Learn more about Burkina Faso

A Sahelian country characterized by a multitude of scattered villages in a territory in which the southern savannah is gradually transformed into Sahel, the anteroom to the Sahara.
To the south, in the savannah cultivated with millet and sorghum, you will find the Gurunsi, with homes superbly decorated with fresh natural colours extracted from local essences, the Lobi, with houses built like fortresses with a “minimalist” style.
The most important group from the demographic point of view are the Mossi ethnic group, who still recognise the grand traditional power of the Mogho Naba (title of the King of the Mossi). Among these, the most famous is the one who resides in Ouagadougou and continues to govern the traditional customs of his people.
In the Bobo Dioulasso region you will find different populations referred to by the masks used in agricultural cults and initiation rites: the Bobo and the Bwa. Tribal masks are among the finest examples of African art.
To the north you will find the nomadic peoples of the Tuareg and Peul, who graze their herds of goats and camels in arid lands. Their camps, of great beauty, are images of almost “biblical” character, the representation of a life in which the most important aspect is the solidarity of the group, regardless of the inherent difficulties of the local.
The two major cities of Burkina are Ouagadougou, the capital, and Bobo Dioulasso.
Ouagadougou holds several major cultural events: FESPACO, the African film festival; SIAO, a crafts fair, and the “Ouaga Jazz” festival.
Bobo Dioulasso is a city with deep roots in a past of commerce, a crossroads for caravans carrying salt from the north and from the south carrying gold and kola nuts. The Sudanese-style mosque is clear testimony to this past. The train station, with a neo-Moorish style, is evidence of another historical presence, the French, which has left many traces of colonial architecture.

A land between rivers

Three rivers provide water to the arid lands of Burkina Faso: The White, Black and Red Volta, which flow into Ghana and the ocean. Along the banks women wash their colored linens while the children happily play in the water and lone fishermen cast their lines.
Occasionally, in the most humid and wooded regions one might see elephants; but for the most part Burkina Faso is a country of small villages with traditional white buildings composed of straw and clay mixed with water, and with colorful peasants and marketplaces. Here and there one sees clay mosques and churches decorated with local religious symbols: Burkina is also a country of tolerance for religious syncretism.

Populations and traditions

The Mossi, a war-like people who built a great empire between the 15th and 19th centuries and didn’t lose their autonomy until the arrival of the French whom inhabit the central plain surrounding the capital city of Ouagadougou. Their descendants, fierce but peaceful people, live in round clay houses and grow sorghum, millet, and peanuts, which they store in granaries made from braided straw. Each ethnic group has different architectural styles, which, in both line and color, adapt well to the countryside.

To the West are the Bobo and town, Bobo Dioulasso. This is the second largest town of the country, showing a touch of France in Africa. There are large masks festivals throughout the region in certain seasons where the young and old, women and children, all unite to dance, drink millet beer and talk about the masked ones who come dancing and jumping accompanied by the sound of tam-tams and flutes. The polychrome masks represent animals; buffalos, antelopes, monkeys and birds. There is also a large flat mask of a butterfly that is at least two meters in length. All of the masks embody spirits of which fertility and health are asked and which thanks are given to after the harvest.

In the South, around Tiebele, live the Gourounsi: their white houses are round with walls decorated by the women. Their geometric decorations in red, black, and white are splendid, and are reminiscence of ancient traditional symbols. In the evening the men sit around the fire telling stories and riddles as old as the world.

Also in the South, around Gaoua, are the Lobi, a people who have been able to preserve and maintain their animist beliefs. In front of their fortified homes one can see protective fetishes to which the Lobi offer drinks and sacrifices of chickens and goats. Their famous “bouthida”, small amulet-statues, are placed in the interior rooms to protect the soul of each Lobi, both living and deceased. The beliefs of their ancestors give form to the basis of their current culture and everyday life.

In the North, the region inhabited by the Kouroumba, rock drawings recall the ancients – the brave horsemen and hunters of ostriches, giraffes and lions. A little further North traces have been found of old necropolis and dwellings, which confirm the existence of these populations whose history is misunderstood (or unknown).

