Geography of Burkina Faso - History

Geography of Burkina Faso - History

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is a landlocked Sahel country that shares borders with six nations. It lies between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea, south of the loop of the Niger River. The land is green in the south, with forests and fruit trees, and desert in the north. Most of central Burkina Faso lies on a savanna plateau, 198-305 meters (650-1,000 ft.) above sea level, with fields, brush, and scattered trees. Burkina Faso's game preserves--the most important of which are Arly, Nazinga, and W National Park--contain lions, elephants, hippopotamus, monkeys, warthogs, and antelopes. Tourism is not well developed.

Climate: Annual rainfall varies from about 100 centimeters (40 in.) in the south to less than 25 centimeters (10 in.) in the extreme north and northeast, where hot desert winds accentuate the dryness of the region. Burkina Faso has three distinct seasons: warm and dry (November-March), hot and dry (March-May), and hot and wet (June-October). Rivers are not navigable.

Burkina Faso is a small land-locked country in the West Africa bordered by Ghana and Togo to the south, Benin to the southeast, Niger to the east, Mali to the north and Ivory Coast to the southwest.

We have assorted 12 interesting facts about Burkina Faso that will walk you through the strides of this West African territory

12. It has three main rivers known as the Black, Red, and White Volta's

Ghana taps its three major rivers from Burkina Faso. These are the Mouhoun or Black Volta, the Nazinon or Red Volta, and the Nakambé or White Volta.

The longest of these rivers is the Black Volta, which is a mighty 1,352km long. With these rivers, northern Ghana is amply supplied with fresh water for both domestic consumption and agriculture.

11. It means the "land of the honest men"

Burkina Faso's name translates as "Land of the honest men." The country was previously called "Upper Volta" by the French before President Thomas Sankara changed the name to Burkina Faso.

The new name gave the people of the region much pride and continues to do so to this day. Rather than being a geographic pointer, the name Burkina Faso now represents the morals of the people.

10. It became a French protectorate in 1896

Burkina Faso was once a French colony first known as ‘French Protectorate’ and later on ‘Upper Volta’.

The French first colonized it in 1896 and continued with this colonization until 1960 when Upper Volta became independent with Maurice Yaméogo as its first President.

However, prior to 2015, Burkina Faso had been politically unstable until the overthrow of the long-serving military strongman Blaise Compaore through the civilian uprising.

9. It was populated by hunter-gatherers

The northwestern part of today’s Burkina Faso was populated early by hunter-gatherers between 14,000 and 5,000 BC. Some of the earliest tools used in those days such as scrapers, chisels, and arrowheads were discovered in 1973.

Farmers started to create settlements between 3600 and 2600 BC. This is one of the oldest recorded archaeological findings in Sub-Saharan Africa which proves that Burkina Faso is one of the oldest human settlements in West Africa.

8. Burkina Faso has fertile land

Burkina Faso land is green in the south, with forests and fruit trees and desert in the north. Burkina Faso is Africa’s leading producer of Cotton in Africa. Apart from cotton, most of the Burkinabe practice subsistence farming with staple foods being predominant.

Millet, sorghum, maize, rice, peanuts, and cassava are some of the main crops being cultivated. However, despite the rich fertile lands in the south, and pastoral lands in the north, Burkina Faso is increasingly becoming food insecure due to population pressure and lack of modern farming practices.

7. Thomas Sankara, the former president, wrote the country's national anthem

Regarded as Africa's Che Guevara, Sankara composed the current lyrics and music of the national anthem of Burkina Faso which was adopted in 1974. Thomas Sankara was an avid guitar player and a big fan of jazz and formed a number of bands.

He believed that music was a key part of cultural development and used music to spread the word of his revolution. Apart from him being a lover of music Sankara was a great preacher of Africa’s renaissance through self-sufficiency.

He abhorred opulence by African despots that led their countries to be more entangled into the yokes of neocolonialism. He pursued zero-foreign-loans policy where the country increasingly weaned itself off the World Bank and IMF which he considered neo-colonial institutions.

6. The national anthem means the Anthem of Victory

Le Ditanye or Anthem of Victory is the name given to the National anthem of Burkina Faso. This National Anthem captures the victory over colonialism and a focus on the brave new future. The following is an excerpt of some of its lines:

  • The history of an entire people,
  • And one single night has launched its triumphal march.
  • Towards the horizon of good fortune.
  • In the acquisition of liberty and progress.
  • Motherland or death, we shall conquer.

