U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Burkina Faso is a landlocked country located in the middle of West Africa's "hump." It is geographically in the Sahel--the agricultural region between the Sahara Desert and the coastal rain forests. Most of central Burkina Faso lies on a savanna plateau, 200 meters-300 meters (650 ft.-1,000 ft.) above sea level, with fields, brush, and scattered trees. The largest river is the Mouhoun (Black Volta), which is partially navigable by small craft. Burkina Faso has West Africa's largest elephant population. Game preserves also are home to lions, hippos, monkeys, warthogs, and antelope. Infrastructure and tourism are, however, not well developed. Annual average rainfall varies from about 100 centimeters (40 in.) in the south to less than 25 centimeters (10 in.) in the north and northeast, where hot desert winds accentuate the dryness of the region. The cooler season, November to February, is pleasantly warm and dry (but dusty), with cool evenings. March-June can be very hot. In July-September, the rains bring a 3-month cooler and greener humid season.
Burkina Faso's 13.9 million people belong to two major West African cultural groups--the Voltaic and the Mande (whose common language is Dioula). The Voltaic Mossi make up about one-half of the population. The Mossi claim descent from warriors who migrated to present-day Burkina Faso from Ghana and established an empire that lasted more than 800 years. Predominantly farmers, the Mossi kingdom is still led by the Mogho Naba, whose court is in Ouagadougou.
Burkina Faso is an ethnically integrated, secular state. Most of Burkina's people are concentrated in the south and center of the country, sometimes exceeding 48 per square kilometer (125/sq. mi.). This population density, high for Africa, causes migrations of hundreds of thousands of Burkinabe to Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, many for seasonal agricultural work. These flows of workers are obviously affected by external events; the September 2002 coup attempt in Cote d'Ivoire and the ensuing fighting there have meant that hundreds of thousands of Burkinabe returned to Burkina Faso. A plurality of Burkinabe are Muslim, but most also adhere to traditional African religions. The introduction of Islam to Burkina Faso was initially resisted by the Mossi rulers. Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, comprise about 25% of the population, with their largest concentration in urban areas.
Female genital mutilation, child labor, child trafficking, and social exclusion of accused sorcerers remain serious problems, although the government has taken steps in recent years to combat these phenomena. Workers and civil servants generally have the right to organize unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike for better pay and working conditions. Few Burkinabe have had formal education. Schooling is in theory free and compulsory until the age of 16, but only about 44% of Burkina's primary school-age children are enrolled in primary school due to actual costs of school supplies and school fees and to opportunity costs of sending a child who could earn money for the family to school. The University of Ouagadougou, founded in 1974, was the country's first institution of higher education. The Polytechnical University in Bobo-Dioulasso was opened in 1995.
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 was achieved on August 5, 1960. The first President, Maurice Yameogo, amended the constitution soon after taking office to ban opposition political parties. His government lasted until 1966, when the first of several military coups placed Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana at 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 2 years later by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CSP 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.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
With Compaore alone at the helm, a democratic constitution was approved by referendum in 1991. In December 1991, Compaore was elected President, running unopposed after the opposition boycotted the election. The opposition did participate in the following year's legislative elections, in which the ruling party won a majority of seats.
The government of the Fourth Republic includes a strong presidency, a prime minister, a Council of Ministers presided over by the president, a unicameral National Assembly, and the judiciary. The legislature and judiciary are nominally independent but remain susceptible to executive influence.
Burkina held multiparty municipal elections in 1995 and 2000 and legislative elections in 1997 and 2002. Balloting was considered largely free and fair in all elections. The Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), the governing party, won overwhelming majorities in all the elections until the 2002 legislative election, where the CDP won with a small majority of the 111 seats. The opposition made large gains in the 2002 elections. Elections were held again in May 2007.
Compaore won the November 1998 presidential election for a second 7-year term against two minor-party candidates. But within weeks of Compaore's victory the domestic opposition took to the streets to protest the December 13, 1998 murder of leading independent journalist Norbert Zongo, whose investigations of the death of the President's brother's chauffeur suggested involvement of the Compaore family.
The opposition Collective Against Impunity--led by human rights activist Halidou Ouedraogo and including opposition political parties of Prof. Joseph Ki-Zerbo and (for a while) Hermann Yameogo, son of the first President--challenged Compaore and his government to bring Zongo's murderers to justice and make political reforms. The Zongo killings still resonate in Burkina politics, though not as strongly as in the past. There has been no significant progress on the investigation of the case.
