The Fascinating History of Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso 1


Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, gained independence from France in 1960. The country has a long and rich history, which encompasses various empires, kingdoms, and colonialism.

Pre-colonization era

The territory of present-day Burkina Faso was initially inhabited by various ethnic groups that had their separate kingdoms and empires. The Mossi Empire was the most significant and developed a powerful centralized government, which lasted from around 1100 to 1896.

The empire was composed of several regional kingdoms, such as the Yatenga Kingdom, the Ouagadougou Kingdom, and the Tenkodogo Kingdom, among others.

The Mossi Empire’s economic activities were based on agriculture and trade, and its society was organized around castes and age grades. There were also animist beliefs and Islam’s spread’s gradual adoption, which became dominant in the area by the 15th century.

French colonialism

In 1895, the French established a protectorate over the region, which they called Upper Volta. The colony’s name was derived from the three significant rivers that flow through the area: the Black Volta, White Volta, and Red Volta.

The French colonial administration gradually introduced Western institutions, including a judicial system, an education system, and a healthcare system. The region’s primary cash crop, peanuts, was also developed and exported to France.

During World War II, Burkinabe soldiers fought for both the French and British armies. Burkina Faso became a member of the French Community, which was led by France, in 1958.

Independence and political instability

Burkina Faso gained independence from France on August 5, 1960, under the leadership of Maurice Yaméogo. The country’s name was changed from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “land of upright people” in the local Mooré and Dioula languages.

The post-independence era was marked by political instability, with many changes in government and coup d’états. In 1966, Yaméogo was ousted in a bloodless coup led by Sangoulé Lamizana, who established a military government.

Lamizana ruled the country for 14 years, and his government oversaw significant economic and social changes, including infrastructure development and agricultural reform. Nevertheless, his government’s failure to provide basic social services and his perceived corruption led to his overthrow in a popular uprising in 1980.

Thomas Sankara era

In 1983, Captain Thomas Sankara took over the government in a coup and instituted a revolutionary government. Sankara’s government was characterized by its commitment to social justice and progressive politics.

Sankara launched a radical program to improve the country’s socioeconomic conditions, including land reform, women’s rights, reforestation, and a campaign against corruption. He also renamed the country Burkina Faso, and the capital was named Ouagadougou.

Sankara’s government was popular among Burkinabe people, but his radical policies and anti-colonial stance made him unpopular with France and other Western powers. In 1987, he was deposed in a coup led by his former ally, Blaise Compaoré, who went on to govern the country for 27 years.

Contemporary era

Under Compaoré’s rule, Burkina Faso remained a relatively stable country, despite several protests and uprisings. Compaoré, who was initially seen as a reformer, gradually became authoritarian and corrupt, leading to widespread discontent.

In October 2014, protests erupted in Burkina Faso over Compaoré’s plans to change the constitution to extend his rule. The protests led to widespread violence, and Compaoré resigned on October 31, 2014, after 27 years in power.

A transitional government was established, and in November 2015, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was elected president in the first free and fair elections since 1978. Burkina Faso has faced significant security challenges in recent years, including attacks by Islamist militants and inter-communal conflicts. The government is working to address these challenges and improve the country’s stability and development.


Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, is located in West Africa. The name Burkina Faso means ‘Land of the Upright People’ or ‘Land of the Honest People.’ The country has a rich history that dates back to the 11th century. The Mossi people were the first to establish a powerful empire in Burkina Faso. The Mossi people were skilled farmers and traders, and they were a dominant force in the area for centuries.

The Mossi Empire

The Mossi Empire was founded in the 11th century and lasted until the 19th century. The empire was known for its strong military and political power. The Mossi people were skilled farmers and traders, and their economy was based on agriculture.

The Mossi Empire consisted of several kingdoms, each with its own king. The Mossi kings were known for their ability to unite their people and to establish a centralized government. The Mossi kings were also known for their military prowess, and they were able to defend their territory against invading armies.

The French Colony

In the late 19th century, the French established a colony in Burkina Faso. The French gained control of the area after defeating the Mossi Empire. The French introduced new technologies, such as railroads and telegraph lines, which helped to modernize the country.

The French also introduced a new system of government, which was based on European models. The French established a system of indirect rule, which allowed them to control the country through local chiefs and leaders.

The French colony of Upper Volta gained independence in 1960, and the country was renamed Burkina Faso in 1984.

Precolonial Era

Before the arrival of the French, Burkina Faso was made up of several independent kingdoms and tribes. These kingdoms were often in conflict with each other.

The Kingdom of Ouagadougou

The Kingdom of Ouagadougou was one of the most powerful kingdoms in the region. The kingdom was founded in the 15th century and lasted until the arrival of the French in the late 19th century.

The Kingdom of Ouagadougou was known for its strong military and political power. The king of Ouagadougou was considered to be the highest authority in the region. The kingdom was also known for its skilled craftspeople and artists.