To the Northeast, around Gorom Gorom, live the Songhai peasants, the Tuaregs and Fulani nomads. The latter raise zebus, goats and camels, continuously crisscrossing the territory with their herds in search of water and pasture land. The different ethnic groups meet in the local marketplaces which retain an old-time charm: the Fulani women covered in jewels, the Tuareg with their blue dresses fluttering in the breeze, the barefooted Bella moving alongside their camels and goats with sticks and the Songhai selling tobacco, millet and vegetables. Nearby, artisans work on leather bags, saddles, silver jewelry, baskets of braided grass and painted calabash, while blacksmiths throw iron into the fire, which they will forge into a knife or a hoe.

Travel to Burkina Faso and enjoy the country and the meetings with great populations.

TO KNOW MORE

Burkina Faso, formerly known as Republic of Upper Volta, is a land-locked West African state bordered by Mali to the north, Niger to the east, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south and the Ivory Coast to the southwest.

It is now a republic. The former French colony gained independence from France in 1960 and became the Republic of Upper Volta. On August 4, 1984, the revolutionary president Thomas Sankara renamed the country Burkina Faso that means the ‘land of men of integrity’; in the Mooré and bamanankan , languages of the Mossi and Dioula peoples, respectively.

The people of Burkina Faso are known as Burkinabe. The population is concentrated in the central and southern part of the country. Due to high unemployment, thousands of Burkinabe migrate to neighbouring countries in search of work.
Population: 16,468,714 (UN 2012)

Capital: Ouagadougou

Area: 274,200 km2

Languages: Although the official language is French, the most widely-spoken language is Moore; there are also numerous dialects and local languages.

National holiday: 11 December

Time zone: GMT

Calling code: +226

Currency: CFA Franc

Ethnic groups: The Voltaici, which includes the Mossi subgroup. The Mande, Grussi, and Bobo occupy the south-east of Bobo Dioulasso, while in the the Tuareg, Peul and Hausa live in the Sahel region.

Religions: 5O% Muslim, 30% Christian and 20% Animist

Passport: A valid passport with expiration at least 6 months from the time of entry and throughout the period of stay in the country is required

Required vaccinations: Yellow fever

Entry visa: Required

HISTORY

French colonization began in the region of Burkina Faso in 1896, subjecting the Mossi kingdom of Ouagadougou. The kingdom became a protectorate and in 1898 the entire region was under French control. In 1904, the protectorate became part of French West Africa, along with current Senegal and Niger. The Burkinabe participated in World War I as part of the the battalions of the Senegalese Rifles (Senegalese Tirailleurs).

In 1919, Burkina Faso becomes a French colony under the name Upper Volta. On 5 September 1932, the colony was fragmented and divided into the Ivory Coast, Mali and Niger. On 4 September 1947, France reversed the change bring back the previous borders.

Upper Volta gained self-government on 11 December 1958, becoming a member republic of the Franco-African Community. Two years later, it gained independence from France.

As in other African states, the post-independence period was characterized by a high political instability. A first coup in 1966, led the military to power until 1978. The second coup in 1980, was overthrown two years later. In 1983, Thomas Sankara, previous Prime Minister was arrested, which led to many popular uprisings that put Sankara in power. Sankara took power with the intent to radically change the country, first changing the name of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, and instituting a series of sweeping social reforms. Sankara is also remembered for being the first African president to denounce the AIDS epidemic and for his numerous criticisms of the more developed nations regarding the foreign debt problems of African countries. He was assassinated in 1987. His successor, Blaise Compaore, has ruled the country for twenty-seven years (he was re-elected for four presidential terms). On 31 October 2014, following extensive popular uprising against a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to renew the presidential term again, Compaoré resigned.

Geography and climate

The southern regions are green and covered with forests, while in the north is comprised of desert. In the central part of Burkina Faso there is a plateau formed by a savannah ranging between 198 and 305 meters above sea level. Most of the country is flat, with rolling grassy plains. There are some hills in the west and southeast, but, generally, the difference between the maximum and minimum altitudes is less than 600 m. The country has three river valleys, the Niger River in the north (however, this river does not enter the country) which extends 72,000 square kilometres, the Komoe river and the Volta River in the centre of the country. The river system of the Volta, with 120,000 square kilometres of watershed, is the largest in the country, and is formed of three rivers the Nakambé river (formerly the White Volta), the Mouhoun river ( formerly the Black Volta) and the Pendjari river that come together in Ghana to form the Volta River.