5. The White Stallion is the country's national symbol

The national symbol of Burkina Faso is a white stallion. Particular groups are hugely proud of horse-riding - the Fulani people have a saying: "a horse is your wife, your car, your colleague, your best friend".

The people of Burkina Faso are often called the "cowboys of West Africa" due to their love of horse riding. Horse riding is a common phenomenon of the desert community in the Sahel region of Africa.

4. Burkina Faso has a very young population

More than 65% of the population of Burkina Faso is under the age of 25. This presents a long-term economic opportunity for the country as there will be a large and cheap workforce able to bring prosperity to the nation.

However, with poor planning and lack of commensurate economic growth, this turns into a curse rather than a blessing as strains on land, education, and healthcare, push more into dire straits of survival.

3. French is the official language, but native African languages are spoken too

French, a reminder of the effects of cultural colonization of Burkina Faso, is widely spoken among the educated and elites as the official language.

However, the bulk of the rural folks and the uneducated speak close to 68 different languages of the Sudanic family. As such, indigenous languages have a 90% prevalence in the entire country.

2. Rural areas have very little electricity

Though Thomas Sankara had great dreams of enlightening his country through rapid socio-economic transformation, his dream became dimmed by the bullet that claimed his life.

And so did the light remain dimmed as Burkina Faso’s electrification remains one of the lowest in all of Africa with only 56% of urban areas being lighted up while a meager 1% of electrification going to the poor rural folks that ought to have been the first beneficiaries of Sankare’s revolution.

The population with electricity in Burkina Faso is 56% in urban areas and 1% in rural areas. Nonetheless, the effort to spread electrification, more so, by adopting renewable energy strategy has picked up in rural areas.

1. Subsistence farming is common and over 80% of the population does it

About 80% of the population of Burkina Faso is engaged in subsistence farming and cotton is the main cash crop. During the summer months between June to September, many of the villages are deserted as people head to the fields to farm.

Alongside cotton, the main agricultural exports are sesame seeds, beans and their delicious mangoes. There are so many mango trees in Burkina Faso that lots of the fruit goes to waste and the country is looking at ways to preserve the mangoes.

Regions of Burkina Faso Map

Burkina Faso is divided into 13 regions which are then divided into 45 provinces and subdivided into 351 communes.

The 13 regions are Boucle du Mouhoun, Cascades, Centre, Centre-Est, Centre-Nord, Centre-Ouest, Centre-Sud, Est, Hauts-Bassins, Nord, Plateau-Central, Sahel, Sud-Ouest. With an area of 46,694 sq. km, Est is the largest region while Centre is the most populous one. Ouagadougou, the national capital city, is also located in the Centre Region.


Burkina Faso’s main exports in the early 21st century included cotton, gold, livestock, sugar, and fruit. Some of its exports are sent to African countries, but others, including cotton and minerals, are exported to countries such as Switzerland and Singapore.

Chief imports include petroleum, chemical products, machinery, and foodstuffs, which mainly come from African countries as well as from China and France. There is a deficit in the balance of payments, largely because of the relatively small amounts of exports, which are not of sufficient value to equal the value of imported materials required for promoting further development.

Foreign Policy

Burkina Faso has maintained close ties with the former colonial power of France, even during periods when the country has had radical leadership. Under Sankara, Burkina Faso focused on the radical camp of international politics, and Cuba and Libya were among the countries that assisted financially. But even before Sankara was overthrown, the course was again oriented to the West, especially France. After Compaore’s first state visit to France in 1993, relations were further strengthened, and Ouagadougou was the site of the Franco-African summit in 1996. After the coup, relations with Ghana were tense for a while, before normalizing. Compaoré established good relations with Togo.

In the civil war in Liberia, Burkina Faso supported rebel leader Charles Taylor, among other things by assisting with arms purchases, and the country did not participate in the West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG until 1997. In 1999, Burkina Faso was accused by Nigeria and Sierra Leone of supporting the Sierra Leonean rebel movement weapons in exchange for illegally mined diamonds. This emerged in a UN report in 2000, which also claimed that Burkina Faso had assisted the Angolan rebel movement UNITA with weapons, despite international sanctions – which was rebuffed by Burmese authorities. Also Guineaaccused Burkina Faso of supporting rebel groups. In 1997, Burkina Faso contributed to the Central African Republic with both mediation and peacekeepers, and the country has also participated in the establishment of a regional intervention force.