The Kingdom of Dagomba

The Kingdom of Dagomba was located in the northern part of Burkina Faso. The kingdom was founded in the 13th century and lasted until the arrival of the French in the late 19th century.

The Kingdom of Dagomba was known for its skilled soldiers and its ability to provide protection to its people. The kingdom was also known for its skill in ironworking and agriculture.

Independence and Postcolonial Era

Burkina Faso gained independence from France in 1960. After gaining independence, the country struggled to establish a stable government and economy.

Thomas Sankara

In 1983, Captain Thomas Sankara took power in Burkina Faso. Sankara was a Marxist and believed in the importance of social welfare programs and the establishment of a strong national identity.

Sankara implemented several reforms, including policies to combat corruption, reform education, and promote women’s rights. Sankara also changed the name of the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso.

Sankara’s government was popular with the people, but he faced opposition from powerful groups within the country. In 1987, Sankara was killed in a coup d’état led by his former friend and colleague, Blaise Compaoré.

Blaise Compaoré

Blaise Compaoré took power after the death of Thomas Sankara. Compaoré ruled Burkina Faso for over 27 years, and his government was marked by political repression and corruption.

During his time in power, Compaoré was able to maintain stability in the country, but he faced increasing opposition from the people. In 2014, Compaoré was forced to resign after mass protests and a military coup.

Since 2014, Burkina Faso has struggled to establish a stable government and to combat a growing insurgency in the northern part of the country. The current government is working to establish peace and stability in the country and to address issues of poverty and inequality.

Key Figures

Burkina Faso has a long and complex history, and several key figures have played a significant role in shaping the country’s past and present. Here are some of the most important figures in Burkina Faso’s history:

Samori Ture

Samori Ture was a powerful ruler in West Africa during the late 19th century. He was the founder of the Wassoulou Empire, which spanned parts of what is now Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast. Ture was known for his military expertise and his ability to unite various ethnic and religious groups under his rule. He resisted French colonialism and fought several wars against the French, but he was eventually captured and exiled.

Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara was a Burkinabe military officer and revolutionary who served as the country’s president from 1983 until his assassination in 1987. Sankara is often referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara” for his socialist ideology and his efforts to transform Burkina Faso into a self-sufficient and socially just nation. During his presidency, Sankara implemented several groundbreaking policies, including land reform, education and healthcare initiatives, and a campaign to empower women. He also spoke out against neocolonialism and advocated for pan-Africanism.

Blaise Compaoré

Blaise Compaoré was a military officer who served as Burkina Faso’s president from 1987 until 2014. Compaoré came to power in a coup that overthrew Thomas Sankara, his former friend and ally. During his presidency, Compaoré was criticized for political repression, corruption, and his close ties to France. However, he also oversaw a period of relative stability and economic growth in Burkina Faso. Compaoré was forced to resign in 2014 following mass protests against his attempts to change the country’s constitution to extend his term in office.

Roch Marc Christian Kaboré

Roch Marc Christian Kaboré is Burkina Faso’s current president, having been in office since 2015. Kaboré is a longtime politician who previously served as the country’s prime minister and as the president of the National Assembly. He came to power in the wake of the popular uprising that ousted Blaise Compaoré. During his presidency, Kaboré has faced numerous challenges, including a rise in jihadist attacks and intercommunal violence, as well as economic and social issues.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela may not have been a Burkinabe politician, but he played a significant role in Burkina Faso’s history nonetheless. As the president of South Africa, Mandela was an ally to many African liberation movements, including Burkina Faso’s. He visited the country in 1997 to meet with Blaise Compaoré and to thank Burkina Faso for its support for the anti-apartheid movement. Mandela’s visit was hugely popular in Burkina Faso, and he remains a revered figure in the country to this day.

Brief Overview

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country located in West Africa. It is home to numerous ethnic groups, each with their own unique cultural practices and traditions. The country became a French protectorate in the late 19th century, and later gained its independence in 1960. Since then, Burkina Faso has faced political instability, coups, and frequent changes in government. However, in recent years, efforts have been made to promote stability and economic growth in the country.

Social Context

The population of Burkina Faso is estimated to be around 20 million people. The largest ethnic group is the Mossi, who make up about 40% of the population. Other major ethnic groups include the Fulani, Bobo, and Gurunsi. French is the official language of Burkina Faso, but many different languages are spoken throughout the country.

Socially, Burkina Faso has struggled with issues such as poverty, illiteracy, and access to healthcare. The country is one of the poorest in the world, with about 40% of the population living below the poverty line. Additionally, Burkina Faso has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, with only about 36% of the population able to read and write.

Despite these challenges, Burkina Faso has a vibrant cultural scene. Music, dance, and storytelling are important parts of many ethnic groups’ traditions. The country is also home to several festivals, such as the FESPACO film festival, which celebrates African cinema.

