Located between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa. Primarily known for its multiple droughts and military coups, it is one of the least known countries in Africa. A diverse country with numerous cultures and languages, Burkina Faso is a country worth getting to know. Here are some interesting facts about Burkina Faso.
Facts about Burkina Faso
1. Burkina Faso is the 74th largest country in the world.
Burkina Faso has a total land area of 274,200 km² (105,900 sq mi), which makes it slightly larger than New Zealand or the US State of Colorado.
2. Burkina Faso is landlocked and shares a border with six countries.
Burkina Faso is bordered by Mali (1325 km/823 mi) to the northwest, Niger (622 km/386 mi) to the northeast, Benin (386 km/240 mi) to the southeast, Togo (131 km/81 mi), and Ghana (602 km/374 mi) to the south, and the Ivory Coast (545 km/339 mi) to the southwest.
3. The highest point in Burkina Faso is 749 meters (2,457 ft) above sea level.
Located in the southwest of the country near the Malian border, Mount Tenakourou is the highest point in Burkina Faso.
4. The lowest point in Burkina Faso is 200 meters (656 ft) above sea level.
The Mouhoun (Black Volta) River is the lowest point in Burkina Faso.
5. Burkina Faso is divided into three different climate zones.
The southern half of Burkina Faso is a hot tropical savanna with a short rainy season. Most of the northern half of Burkina Faso experiences a tropical hot semi-arid steppe climate that is typical of the Sahel region. The extreme north of the country bordering the Sahara Desert is arid, hot desert.
6. Before colonization, present-day Burkina Faso was ruled by the Mossi.
Although the Bobo, the Lobi, and the Gurunsi are the earliest known inhabitants of Burkina Faso, the country was ruled by the Mossi who arrived in the region between the 11th to the 13th centuries and ruled until the end of the 19th century.
Calling the land “Mogho”, the Mossi established five independent kingdoms: Tenkodogo, Yatenga, Gourma, Zandoma, and Ouagadougou. During the Mossi rule, various ethnic groups such as the Fula, Birifor, Dyan, and Dyula arrived in successive waves.
7. Burkina Faso used to be known as Upper Volta until 1984.
The name Upper Volta stems from Burkina Faso’s location along the upper reaches of the Volta River. The river’s three tributaries are called the Black, White, and Red Volta.
8. Burkina Faso is a former French colony.
The decline of the Mossi Kingdoms at the end of the 19th-century gave France the opportunity to conquer and occupy the land. The kingdoms became a French protectorate in 1896. After the First World War, the French carved out the French Upper Volta colony as a separate constituent territory from French West Africa.
In 1947, Upper Volta became an overseas territory of the French Union, with a territorial assembly of its own. At the end of 1958, the colony was transformed into an autonomous republic known as the Republic of Upper Volta within the French Community.
9. Burkina Faso (Republic of Upper Volta) declared independence from France in 1960.
On 5 August 1960, the Republic of Upper Volta attained full independence from France, and Maurice Yaméogo was appointed its first president.
10. A person from Burkina Faso is known as a Burkinabé.
One of the important facts about Burkina Faso is that a native of the country is known as a Burkinabé (singular and plural).
11. Burkina Faso doesn’t observe daylight-saving time.
Daylight saving has never been observed in Burkina Faso.
12. The currency of Burkina Faso is the West African CFA franc (XOA).
The West African CFA franc has been the currency of Burkina Faso since 1945 when it was still a French colony.
13. Burkina Faso is a semi-presidential republic.
Burkina Faso is a semi-presidential republic, whereby the President is the head of state. The prime minister is the head of government and is appointed by the president with the approval of the legislature. He is responsible for recommending a cabinet for appointment by the president.
14. Burkina Faso has seen a lot of military coups.
Often regarded as Africa’s coup capital, military coups have long been part of Burkina Faso’s history. In its relatively young history as an independent nation, Burkina Faso has seen a total of seven successful coups and a handful of failed plots. There were four successful coups in seven years in the 1980s alone!
15. Burkina Faso is home to a smorgasbord of ethnic groups.
One of the fascinating Burkina Faso facts is how ethnically diverse the nation’s population is. There are over 60 different ethnic groups in Burkina Faso.
About half of the Burkinabé identify as Mossi. The Mossi are mostly farmers and live in central portions of the country. The remainder of the Burkinabé are composed of the Fulani, Gurma, Bobo, Gurunsi, Senufo, Bissa, Lobi, Dagara, Tuareg, and Dioula ethnic groups.
16. French is the official language of Burkina Faso.
Given that Burkina Faso is a former French colony, it comes as no surprise that French is the official language of Burkina Faso. French is used in print, in the media, in the judicial system, and in public services. It serves as a lingua franca among the various ethnic groups.
17. A wide assortment of regional languages are spoken in Burkina Faso.
Over 60 different languages are spoken in Burkina Faso. Mòoré, the language of the Mossi people is spoken by about half of the country’s population. Fula, Gourmanché, Bambara, Bissa, Bwamu, Dagara, San, Lobiri, Lyélé, Bobo, Sénoufo are some of the other languages spoken in Burkina Faso.
18. Burkina Faso translates as “Land of the Honest (Incorruptible) People”.
In 1984, Burkina Faso changed its name from the Republic of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso. The words “Burkina” and “Faso” both stem from different languages spoken in the country: “Burkina” comes from Mòoré and means “honest” or “honest people”, while “Faso” comes from the Dyula language and means “fatherland” (lit. “father’s house”).