In December 1985, there was a brief war between Burkina Faso and Mali due to an old border dispute. After other West African states intervened and brokered, the dispute was brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which issued a ruling in 1986 that both parties agreed, namely that the disputed area should be shared equally between the two countries. A large number of Burkinians are migrant workers on plantations in the Ivory Coast, where there have been occasional contradictions between these and the locals. A failed coup attempt in 2003 must have been supported by the Ivory Coast, which in turn accused Burkina Faso of supporting rebels there.

Arable Land

The World Bank estimated that in 2007, roughly 20% of Burkina Faso's total land area was considered arable. Despite the vast amount of arable land in Burkina Faso, the country is not considered self-sufficient in agriculture. According to the Burkinabe labor department, the most significant section of the state's workforce is employed in the agricultural sector. In 2004, the agriculture sector contributed roughly 30% of the country's gross domestic product. Some of the crops grown in Burkina Faso are considered perennial crops and they cover approximately 13% of the country's total agricultural area. Over Burkina Faso's history, some measures have been taken to improve the country's agricultural industry. One of the measures that the Burkinabe government put in place was to grow the agricultural sector and to construct a canal roughly 711 miles long for irrigation. The canal would link 154 square miles of farms to the Black Volta River. Small-scale farmers owned most of the farms that were linked to the canal with the rest of the farms being owned by the government. Another measure that the Burkinabe government has put in place to grow the farming sector is the introduction of modern farming methods. Some of Burkina Faso's most important crops include cotton, maize, sorghum, and millet. Recently, Burkinabe farmers have also begun growing sugarcane on a large scale.


One of Burkina Faso's most important crops is cotton which is primarily grown for the export market. In 2004, according to official statistics from the Burkinabe government, the nation produced roughly 315,000 tons of cottonseed as well as 210,000 tons of cotton fibers. According to research by the Food and Agricultural Organization cotton in Burkina Faso was likely introduced from two areas either the eastern section of Africa or from India. Before the colonial period, cotton was not a significant crop among the Burkinabe people. Cotton in Burkina Faso gained prominence during the colonial period since the French colonial government realized the benefits that cotton could have to Burkina Faso's growing economy. The French colonial government urged Burkinabe farmers to grow cotton so that they could take advantage of the massive global demand for cotton during the early 20th century. During the colonial times, most of the Burkinabe cotton farmers were exploited. After Burkina Faso gained independence, the government focused on growing the country's cotton industry. During the mid-20 th century, the Burkinabe cotton sector grew dramatically. Due to the close historical ties between Burkina Faso and France, the French government contributed vast sums of money to develop the Burkinabe cotton sector. During the 1980s, cotton growing in Burkina Faso declined sharply due to several factors with the main one being the decline in global cotton prices. Burkina Faso's cotton sector was too rigidly structured to cope with the volatility in the global cotton industry.


Sorghum is one of Burkina Faso's most important subsistence crops since it is the nation's staple food. From 1960 to 2016, sorghum production in Burkina Faso fluctuated greatly. Burkina Faso achieved peak sorghum production in 2010 when the country produced nearly 2,000,000 tons of sorghum. According to estimates from the Burkinabe agriculture ministry, close to 5,800 square miles of land in the nation was dedicated to sorghum growing. Due to the importance of sorghum to the Burkinabe economy, the government has dedicated vast sums of money to develop the industry. One of the significant steps that the government has taken to increase sorghum growing in the country is to fund research into new varieties of cotton.

The numerous development projects are an important economic and social factor. They can be multilateral like those financed by World Bank, United Nations, or the European Union, or they can be initiated by national development agencies. The most important donor countries are France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, the United States, and Japan. Furthermore, hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as charity organizations, churches, town partnerships, and initiatives by concerned groups and individuals are working on various development related issues in the fields of health, education, and poverty relief. Public education campaigns target issues like female excision and the sustained development of natural resources. In the villages, solidarity groups of men, women, and youth form to propose concrete development projects to donors.

Division of Labor by Gender. In most rural areas both women and men work in agriculture. Men are expected to furnish the millet, while women are in charge of all other things. In an urban context, this is translated into the man's responsibility to give "Naã Songo," "the money for sauce." Male and female tasks in rural areas are clearly differentiated. Hunting and butchering is always a male activity while the collection of firewood and water is seen, among other duties, as female tasks. In the urban sector, women are employed in almost all positions, though to a lesser degree than men. Girls in the modern cities are encouraged to pursue higher education and many scholarships are reserved for them.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. A woman's role is considered to be that of a wife and mother a woman in her thirties who is unmarried or childless carries a severe social stigma. A married woman who is childless— barrenness is usually attributed to the women—bears enormous pressure from her husband's family and is likely to be sent away without any material resources. The family head is always a man, who represents the family to the outside world. Nevertheless, women have a good deal of say in domestic and economic matters and they may be successful in commerce or other jobs. Besides her job, a career woman is expected to raise children and to fulfill domestic tasks. She is aided in this by relatives from the village who regularly perform household tasks for urban families.

