The history of Burkina Faso is largely the history of the ancient Mossi Kingdom. Various Mossi states were built up about the 14th century by peoples migrating from the north of modern Ghana. They evolved a strong administrative system and a tradition of divine kingship, which enabled them to prevent their incorporation by any of the Sudanic empires. The kingdom of Songhai, however, conquered the Mossi.
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 on August 5, 1960. The first President, Maurice Yameogo, amended the constitution soon after taking office.His government lasted until 1966, when the first of several military coups placed Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana as 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 (CPS). Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CPS 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.
More than 80% of the population in Burkina Faso 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, 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.
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.
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, groundnuts, 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's exploitable natural resources are limited, although deposits of manganese, zinc, and gold have attracted the interest of international mining firms.
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 now 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.
Below is an analysis of Burkina Faso according to the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal
Category: Mostly Unfree
Total Area: 274,200 sq. km
GDP: $ 3.3 billion
GDP growth rate: 4.6%
GDP per capita: $281
Major exports: cotton, livestock, gold
Exports of goods and services: $403.3 million
Major export trading partners: France 45.3%, Ivory Coast 9.2%, Indonesia 5.0%, Mali 4.1%
Major imports: petroleum goods, foodstuffs, capital goods
Imports of goods and services: $860.2 million
Major import trading partner: France 19.6%, Ivory Coast 18.8%, Japan 9.3%, Germany 6.0%
Foreign direct investment (net): $7 million
2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
Comment on this article!