19. Islam is the most popular religion in Burkina Faso.
About 60–65% of Burkina Faso’s population practices Islam. Members of the Fulani and Dioula ethnic groups are predominantly Muslim. The majority of all the nation’s Muslims are Sunnis, but minority groups belong to the Shia, Tidjania, and Wahhabite sects.
Christians constitute the second biggest religious group in Burkina Faso and make up 20–25% of the population. The remainder of the country’s practice traditional indigenous religions exclusively or principally.
20. Burkina Faso was home to the “African Che Guevara”.
Thomas Sankara, who ruled Burkina Faso for four years from 1983, is often referred to as the “African Che Guevara” due to his radical left-wing policies and mysterious death in 1987. Sankara was a strident anti-colonialist and Marxist who abhorred opulence by African despots that led their countries to be more entangled in the yokes of neocolonialism.
Sankara profoundly changed Burkina Faso’s political and social landscape while he was in power. He introduced massive reforms in the education, health, social, agriculture, and environmental sectors. In 1984, as part of his revolutionary moves, he renamed the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso. Being an accomplished guitarist, he also wrote Burkina Faso’s national anthem himself.
Sankara’s government oversaw many public works to build roads, schools, and houses. He also curtailed the privileges of the country’s elite, civil servants were dismissed or were forced to give parts of their salary for development projects.
Unfortunately, Sankara’s totalitarian policies left him politically isolated, and on 15 October 1987 by the troops of his old friend and colleague, Blaise Compaoré. His brutal slaying made him a martyr and he remains an idol to many in Burkina Faso and other African nations.
21. The capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou (pronounced Wah-Gah-Doo-Goo).
The gloriously named capital of Burkina Faso is located in the central part of the country. Written as “Wogodogo” in the Mòoré language, it literally means “You are welcome here at home with us”. Ouagadougou is also Burkina Faso’s largest city and commercial hub.
22. Football is the most popular sport in Burkina Faso.
Like in most of Africa, football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Burkina Faso. Unfortunately, the country’s men’s national football team has tasted very little success at the international level and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
23. Since the 1970s, Burkina Faso has experienced chronic droughts.
This is primarily due to Burkina Faso’s location in the Sahel region of West Africa. The Sahel is a savanna region increasingly afflicted by soil erosion, low rainfall, surface temperature changes, land degradation, human-induced climate change, and desertification.
24. The median age in Burkina Faso is just 17.9, making it among the fifteen youngest countries in the world.
This may be explained by Burkina Faso’s high fertility rate. According to the CIA World Factbook, an average of 4.39 children are born per woman in the nation.
25. The national symbol of Burkina Faso is the white stallion.
Burkina Faso’s national symbol is the white stallion, which can be traced to the legendary princess Yennenga. Yennenga is considered the mother of the Mossi people of Burkina Faso and she had a beautiful white stallion named Ouédraogo.
Burkina Faso’s coat of arms depicts a horse, the national football team is nicknamed Les Etalons (“The Stallions”) and the most widespread surname is Ouédraogo (meaning stallion). The Burkinabé love for horses can be summed up by a common saying among the Fulani people: “a horse is your wife, your car, your colleague, your best friend.”
26. The national flag of Burkina Faso has three colors.
The national flag of Burkina Faso is formed by two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and green (bottom), with a yellow five-pointed star resting in the center. The flag was adopted in 1984.
The three colors of Burkina Faso’s flag derive from the popular Pan-African colors of the Ethiopian flag, reflecting both a break with the country’s colonial past and its unity with other African ex-colonies. The red honors the country’s revolution while the green symbolizes the abundance of its agricultural and natural riches. The yellow star placed over the red and green stripes is the guiding light of the revolution.
27. Burkina Faso has never won a medal at the Olympics.
Despite having participated in the Summer Olympics since 1972, Burkina Faso has never won a medal. The nation has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
28. Burkina Faso is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Burkina Faso are the Ruins of Loropéni, the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex, and the Ancient ferrous metallurgy sites of the country.
29. Burkina Faso suffers from a low literacy rate.
Only about 40-45% of Burkina Faso’s population is literate, making it one of the least literate countries in the world.
30. Burkina Faso is home to Africa’s largest film festival.
One of the more intriguing facts about Burkina Faso is that it is home to Africa’s largest film festival. The biennial (held in odd-numbered years) Fespaco film festival has taken place in Ouagadougou since 1969. Fespaco seeks to promote African filmmakers and facilitates the screening of all African films.
Over the years, Fespaco has grown in stature and renown. Around 450 screenings take place over the week and the festival attracts up to 100,000 visitors.
31. Riz gras is the national dish of Burkina Faso.
Riz gras is French for ‘Fat Rice’ and this one-pot meal is basically meat and rice with a stewed mix of chilies and tomatoes. It is usually served at celebrations and festivals.
32. Burkina Faso hosts the largest craft market in Africa.
The biennial International Art and Craft Fair in Ouagadougou, better known by its French name, SIAO (Le Salon International de L Artisanat de Ouagadougou) is the largest craft market in Africa.
33. Burkina Faso drives on the right.
Vehicles in Burkina Faso drive on the right side of the road.
34. Capital punishment is illegal in Burkina Faso.
Although the last execution in the country took place in 1988, Burkina Faso abolished the death penalty in 2018. However, it is still retained for war crimes.
35. Burkina Faso is the largest producer of cotton in Africa.
Cotton is one of the mainstays of the country’s economy. Due to its importance, local farmers refer to it as their “white gold”.