Burkina Faso - History
Burkinabé scholars have collected and preserved oral histories of the many small, non-centralized groups that were ignored by early visitors. The history of the area is one of recurring conflict between peoples: on the one hand, people who have inhabited the region for many centuries, and who have preserved little or no trace of their emigration from some other area, and on the other hand, people whose oral histories tell of recent migration, penetrating regions of sparse population to subjugate the earlier settled farmers and to impose themselves as political rulers of large, centralized kingdoms or empires.
Before 1500, the central basin of the Volta Rivers was inhabited by a number of small, essentially leaderless farmer groups that had occupied the land for centuries, but nevertheless were constantly making shifts and adjustments of location in the face of pressures from larger peoples all around them (e.g. 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 was achieved on August 5, 1960. Full independence from the French came on August 5, 1960, with Maurice Yaméogo as the nation’s first president. The first president, Maurice Yameogo, served from 1960 to 1966 when he was accused of corruption and popularly deposed. Four of the six presidents after Yaméogo came to power through military coups. Yameogo resigned in 1966 following continuous worker strikes and handed power over to Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana, who was head of a government of senior army officers. Lamizana remained in power throughout the 1970s, as President of military and then elected governments.
After many years of military rule, General Sangoulé Lamizana, was elected to head a civilian government in 1979 which was soon overthrown. Following more worker strikes, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in 1980. Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from workers’ 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 and Compaore established the National Revolutionary Committee with Sankara as President, and he vowed to "mobilize the masses." But the committee's membership remained secret and was dominated by Marxist-Leninist military officers. Sankara, who led the country from August 1983 until his death on October 15, 1987, was arguably the most influential of Burkina Faso’s presidents. Sankara’s charismatic leadership style, which emphasized self-sufficiency and a lean, efficient government that transferred wealth from urban centers to rural areas, was popular with citizens, and created a sense of hope in the country. In 1984, the country’s name was changed from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso: “Land of the Upright/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 murdered 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 military officers, Major Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingini and Captain Henri Zongo, who had supported Compaore and governed with him up to that point.
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.
Former President Compaore had won the last two presidential elections, held in 1998 and 2005, by wide margins. Former President Compaore resigned on October 31, 2014, following a popular uprising against his efforts to amend the Constitution’s two-term presidential limit. A transition government, led by President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Yacouba Zida, organized elections, held 29 November 2015.
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