Burkina Faso (05/09)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


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 (410,000), Koudougou (83,000).
Terrain: Savanna; brushy plains and scattered hills.
Climate: Sahelian; pronounced wet and dry seasons.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Burkinabe (accent on last e).
Population (2008): 15.264 million.
Annual growth rate (2008): 3.1%.
Ethnic groups: 63 ethnic groups among which are Mossi (almost half of the total population), Bobo, Mande, Lobi, Fulani, Gourounsi, and Senufo.
Religions: Traditional beliefs 20%, Muslim 55%, Christian 25%.
Languages: French (official), Moore, Dioula, others.
Education: Literacy (2009)--26%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2008)--86.02/1,000. Life expectancy (2008)--52 years.
Work force: Agriculture--90%; industry--2.1%; commerce, services, and government--5.5%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: August 5, 1960.
Constitution: June 11, 1991.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state) prime minister (head of government). Legislative--one chamber. Judiciary--independent.
Subdivisions: 13 regions, 45 provinces, 350 departments.
Political parties: Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), Alliance for Democracy Federation/ African Democratic Assembly (ADF/RDA), Unity for the Renaissance/Sankarist Party (UNIR/PS), Unity for the Republic (UPR), Convention of Democratic Forces of Burkina (CFD/B), and numerous other small opposition parties.
Suffrage: Direct universal.
Central government budget (2005): $540 million.
Defense: 5.5% of government budget.

GDP (2008): $9.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (2008): 4.5%.
Per capita income (2008): $440.
Avg. inflation rate (2008): 10.4%.
Natural resources: Manganese, gold, limestone, marble, phosphate, zinc, uranium.
Agriculture (37% of GDP): Products--cotton, millet, sorghum, rice, livestock, peanuts, shea nuts, maize.
Industry (24% of GDP): Type--mining, agricultural processing plants, brewing and bottling, light industry.
Trade (2007): Exports--$404 million: cotton, gold, livestock, peanuts, shea nut products. Major markets--China, Singapore, Thailand, Ghana, Niger. Imports--$783 million.
Official exchange rate: Fixed to the euro. Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA) francs 656=1 euro (2003: approx. CFA francs 579=U.S. $1; 2005: CFA francs 534=U.S. $1).

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country located in the middle of West Africa's "hump." It is geographically in the Sahel--the agricultural region between the Sahara Desert and the coastal rain forests. Most of central Burkina Faso lies on a savanna plateau, 200 meters-300 meters (650 ft.-1,000 ft.) above sea level, with fields, brush, and scattered trees. The largest river is the Mouhoun (Black Volta), which is partially navigable by small craft. Burkina Faso has West Africa's largest elephant population. Game preserves also are home to lions, hippos, monkeys, warthogs, and antelope. Infrastructure and tourism are, however, not well developed. Annual average rainfall varies from about 100 centimeters (40 in.) in the south to less than 25 centimeters (10 in.) in the north and northeast, where hot desert winds accentuate the dryness of the region. The cooler season, November to February, is pleasantly warm and dry (but dusty), with cool evenings. March-June can be very hot. In July-September, the rains bring a 3-month cooler and greener humid season.

Burkina Faso's 15.2 million people (2008) belong to two major West African cultural groups--the Voltaic and the Mande (whose common language is Dioula). The Voltaic Mossi make up about one-half of the population. The Mossi claim descent from warriors who migrated to present-day Burkina Faso from Ghana and established an empire that lasted more than 800 years. Predominantly farmers, the Mossi kingdom is still led by the Mogho Naba, whose court is in Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso is an ethnically integrated, secular state. Most of Burkina's people are concentrated in the south and center of the country, sometimes exceeding 48 per square kilometer (125/sq. mi.). Hundreds of thousands of Burkinabe migrate to Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, many for seasonal agricultural work. These flows of workers are affected by external events; the September 2002 coup attempt in Cote d'Ivoire and the ensuing fighting there meant that hundreds of thousands of Burkinabe returned to Burkina Faso. A plurality of Burkinabe are Muslim, but most also adhere to traditional African religions. The introduction of Islam to Burkina Faso was initially resisted by the Mossi rulers. Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, comprise about 25% of the population, with their largest concentration in urban areas.

Few Burkinabe have had formal education. Schooling is in theory free and compulsory until the age of 16, but only about 72.5% of Burkina's primary school-age children are enrolled in primary school due to actual costs of school supplies and school fees and to opportunity costs of sending a child who could earn money for the family to school. Of those enrolled, only about 40.7% complete primary school. 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. The University of Koudougou was founded in 2005 to substitute for the former teachers' training school, Ecole Normale Superieure de Koudougou.