Largest Ethnic Groups In Burkina Faso


The Mossi people are natives of Burkina Faso and live in the former Upper Volta of the country. They are the largest ethnic group in the country and make up 50.2% of the entire population. They came into existence as a direct descent of the Maprussi people, and their history and establishment of the Mossi kingdom cannot be precisely determined as it had been kept as an oral tradition.


The Fulani people, also known as Fula or Fulbe people constitute approximately 9.4% of the entire population.They are the largest widely spread Muslim ethnic group in Burkina Faso. They are bound together by their common language, culture, traditions, religion, and aim to spread Islam in West Africa. They originated from Northwest Africa and the Middle East who intermarried with the locals in Upper Volta.

The Bobo people constitute 5.9% of the entire c population living in the town of Bobo-Dioulasso and its surrounding areas. They mainly speak the Bobo language as well as Mande language belonging to a neighboring ethnic group of Mande People. Farming and agriculture form part of their day-to-day activities and act as the primary source of income for the Bobo.


The Gurma people living in Burkina Faso are also known as the Gourma or Gourmantche constitute 5.8% of the entire population. They are mainly found in the Fada N’Gourma region in Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, and Niger. They speak the Gurma and Gur Language.


The Mande People is an ethnic group widespread in the western part of Africa in fifteen countries. It forms 5.3% of the entire Burkina Faso’s population and speaks the Mande languages. They are majorly Sunni Islam’s but still adhere to the traditional African beliefs to some extent.


The Senufo people, also known as the Siena, Senefo, Sene, and Bamana, live in the western part of Burkina Faso. They are widely known for their creativity featuring cultural themes and religious beliefs in as much as a large percentage of their population are atheists with only a few following the Muslim’s way of life. They constitute 4.9% of Burkina Faso’s population.


The Gurunsi or Grunshi people are situated at the southern part of Burkina Faso. Their history cannot be precisely known because it has been kept as an oral tradition, but they are believed to have originate from western Sudan. They speak Gur , English, and French. They make up 4.8% of the entire population.

The Lobi people originally came from Ghana and settled in Southern Burkina Faso in 1770 after the Mossi settled in the North. They form 4.7% of Burkina Faso’s population and speak the Lobiri Language.


The Tuareg people inhabit the Sahara desert stretching from southern Libya, southern Algeria, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. They speak the Tuareg languages and are nomadic pastoralist. They constitute 2.5% of the country’s entire population.


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Mossi, also spelled Mosi, also called Moore, people of Burkina Faso and other parts of West Africa, especially Mali and Togo. They numbered some six million at the start of the 21st century. Their language, Moore, belongs to the Gur branch and is akin to that spoken by the Mamprusi and Dagomba of northern Ghana, from whom the Mossi ruling class trace their origin.

The Mossi are sedentary farmers, growing millet and sorghum as staples. Some artisans, such as smiths and leatherworkers, belong to low-status castes.

Mossi society, which is organized on the basis of a feudal kingdom, is divided into royalty, nobles, commoners and, formerly, slaves. Each village is governed by a chief who, in turn, is subordinate to a divisional chief. At the top of the hierarchy is the paramount ruler, the morho naba (“big lord”), whose seat is located at Ouagadougou. Divisional chiefs serve as advisers to the morho naba and theoretically choose his successor. Usually, however, the paramount chief’s eldest son is chosen.

Prior to its modernization during the latter part of French rule and since independence (1960) the Mossi kingdom provided an example of a typical African realm. The king’s elaborate court, in addition to nobles and high officials, contained numerous bodyguards, page boys, and eunuchs his wives lived in special villages, all of whose male inhabitants were eunuchs.

Islam and Christianity are minority religions. The Mossi venerate their ancestors, whose spiritual presence both validates their claims to their land and provides a major mechanism of social control. They also pray to nature deities and propitiate them.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Virginia Gorlinski, Associate Editor.

Watch the video: Only survivor of 1987 Burkina coup relives Thomas Sankaras assassination