Burkina Faso’s climate is mainly tropical, with two distinct seasons: the rainy season, from May/June to September (shorter in the north) and the dry season, the Harmattan, during which a dry wind hot coming from the Sahara blows.

Economy

Per capita GDP: $636 (2012 est.)

The economy of Burkina Faso is one of the most backward in the world.

Agriculture, practised with archaic methods and in arid lands, is insufficient to meet domestic needs. Despite government efforts, which has allocated huge funds to achieve food self-sufficiency, the country still needs foreign aid in particular, French aid. The main food crops are millet and sorghum growing even in dry areas but very low production; corn and manioc, in the wettest areas; rice crops are growing thanks to technical assistance from China. The main product is cotton, which was introduced in colonial times. Animal husbandry occupies an important place in the economy of the country, which boasts an important zootechnical heritage. The export of cotton and livestock fails to balance the balance of payments.

Discrete mineral resources are not properly exploited due to inefficient transportation. The main resource is gold mined in Assakan and Poura deposits. The energy sector is very modest and energy needs are met entirely with imported fuel. Industry has a very low impact on gross domestic product and is based on processing of local raw materials for domestic consumption. There are cotton mills (in Koudougou), shoe factories, breweries, cigarette (Bobo-Dioulasso) and sugar factories (Banfora). Public companies in the sector of electricity, oil and telecommunications were submitted to a privatization process in 2001.

Transportation

The country has a rail network of about 622 km. There are approximately 15 000 km of roads, only part of which is paved. In the capital, Ouagadougou, and some other inhabited areas, public and private companies manage urban, suburban and intercity transport buses.

The only international airport is in the capital Ouagadougou.

Food

The main meal for most of the inhabitants of Burkina Faso is millet polenta (corn is becoming increasingly common) accompanied by various sauces that the Mossi, the majority ethnic group in the country, call “To”. The traditional drink accompanying festivals is “dolo” a low alcohol beer obtained from the fermentation of red sorghum.

Another traditional food is niebe (cowpea), a bean widely grown on the African continent for its ability to adapt to difficult climates.

Sesame is widely used in traditional cooking.

In recent years, especially in the city, the use of other cereals such as rice and wheat (pasta and bread) is spreading.
Among the typical products of Burkina Faso are chicken, usually roasted and guinea fowl, which are transported daily by any means possible from the towns around the city and then cooked and sold in the thousands of street stalls in the city.

Communications media

The media in Burkina Faso are written press, radio and television, supported by the state, along with numerous private stations broadcasting music, sports, culture and religious issues.

EDUCATION

Education is compulsory for children between 7 and 13 years of age. However, and despite being free, the literacy rate is very low: about 29%.

Many children remain in the villages to help parents in the fields and therefore grow up illiterate and only speaking the dialect of the ethnic group they belong to.

The country has four universities, two in the capital Ouagadougú, one of which is the prestigious University of United Popular Nations, partner of Università Popolare degli studi di Milano, and one in Bobo-Dioulasso and another in Koudougou.

HEALTH

Life expectancy:

  • Total 55 years
  • Men: 53
  • Women: 57

Infant mortality: 10.7 %

Percentage of HIV/AIDS: 4%

MUSIC

In Burkina Faso music serves as backdrop to this wonderful country on the African continent. The instruments used are those typical of sub-Saharan Africa: the balafon, a xylophone built from a single keyboard on a wooden structure and resonators made ​​with gourds. Djenbe is a percussion instrument that comes in various sizes and variants, and the kora, a stringed instrument is built from a large gourd cut in half. In addition, instruments typical of other areas and certain ethnic groups are common and represent an important cultural heritage; we would also emphasize the use of vocal techniques. The city of Bobo Dioulasso is known throughout the world as the birthplace of the best Burkinabe drummers. Burkina Faso is always accompanied by music and there is always the chance to try percussion or just dance to the pulsating rhythm and pace of truly authentic Africa.