Until the end of the 19th century, the history of Burkina Faso was dominated by the empire-building Mossi. The French arrived and claimed the area in 1896, but Mossi resistance ended only with the capture of their capital Ouagadougou in 1901. The colony of Upper Volta was established in 1919, but it was dismembered and reconstituted several times until the present borders were recognized in 1947.

The French administered the area indirectly through Mossi authorities until independence was achieved on August 5, 1960. The first President, Maurice Yameogo, amended the constitution soon after taking office to ban opposition political parties. His government lasted until 1966, when the first of several military coups placed Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana at the head of a government of senior army officers. Lamizana remained in power throughout the 1970s, as President of military and then elected governments.

With the support of unions and civil groups, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in 1980. Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from trade unions and was overthrown two years later by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CSP and radicals led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, who was appointed Prime Minister in January 1983, but was subsequently arrested. Efforts to bring about his release, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaore, resulted in yet another military coup d'etat, led by Sankara and Compaore on August 4, 1983.

Sankara established the National Revolutionary Committee with himself as President and vowed to "mobilize the masses." But the committee's membership remained secret and was dominated by Marxist-Leninist military officers. In 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning "the country of honorable people." But many of the strict security and austerity measures taken by Sankara provoked resistance. Despite his initial popularity and personal charisma, Sankara was assassinated in a coup which brought Capt. Blaise Compaore to power in October 1987.

Compaore pledged to pursue the goals of the revolution but to "rectify" Sankara's "deviations" from the original aims. In fact, Compaore reversed most of Sankara's policies and combined the leftist party he headed with more centrist parties after the 1989 arrest and execution of two colonels who had supported Compaore and governed with him up to that point.

With Compaore alone at the helm, a democratic constitution was approved by referendum in 1991. In December 1991, Compaore was elected President, running unopposed after the opposition boycotted the election. The opposition did participate in the following year's legislative elections, in which the ruling party 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 unicameral National Assembly, and the judiciary. The legislature and judiciary are nominally independent but remain susceptible to executive influence.

Burkina held multiparty municipal elections in 1995, 2000, and 2006, as well as legislative elections in 1997, 2002, and 2007. Balloting was considered largely free and fair in all elections despite minor irregularities. However, the ruling party's dominance meant that the playing field was not entirely even. The Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), the governing party, won overwhelming majorities in all the elections except for the 2002 legislative elections, where the CDP won with only a small majority of the 111 seats. The next municipal elections are set for 2011.

Compaore won the November 1998 presidential election for a second 7-year term against two minor-party candidates. But within weeks of Compaore's victory the domestic opposition took to the streets to protest the December 13, 1998 murder of leading independent journalist Norbert Zongo, whose investigations of the death of the President's brother's chauffeur suggested involvement of the Compaore family.

The Collective Against Impunity, including civil society groups, human rights associations, and opposition parties--led by human rights activist Halidou Ouedraogo and opposition political party leaders including the late Prof. Joseph Ki-Zerbo and (for a while) Hermann Yameogo, son of the first President--challenged Compaore and his government to bring Zongo's murderers to justice and make political reforms. The Zongo killings still resonate in Burkina politics, though not as strongly as in the past. There has been no significant progress on the investigation of the case. The case is not closed; it is suspended and can be re-activated until July 2016 if new information is brought before the courts.

Compaore was re-elected to the presidency for a 5-year term in November 2005. Observers considered the election to have been generally free, despite minor irregularities, but not entirely fair due to the ruling party's control of official resources. The current cabinet is dominated by Compaore and the CDP, who continue to dominate all areas of government. Given the fragile roots of democratic institutions, constitutional checks and balances are seldom effective in practice. The constitution was amended in 2000 to limit the president to a 5-year term, renewable once, beginning with the November 2005 election. The amendment was controversial because it did not make any mention of retroactivity, meaning that President Compaore's eligibility to present himself for the 2005 presidential election, his third, was a matter of debate. The Constitutional Court ruled in October 2005 that the amendment was not retroactive, and Compaore went on to win the November 2005 presidential election with over 80% of the vote. Most international and national electoral observers believed that the election was fair. In 2007, the CDP won a majority in the May legislative elections, which observers declared generally free and orderly despite irregularities including fraud involving voter identification cards. Observers agreed that the 2004 revision of the electoral code negatively impacted the 2002 gains of opposition political parties during the 2007 legislative elections. The next presidential elections will be in November 2010. Compaore is expected to run again. The next legislative elections will be in May 2012.

While civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, there have been instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently.

Principal Government Officials
President--Blaise Compaore
Prime Minister--Tertius Zongo

Health--Seydou Bouda
Economy and Finance--Lucien Marie Noel Bembamba
Agriculture, Water and Fisheries--Laurent Sedogo
Justice and Keeper of the Seal--Zakalia Kote
Defense--Yero Boly
Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation--Bedouma Alain Yoda
Transportation--Gilbert N. Ouedraogo
Civil Service and State Reform--Soungalo Ouattara
Territorial Administration/Decentralization--Clement Pegdwende Sawadogo
Security--Emile Ouedraogo
Mines and Energy--Abdoulaye Abdoulkader Cisse
Commerce, Enterprise Promotion and Handicraft--Mamadou Sanou
Culture, Tourism and Communication, Spokesman of the Government--Filippe Sawadogo
Infrastructures and Territorial Unlocking--Seydou Kabore
Secondary and Superior Education and Scientific Research--Joseph Pare
Basic Education and Mass Literacy--Marie Odile Bonkoungou-Balima
Environment and Standard of Living--Salif Sawadogo
Labor and Social Security--Jerome Bougouma
Presidential Missions, Analysis, and Prospective--Gueda Jacques Ouedraogo
Youth and Employment--Justin Koutaba
Social Action and National Solidarity--Pascaline Tamini-Bihoun
Animal Resources--Sekou Ba
Human Rights--Salamata Sawadogo
Post, Information and Communications Technologies--Noel Kabore
Promotion of Women--Celine M. Yoda-Konkobo
Housing and Urbanization--Vincent T. Dabilougou
Sports and Leisure--Jean-Pierre A. M. Palm
Parliamentary Relations--Cecile Beloum
Deputy Minister in Charge of Budget--Marie Therese Drado-Keita
Deputy Minister in Charge of Regional Cooperation--Minata Samate-Cessouma
Deputy Minister in Charge of Local Collectivities--Toussaint Abel Coulibaly
Deputy Minister in Charge of Agriculture--Abdoulave Combary
Deputy Minister in Charge of Mass Literacy and Non Formal Education--Ousseini Tamboura
Deputy Minister in Charge of Technical Education and Vocational Training--Maxime Some

Ambassador to the United States--Paramanga Ernest Yonli

Burkina Faso maintains an embassy in the United States at 2340 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332-5577).

Next Elections Scheduled
Presidential elections--November 2010
Municipal/local elections--April 2011
Legislative elections--May 2012

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $440. 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 an economy vulnerable to external shocks are all longstanding problems. The export economy also remains subject to fluctuations in world prices.

Burkina remains committed to the structural adjustment program it launched in 1991, and it has been one of the first beneficiaries of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt-relief and poverty reduction programs for highly indebted poor countries. At least 20% of the government budget is financed from international aid, and the majority of infrastructure investments are externally financed. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth, which has historically remained steady, is projected to decrease in 2009 to about 3.5%, from 5.3% in 2008.

Many Burkinabe migrate to neighboring countries for work, and their remittances provide a contribution to the economy's balance of payments that is second only to cotton as a source of foreign exchange earnings. Political and economic problems in Cote d'Ivoire have had a direct impact on this source of revenue for millions of Burkina households. The military crisis in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire negatively affected trade between the two countries, due to the year-long closure of the border between Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire from September 2002 to September 2003. Goods and services, as well as remittances, continue to flow from Burkinabe living in Cote d'Ivoire, but they have been rerouted through other countries in the region, such as Togo, Ghana, and Benin. Commercial and personal traffic across the border is slowly rebuilding steam. The current global financial crisis and resulting job losses have also negatively impacted remittances.

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. Staple crops are millet, sorghum, maize, and rice. The cash crops are cotton, peanuts, karite (shea nuts), and sesame. Livestock, once a major export, has declined.

Manufacturing is limited to cotton and food processing (mainly in Bobo-Dioulasso) and import substitution heavily protected by tariffs. Some factories are privately owned, and others are set to be privatized. Burkina Faso's newly-written investment code has helped to promote foreign investment. The World Bank's 2009 “Doing Business” ranked Burkina Faso as one of the top ten reformers for 2009. These reforms include the adoption of a labor code in May 2008, improving the process to transfer property, the elimination of commune authorization requirements, the creation of a one-stop shop to facilitate construction permits, a decrease of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 30%, and a decrease on dividend taxes from 15% to 12%. Foreign investors, particularly in the mining sector, have taken note of this development; since 2007, four commercial gold mines and a manganese mine have been opened. Several others are slated to follow in the next two years. A railway connects Burkina with the port of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, 1,150 kilometers (712 mi.) away. Due to the closure of the border with Cote d'Ivoire, this railway was not operational between September 2002 and September 2003, but cargo and limited passenger service are once again offered. Primary roads between main towns in Burkina Faso are paved. Domestic air service and flights within Africa are limited. Phones and Internet service providers are relatively reliable, but the cost of utilities is very high.

