In , Thomas Sankara's revolutionary government changed the name Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, thus discarding the name the French had given their former colony. Burkina Faso is an artificial word, using linguistic elements from the country's largest languages: Burkina Faso is thus identified as the "country of the free men.
Burkina Faso is a multiethnic nation with about sixty ethnic and linguistic groups. The country is roughly divided into two parts, each with different historical backgrounds and political cultures: The western and southern regions contain a number of ethnic groups, which were politically less centralized.
The largest of these groups are the Bisa and Gurunsi in the south, the Lobi and Dagara in the southwest, the Bobo in the west, and the Bwaba and Samo in the northwest. The country covers , square miles , square kilometers in the center of West Africa, north of Ghana and Ivory Coast. It is a landlocked, flat country with an average altitude between and 1, feet and meters above sea level. There are some elevations in the west, the highest point being the Tenakourou 2, feet; meters.
The largest part of the former Upper Volta lies within the catchment area of the three northern tributaries of the Volta river, the Mouhoun, the Nazinon, and the Nakambe formerly the Black, Red, and White Volta. The capital Ouagadougou lies almost in the geographical center of the country.
It was the capital of a powerful Mossi kingdom and became the seat of French colonial administration in The tropical climate has a wet season and a dry season. The northern Sahelian zone, which is adjacent to the Sahara desert, is much drier than the south, with only six to twenty-four inches to millimeters of rain falling between June and September.
In the southernmost Sudanic zone, rains usually start in May and end around October. Here the annual precipitation is from 35 to 51 inches to millimeters. Rains show extreme variations from year to year, in both timing and quantity. They typically fall during short violent thunderstorms. The country's vegetation varies with trees and thick bush in the south and near-desert conditions in the north. The landscape changes dramatically according to the seasons. In the driest months, extreme drought and the Harmattan, a dusty cold wind from the Sahara, desiccate all vegetation; widespread manmade bushfires add to the burnt aspect of the landscape.
With the first rains, leaves sprout on trees and bushes and the savannah grass grows to several yards within a few months. Central Intelligence Agency and World Bank estimates indicated a population of over 11 million by With an average life expectancy of forty-five years, 50 percent of the population is less than fifteen years old. French, the language of the former colonizing power, is the official language. It is used in schools, the army, the media, and by people who attend school if they are not from the same ethnic group.
Since many people do not go to school, they have little or no knowledge of the French language. Other language families include only one or two languages; the most important of these is Fulfulde spoken by the cattle rearing Fulbe people. The national flag is divided in two equal horizontal fields, with red on top and green below; a yellow five-pointed star sits in the center. The national motto has been changed to reflect the political changes since the country gained its independence from France in The national hymn highlights the ongoing anti-colonial struggle and the ideology of national pride that are part of the national character of the "free and upright men.
Another important rallying point for national feelings is soccer: History and Ethnic Relations Emergence of the Nation. Burkina Faso's ancient and precolonial history is only known in fragments, due to the lack of early and consistent written sources and the limited archaeological information available.
Recent excavations have shown that rich and stratified societies lived in permanent villages in the northeast around the year C. In the south, the origins of the impressive but still undated "Lobi" ruins remain a mystery.
The Mossi appear to have founded their kingdoms—the most important being Wagadugu, Yatenga and Tenkodogo—around the fifteenth century C. Written sources mention the Mossi in connection with raids on the Sahelian towns of Timbuktu and Walata, and throughout the Middle Ages as anti-Islamic enemies of the Mali and Songhay kings.
Another early important precolonial kingdom was Gurma in the east. States like Kong and Kenedugu expanded into southern Burkina Faso. Within or between the spheres of influence of these states, politically non-centralized societies could maintain their autonomy and sometimes even expand. French colonial armies conquered and occupied the territory beginning in , thus thwarting the northern advances of the concurring colonial powers Britain and Germany. After the First World War, which brought massive oppression, popular uprisings, and their bloody suppressions, the French carved out the Upper Volta colony as an administrative unit from French West Africa.
In order to assure a supply of labor to the French coastal colonies, Upper Volta was dissolved in and its territory divided among the Ivory Coast, French Sudan now Mali , and Niger. The traditional Mossi aristocracy and the emerging intellectual elite protested against the dissolution of Upper Volta, and their continued agitation was rewarded in by the reconstitution of the colony.
After the reconstitution, some directly— voted deputies represented Upper Volta in the French parliament in Paris. These deputies, under their influential leader Ouezzin Coulibally, developed a true national conscience for the first time. During the referendum, a majority of the population preferred to remain a largely autonomous colony within the French-African Community instead of becoming independent.
