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Burkina Faso country profile

Map Burkina Faso

Landlocked Burkina Faso, a poor country even by West African standards, has suffered from recurring droughts and military coups.

It is a former French colony and gained independence in 1960 as Upper Volta. It has significant gold reserves, but the country faces domestic and foreign concerns about the state of its economy and human rights.

In 2022, with at least 10,000 dead and more than two million displaced so far in a protracted jihadist insurgency facing Burkina Faso from neighboring Mali, the military seized power in two coups in an attempt to crack down on the jihadists.

The coups led to the country’s suspension from the African Union and Ecowas regional group.

In 2023, it expelled a small French force, cut military ties with France and said it would develop ties with Russia. The government has refused to take on Wagner mercenaries – active in Mali and the Central African Republic – but says it will use “Russian instructors” to train its soldiers.

  • Capital: Ouagadougou

  • Area: 274,200 square kilometers

  • Population: 21.9 million

  • languages: Frans, Mossi, Bissa, Dyula, Fula

  • Life expectancy: 61 years old (men) 62 years old (women)

Chairman: Ibrahim Traore

President Ibrahim Traore

President Ibrahim Traore

Captain Ibrahim Traore seized power in a coup d’état in September 2022, deposing his predecessor Lieutenant Colonel Damiba, who himself had overthrown President Marc Kabore in a previous coup d’état in January 2022. Traore was officially inaugurated as president in October 2022.

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The rationale Traore gave for the coup was Damiba’s perceived inability to deal with the ongoing Islamist insurgency in the north of the country. It was for the same reason that Damiba ousted Kabore: the government’s failure to stop the jihadist groups operating in northern Burkina Faso.

Mr Kabore was Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament under former President Compaoré before winning the 2015 and 2020 presidential elections.

But like his neighbours, he found his domestic agenda undermined by the jihadist insurgency.

Newspaper seller in Burkina Faso

Newspaper seller in Burkina Faso

Some important events in the history of Burkina Faso:

Great Mosque of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

The 19th century Great Mosque of Bobo-Dioulasso: the majority of the country’s population is Muslim

3600-2600 BC – Agricultural settlements established in the region.

800-700 BC – Smelting and production of iron.

3rd-13th century AD – Bura culture: An Iron Age civilization centered around the valley of the lower reaches of the River Niger in Niger and Burkina Faso.

circa 1000-1896 – Mossi Kingdoms or Mossi Empire: A group of kingdoms in Burkina Faso that dominate the Upper Volta river region. The largest Mossi kingdom is that of Ouagadougou.

circa 1700 – Mossi kingdoms increase their regional economic and military power, with important ties to the Fula kingdoms and the Mali empire.

1896 – France invades and makes Burkina Faso a French protectorate. In 1898 France completes the conquest of the area.

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1898 – The Franco-British convention creates the modern borders of Burkina Faso.

1915-1917 – Volta-Bani War: An anti-colonial uprising in modern Burkina Faso and Mali. At its peak, the rebels muster 15,000 to 20,000 fighters. After initial setbacks, the French army suppresses the revolt.

1919 – France creates French Upper Volta and separates the current territory of Burkina Faso from Upper Senegal and Niger.

1932 – After unsuccessful attempts to promote cotton as an export crop, the colony is dissolved and divided between the French colonies of Ivory Coast, French Sudan and Niger.

1947 – After intense anti-colonial agitation after World War II, France reverses its earlier decision and revives the colony of Upper Volta.

1958 – Upper Volta gains self-government and joins the Franco-African community.

1960 – Upper Volta becomes completely independent with Maurice Yaméogo as president.

1966 – Military coup deposes Yaméogo, suspends the constitution and establishes a military government led by Lieutenant Colonel Sangoulé Lamizana.

1976 – New constitution provides for a four-year transition period to civilian rule. Lamizana remains in power.

1978 – Sangoulé Lamizana is re-elected in public elections.

1980 – Colonel Saye Zerbo overthrows President Lamizana in a bloodless coup and establishes a military government.

1982 – Zerbo is overthrown by Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CPS), ushering in a period of unrest and power struggle.

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Former President of Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara, also known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”, seized power in 1983 and attempted sweeping reforms. He was killed in a coup led by his successor Blaise Compaoré

1983 – Power struggle between factions in the CPS leads to another coup. Captain Thomas Sankara comes to power and begins a series of reforms, including nationalization of key industries, mass vaccinations, infrastructure improvements, women’s rights advancement, and anti-desertification projects. His government focuses on anti-imperialism and rejects foreign aid.

1984 – Upper Volta renamed Burkina Faso.

1987 – Sankara is killed in a coup staged by Blaise Compaoré, who said one of the reasons for the coup was that Sankara had endangered foreign relations with former colonial power France and neighboring Ivory Coast. He reverses Sankara’s earlier economic policies.

1990 – Compaoré implements limited democratic reforms.

2014 – President Compaoré resigns after massive protests against plans to extend his rule. A transitional government is in charge.

2015 – Attempted coup by an army unit fails and elections are held.

2016 – 30 people killed in terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou: The attack marks the beginning of an Islamic insurgency in northern and eastern Burkina Faso by jihadist groups.

2022 – Two military coups in one year: A coup in January led by Lieutenant Colonel Damiba seizes power and deposes President Kaboré. He was deposed in September by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who said the second coup was necessary because Damiba was unable to face the Islamist uprising.

2023 – Burkina Faso expels some 400 French special forces who sever military relations with France. It says it will develop military ties with Russia to fight the jihadists, but denies hiring Wagner mercenaries.

A woman rides a motorcycle in Ouagadougou

Burkina Faso has significant reserves of gold, manganese, copper and limestone

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