas Sankara.

In 1984, the country changed its name to Burkina Faso (roughly 'Land of Dignity'). The Sankara government laid down a new political direction for the country, which had previously pursued an orthodox pro-Capitalist scheme of economic development. Sankara openly modelled himself on Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings in neighbouring Ghana and adopted a radical nationalist stance. Particular emphasis was put on the development of the rural economy. However, growing tensions within the ruling National Revolutionary Council came to a violent climax in October 1987, when Sankara was killed in a revolt led by his second-in-command, Captain Blaise Compaoré. Under pressure from abroad, principally France, a pluralist system of government was adopted with the new 1991 constitution (endorsed by popular referendum). Elections in 1998 and 2000 returned Compaoré and his party with substantial majorities but their integrity was undermined by opposition boycotts amid allegations of fraud of malpractice. By contrast, the most recent national assembly poll, in May 2002, was a relatively transparent affair; the Campaoré political vehicle, now named the Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès, won a narrow victory after its representation was cut in half from its previous level.

In general, Burkina Faso has enjoyed a fairly stable political environment since 1991, with just a single failed coup organised by members of the security service in 1996. Compaoré's foreign policy was initially dominated by the war in Liberia. Burkina Faso initially backed the rebel movement led by Charles Taylor but later switched in favour of the ECOMOG-based West African peace initiative (see Liberia). Elsewhere in the region, relations with Mali and Niger have been strained by problems associated with the Tuareg (a nomadic tribe whose traditional territories straddle all three countries) and associated border disputes. More serious is Burkina Faso's involvement in the upheaval in Côte d'Ivoire. There are also worries about the fate of the large Burkinabè population in that country. Relations with France, the former colonial power, which still retains considerable influence in the region, are fairly good. The major long-term domestic problem facing the government is the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, which now afflicts an estimated 7 per cent of the population. Recent political developments show two villages are in dispute along the border with Benin; Benin accuses Burkina Faso of moving boundary pillars; Burkina Faso border regions remain a stagnant area for Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire rebels and an asylum for refugees caught in local fighting; the Ivorian Government accuses Burkina Faso of sheltering Ivorian rebels. The next local election will fall on February 2006.

Burkina Faso Culture


More than 40% follow animist beliefs; 50% are Muslim and 10% Christian (mostly Roman Catholic).

Language in Burkina Faso

The official language is French. Several other languages such as Mossi, Mooré, Dioula, Peul, Fulfuldé and Gourmantché are also spoken.