Burkina has excellent relations with European aid donors, as well as Libya, Taiwan, and other states which have offered financial aid. France and the European Union, in particular, provide significant aid. Other donors with large bilateral aid programs include Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada. President Compaore is active in sub-regional diplomacy in West Africa. He was elected in January 2007 to be Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and has acted as a mediator in the political crises in neighboring Togo and Cote d'Ivoire. In January 2008, Burkina Faso became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council; it will hold this position for two years.

U.S. relations with Burkina Faso are excellent. In the past, bilateral relations were subject to strains because of the Compaore government's involvement in arms trading and other sanctions-breaking activity. In addition to regional peace and stability, U.S. interests in Burkina are to promote continued democratization and greater respect for human rights and to encourage sustainable economic development. Although the Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its office in Ouagadougou in 1995, about $15 million annually of USAID funding goes to Burkina's development through non-governmental and regional organizations. The largest is a Food for Peace school lunch program administered by Catholic Relief Services. Burkina has been the site of several development success stories. U.S. leadership in building food security in the Sahel after the 1968-74 drought has been successful in virtually eliminating famine, despite recurrent drought years. River blindness has been eliminated from the region. In both cases, the U.S. was the main donor to inter-African organizations headquartered in Ouagadougou which through sustained efforts have achieved and consolidated these gains. In 2005, Burkina Faso and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) signed a $12 million Threshold Country Program to build schools and increase girls' enrolment rates. In July 2008, Burkina Faso signed a compact of $480.9 million with MCC. The compact program will combat poverty by building roads, improving rural land governance, aiding farmers with agricultural development and irrigation projects, and a second phase of the above-mentioned girls’ primary education program.

The Peace Corps entered Burkina Faso in 1966. The Peace Corps program was phased out in 1987, but was invited to return to Burkina Faso in 1995 as part of a newly established health project. One year later, the Peace Corps established a secondary education project and in 2003, Peace Corps introduced a small enterprise development project to complement the government's poverty reduction and private sector promotional programs. In 2005, the Government of Burkina Faso asked for assistance to increase the level of girls' access to education, which later became the focus of the Millennium Challenge Corporation's Threshold Compact with Burkina Faso. All Peace Corps Volunteers, regardless of sector, are trained in how to promote awareness on HIV/AIDS and gender and development.

U.S. trade with Burkina is still extremely limited--$24.5 million in U.S. exports and $600,000 in Burkinabe exports to the U.S. in 2008--but investment possibilities exist, especially in the mining and communications sectors.

Military ties between the U.S. and Burkina are strengthening. Burkina Faso is a partner in the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program. The United States has already trained three 750-man battalions for peace support operations in Darfur. During a recent UN inspection, the evaluation team found Burkina’s Laafi battalion fit to deploy to Sudan. Using a small Department of Defense International Military Education and Training (IMET) budget, the Embassy has established an English-language laboratory at a local military base, and has maximized attendance at the officer basic courses in the U.S. Representatives from the Ministries of Defense, Security, Foreign Affairs, and Justice and civil society have attended Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) seminars in the U.S. and regionally. The Government of Burkina Faso has eagerly accepted additional training, especially in counter-terrorism and humanitarian assistance, and is contributing to the support of U.S. efforts in the Sahel. Burkina has recently become a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP).

Principal U.S. Officials
Charge d’Affaires--Samuel Laeuchli
Public Affairs Officer--Joann Lockard
Political Officer--Melanie Zimmerman
Economic Officer--Pamela Hamblett
Management Officer--Eugene Aaron
Peace Corps Country Director--Douglass Teschner
Vice Consul--Wossenyelesh Mazengia

The U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso is located on 602 Avenue Raoul Follereau in Ouagadougou. Mailing addresses are: International mail: Ambassade des Etats-Unis, 01 B.P. 35, Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso; Mail from the U.S.: Department of State, 2440 Ouagadougou Place, Washington, DC 20521-2440. Tel: (226) 50-30-67-23; fax: (226) 50-31-23-68 or (226) 50-30-38-90. Email address: amembouaga@state.gov.