Compaore was re-elected to the presidency for a 5-year term in November 2005. The current cabinet is dominated by Compaore and the CDP. Given the fragile roots of democratic institutions, constitutional checks and balances are seldom effective in practice. The constitution was amended in 2000 to limit the president to a 5-year term, renewable once, beginning with the November 2005 election. The amendment is controversial because it did not make any mention of retroactivity, meaning that President Compaore's eligibility to present himself for the 2005 presidential election is a matter of debate. The Constitutional Court ruled in October 2005 that the amendment was not retroactive, and Compaore went on to win the November 2005 presidential election with over 80% of the vote. International and national electoral observers mostly believed that the election was fair.
Principal Government Officials
Ambassador to the United States--vacant
Burkina Faso maintains an embassy in the United States at 2340 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332-5577).
Next Elections Scheduled
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $424. More than 80% of the population 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, a 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.
Burkina remains committed to the structural adjustment program it launched in 1991, and it has been one of the first beneficiaries of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt-relief and poverty reduction programs for highly indebted poor countries. At least 20% of the government budget is financed from international aid, and the majority of infrastructure investments are externally financed. Growth rates had been more than 5% from the late 1990s through 2003.
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.
Burkina has excellent relations with European aid donors, as well as Libya, Taiwan, and other states which have offered financial aid. France and the European Union, in particular, provide significant aid. Other donors with large bilateral aid programs include Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada. President Compaore is active in subregional diplomacy in West Africa. He was elected in January 2007 to be Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and has acted as a mediator in the political crises in neighboring Togo and Cote d'Ivoire.
U.S. relations with Burkina Faso are good but subject to strains in the past because of the Compaore government's past involvement in arms trading and other sanctions-breaking activity. In addition to regional peace and stability, U.S. interests in Burkina are to promote continued democratization and greater respect for human rights and to encourage sustainable economic development. Although the Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its office in Ouagadougou in 1995, about $18 million annually of USAID funding goes to Burkina's development through non-governmental and regional organizations. The largest is a Food for Peace school lunch program administered by Catholic Relief Services. Burkina has been the site of several development success stories. U.S. leadership in building food security in the Sahel after the 1968-74 drought has been successful in virtually eliminating famine, despite recurrent drought years. River blindness has been eliminated from the region. In both cases, the U.S. was the main donor to inter-African organizations headquartered in Ouagadougou which through sustained efforts have achieved and consolidated these gains. In 2005, Burkina Faso and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) signed a $12 million Threshold Country Program to build schools and increase girls' enrolment rates. In November 2005, the Millennium Challenge Corporation selected Burkina Faso as eligible to submit a proposal for Millennium Challenge Account assistance for fiscal year 2006, making it one of only two countries eligible for threshold as well as compact funding. The Government of Burkina Faso is working closely with MCC staff to finalize its compact submission.
The Peace Corps entered Burkina Faso in 1966. The Peace Corps program was phased out in 1987, but was invited to return to Burkina Faso in 1995 as part of a newly established health project. One year later, the Peace Corps established a secondary education project and in 2003, Peace Corps introduced a small enterprise development project to complement the government's poverty reduction and private sector promotional programs. In 2005, the Government of Burkina Faso asked for assistance to increase the level of girls' access to education, which later became the focus of the Millennium Challenge Corporation's Threshold Compact with Burkina Faso. All Peace Corps Volunteers, regardless of sector, are trained in how to promote awareness on HIV/AIDS and gender and development.
U.S. trade with Burkina is still extremely limited--$220 million in U.S. exports and $600,000 in Burkinabe exports to the U.S. in 2004--but investment possibilities exist, especially in the mining and communications sectors.
Principal U.S. Officials
The U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso is located on 602 Avenue Raoul Follereau in Ouagadougou. Mailing addresses are: International mail: Ambassade des Etats-Unis, 01 B.P. 35, Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso; Mail from the U.S.: Department of State, 2440 Ouagadougou Place, Washington, DC 20521-2440. Tel: (226) 50-30-67-23; fax: (226) 50-31-23-68 or (226) 50-30-38-90. Email address: email@example.com.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Aug. 2007