Cultural Context

Burkina Faso is known for its diverse cultural heritage. The Mossi people, for example, have a long history of metalworking and weaving. The Bobo people are known for their wood carving and pottery. Traditional masks and sculptures are also important cultural artifacts in Burkina Faso.

Religion is also an important part of Burkina Faso’s cultural landscape. The majority of the population identifies as Muslim, but there are also significant Christian and animist communities. Religious beliefs and practices often influence daily life and social customs in Burkina Faso.

One unique aspect of Burkina Faso’s culture is the institution of the “big man.” This refers to a man who has achieved wealth and power, and is able to use his resources to support his community. The big man is expected to be generous and provide for others, and in exchange, he receives respect and influence in his community.

Political Context

Since gaining independence in 1960, Burkina Faso has experienced a number of political upheavals. The country has undergone multiple coups and changes in government, leading to frequent instability and violence.

In 2014, President Blaise Compaoré, who had been in power for 27 years, was forced to resign amidst popular protests. After his departure, a transitional government was put in place, and elections were held in 2015. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was elected president, and has since worked to promote stability and economic growth in Burkina Faso.

However, the country continues to face political challenges. In recent years, Burkina Faso has experienced a rise in extremist violence, particularly in the northern regions. This has led to concerns about the government’s ability to maintain security and stability.


Burkina Faso is a country with a rich cultural heritage and a diverse population. Despite facing significant social and economic challenges, the country’s people continue to celebrate their traditions and work towards a better future. While political instability and violence remain concerns, recent efforts to promote stability and economic growth offer hope that Burkina Faso can overcome its challenges and thrive in the years to come.

Impact and Significance

Burkina Faso has had a significant impact on West Africa and the continent as a whole. It is a landlocked country located in the heart of West Africa and has a rich history that has shaped its present-day sociopolitical and economic landscape.

Pre-Colonial Era

During the pre-colonial era, Burkina Faso was made up of several kingdoms and empires, such as the Mossi Empire, the Gurma Kingdom, and the Lobi Kingdom. These empires were known for their agricultural practices, trade routes, and military prowess. They were also known for their art, music, and festivals, which remain a part of Burkina Faso’s cultural heritage today.


Burkina Faso was colonized by the French in the late 1800s as part of their desire to control West Africa. The French implemented a colonial system that exploited Burkina Faso’s resources, labor, and land. The indigenous people were forced to work on plantations, mines, and railway projects, and their land was taken away from them. The French also introduced Christianity and Western education, which had a significant impact on the country’s culture and identity.

Independence and Political Instability

Burkina Faso gained independence from France in 1960, and Maurice Yaméogo became the country’s first president. However, political instability defined the country’s early years of independence. Yaméogo was overthrown in a military coup in 1966, and a series of coups and counter-coups followed, leading to the rise of military rulers such as Sangoulé Lamizana, Saye Zerbo, and Blaise Compaoré.

Thomas Sankara

One of the most significant figures in Burkina Faso’s history is Thomas Sankara. Sankara was a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who became president in a military coup in 1983. He implemented policies that aimed to empower the poor, such as land reform, women’s rights, and free education and healthcare. Sankara also changed the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “the land of the upright people.”

Sankara’s regime was short-lived, however, as he was assassinated in a coup led by Blaise Compaoré in 1987. Sankara’s legacy remains significant in Burkina Faso and across Africa, as he is seen as an icon of anti-imperialism, pan-Africanism, and social justice.

Drought and Famine

Burkina Faso has also faced numerous environmental and humanitarian challenges. The country has been affected by droughts and famines throughout its history, which have had a significant impact on the population. In the 1970s and 1980s, droughts led to widespread famine, and hundreds of thousands of people died. The government and international organizations have implemented various programs to address food insecurity and support agriculture in Burkina Faso.

Economic Development

Burkina Faso’s economy has also undergone significant changes over the years. The country is one of the poorest in the world, with a high poverty rate and low levels of human development. However, Burkina Faso has made progress in recent years, with economic growth averaging around 6% since the early 2000s. The government has implemented policies to support agriculture, mining, and infrastructure development, and international aid and investment also play a role in the country’s economic development.

Recent Political Developments

Burkina Faso has experienced political upheaval in recent years. In 2014, long-time President Blaise Compaoré was overthrown in a popular uprising, and a transitional government was established. In 2015, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was elected as the country’s new president, and his government has focused on improving governance, increasing security, and promoting economic growth. However, Burkina Faso continues to face challenges such as terrorism, environmental degradation, and food insecurity.

Overall, Burkina Faso’s impact and significance stem from its rich history and its struggles and triumphs over adversity. Its cultural heritage, political leaders, environmental challenges, and economic development are all part of what makes Burkina Faso a unique and important country in West Africa and the world.

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