On 5 August , Upper Volta proclaimed its national independence from France. The country alternated between periods of military and civil rule, and in and new constitutions were adopted, marking the short lived second and third republics. Colonel Saye Zerbo came to power in a coup, but was deposed in by a coalition of conservative and socialist officers; they installed Surgeon-Major Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo as president. Thomas Sankara became his minister and later prime minister.
Sankara was young, ambitious, and charismatic, a popular hero of the frontier war with Mali. He was a strident anti-colonialist and Marxist. Tensions within the government grew until Sankara finally ousted the conservative faction and took over power on 4 August , backed by a number of left-wing parties and trade unions.
The following four years profoundly changed the country's political and social landscape as Sankara introduced many reforms. His foreign policy embraced socialist countries like Libya and Cuba, and he promoted an anti-imperialist ideology of autarchy and national pride; many foreign development organizations were forced to leave the county.
Dropping the old colonial name, Upper Volta, and choosing the new name, Burkina Faso, was derived from the indigenous languages, but was perhaps the most symbolically important of his measures. The political leadership along with Comity for the Defense of the Revolution CDR , a mass organization with a presence in almost every village, encouraged mass mobilization and self-help. In Ouagadougou and other towns, vast housing programs were instituted; in the countryside, numerous schools and community clinics were built.
Sankara also curtailed the elite's privileges: Drastic measures virtually eradicated corruption. The regime gradually moved towards a totalitarian system. Sankara's violent death made him a martyr for his ideas; he remains an idol among the youth in Burkina Faso and other parts of Africa. In June , a new constitution marked the return to multiparty democracy and the beginning of the fourth Republic. The opposition, which denounced the government's lack of equity and transparency, again boycotted the presidential elections and presented no convincing candidate.
The fourth Republic is marked by a reorientation to the West. The International Monetary Fund IMF imposed a structural adjustment program that is meticulously followed; current political stability makes Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, a prime destination for Western donors. In the late s, the amount of development funds flowing into the country exceeded the central government expenditures.
The population of Burkina Faso has always been highly mobile. The landscape provides few natural barriers and the traditional economic activities of shifting cultivation, semi-nomadic pastoralism, and trade require some degree of migration. Today's ethnic groups are the result of this high level mobility. Cultural exchange—even assimilation—and linguistic flexibility were frequently more important than cultural difference.
But clear ethnic identities did sometimes develop in precolonial times, and the colonial transformation of the political landscape sometimes favored the hardening of ethnic borders. Generally, though, community networks transcended ethnic boundaries; this is especially true for long distance traders like the Dyula or the Yarse, and for the semi-nomadic Fulbe. Limited economic resources in the overpopulated central plateau also resulted in the migration of the Mossi people to all parts of the country during the twentieth century.
The nation's boundaries were inherited from the colonial powers. These had demarcated them in a sometimes arbitrary way, separating people from the same ethnic group while enclosing people without any cultural or historical affinities.
In spite of this, a national identity has formed and there are currently no serious separatist movements and no major ethnic conflicts. One reason may be the importance of a powerful cultural device, the joking relationship, which helps to ease potential tensions. When joking partners—they could be strangers or friends—meet, they insult each other in a sometimes rude but always humorous way; it is absolutely forbidden to take any offence.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space A predominantly rural country, about 90 percent of the population lives in more than eight thousand villages. The highest population density over fifty persons per square km is in the center, in the socalled Mossi plateau. This contrasts with the large, virtually uninhabited spaces in the southwest, the extreme east, and the north—where the majority of the national parks are located and land use is highly restricted.
The late twentieth century saw a rapid increase in urbanization, illustrated through the exponential growth of the capital Ouagadougou. Its population grew from approximately , in to , in One of every two people living in cities lives in Ouagadougou; the city's growth rate is estimated at 6.
A Bobo wears a fish mask and a cape made of vegetable fiber for an agricultural festival. The Bobo are the largest ethnic group in western Burkina Faso. The capital's growth is partly at the expense of the country's second town, Bobo-Dioulasso. With about the same number of inhabitants on the eve of independence, Bobo-Dioulasso is today less than half as populated as Ouagadougou , inhabitants in No other city approaches these two in population. Traditional architecture varies by region and ethnic group.
In the south, the Bobo, Dagara, Gurunsi, and Lobi build huge, castle-like houses with solid wood and mud walls and flat roofs. Over a hundred persons can live in these structures, which are sometimes colorfully decorated.
Villages in the south may consist of a dozen widely-dispersed huge houses. Markets in the center of villages and towns are not only spaces for commercial activities but communication centers were news is exchanged, marriages are arranged, and company is enjoyed.
Imported building material, such as the zinc sheets for roofing, is becoming increasingly important in the countryside.