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Burkina Faso - Introduction

Burkina Faso (buhr-KEE-nuh FAH-soe), literally "Land of Upright Men", is a country of West Africa without access to the sea. After several political changes, on August 4, 1984, on the first anniversary of the Revolution, Upper Volta became Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso is ‘The Homeland of the Proud People’, translated from two local languages - Burkina, meaning ‘physical strength’ or ‘pride’ in Moore, the Mossi language, and Faso, meaning ‘homeland’ or ‘democracy’ in Dioula.

On the African continent, Burkina Faso has a stellar reputation for the arts, including traditional music, dance, singing, mask festivals, and more. Burkina Faso hosts the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou and the International Arts and Crafts Show, two major international events that highlight Burkina Faso as a country devoted to cultivating the arts. Artists and art connoisseurs from all over the world attend these events.

Burkina Faso remains one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 161 out of 169 countries in the 2010 UNDP Human Development Index, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $580. About 80% of the population relies on subsistence agriculture.

The resourceful Burkinabe are grappling with being one of the poorest countries in the world, with a high population density and few natural resources. Over 80% of the population (11,266.393 in 1998) is engaged in subsistence agriculture, highly vulnerable to variations in rainfall. By 1990 only 37% of Burkina Faso’s estimated 1.8 million children aged 7-12 years were able to attend primary school, substantially lower than the average gross enrollment ration of 68.3% for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole (UNESCO 1993).

Ouagadougou [French pronunciation: wagadugu](population 800,000), is located in the heart of the country. In odd-numbered years, ‘Ouaga’, as it is known to locals is the national capital. The country’s second capital, Bobo Dioulasso, lies about 385 kilometers away in the South-west of the country. Bobo, as it's widely known – may be Burkina Faso's second-largest city, but it has small-town charm. The amazing Bobo Dioulasso Grand Mosque is impressive representative of the traditional Sudano-Sahelian architecture.

Burkina Faso consists of an area that was controlled by the Mossi from the 14th century until 1895, when the French took control. It was made part of the Franc Zone and it was named Upper Volta in 1919 after having been marked out from the surrounding territory. It was divided in the 1930s to form 2 states but returned to a single unit in 1947, changes which led to the border disputes with Mali.

As a landlocked country, transport costs are a significant constraint on export growth and economic development. Although progress is evident and GDP growth is relatively high, the economic structure is weak and large deficits are recorded in the fiscal and the current accounts. Around 80% of the population is engaged in (mainly subsistence) agriculture, which is vulnerable to sharp variations in rainfall. The small industrial sector remains dominated by largely unprofitable government-controlled corporations. Moreover, the economy is over-dependent on the export of cotton and gold. As a result, the economy is highly exposed to exogenous factors, including weather, plant diseases and pests and global prices of agricultural products and precious metals.

Upper Volta was one of the most poorly developed countries in the world. Devoid of useful minerals and landlocked, the country is France's forgotten former possession in West Africa. By the 1980s over 90 percent of the country's seven million inhabitants were illiterate. One doctor served approximately 60,000 people. According to UN data, three quarters of Upper Volta's inhabitants lived in conditions of poverty and were hungrey. Development of agriculture, in which the majority of the population is involved, was hindered by a water shortage, poor soil, and antiquated equipment. In the international arena, the country's leaders were trying to strengthen ties with neighbors and other African countries.

The 15 January 2017 terror attack on the capital killed more than 30 people and injured many more. The attack on the luxury Splendid Hotel and Cappucino café was claimed by Al-Mourabitoun, an affiliate of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb based in the Sahel region of northern Mali. Until recently, Burkina Faso had been spared the Islamist violence afflicting nearby countries like Mali and Niger.

In the context of the attacks in Bamako, Ouagadougou and Grand Bassam, the regional terrorist threat to West African countries, including Burkina Faso, has to be taken into account. Increased vigilance in travel is always appropriate. Due to the increasing number of serious incidents in northern Burkina Faso (terrorist attacks on Burkina Faso security forces and attacks on official buildings, assassinations and settlements, threats against teachers, etc.), including the operations of the forces Security and defense, it is strictly recommended not to go to the red zone (border of Mali, especially in Djibo).

Traffic and road conditions in Ouagadougou make driving so difficult and hazardous that most expatriates experience an accident or two during their stay here. In addition to regular car and truck traffic, there is a huge volume of mopeds, pedestrians, bicycles, donkey carts, hand-cranked wheel chairs, and hand-pulled wagons on main thoroughfares. As a result, the average safe speed is 25-30 MPH, making for long commutes around Ouagadougou.

Paved roads connect the largest towns and cities in Burkina Faso, and fairly well-maintained buses service these routes on relatively consistent schedules. Smaller towns and villages are served by “bush taxis,” typically overcrowded and poorly maintained minibuses, which do not normally run on fixed schedules.

Pedestrians, bicyclists, and mopeds haphazardly dash in and out of traffic, often directly in front of oncoming vehicles. Drivers of every type of vehicle selectively obey traffic laws, often engaging in unsafe driving practices. Mopeds have the right-of-way, and operators seem to believe this permits them to drive with complete disregard for their own safety or that of others.

Hazards on both paved and unpaved side roads can be worse than on main thoroughfares. Commercial areas are overcrowded with pedestrians, taxis, trucks, hand carts, innumerable vendors, and even small children begging. On neighborhood roads, drivers may encounter young children at play in front of homes and businesses, dogs scavenging trash piles, and livestock grazing on any available vegetation. Exposed rocks, loose gravel, potholes, broken concrete and tile, and scattered pieces of wood often litter the deeply rutted dirt roads. The streets in the neighborhoods where many expatriates live may be paved, but the asphalt may be crumbling in places, especially at the edges.

Few streets are named, and some street names have changed in recent years, sometimes repeatedly. When navigating the city, it is useful, if not essential, to note landmarks, such as neighborhood pharmacies, specific buildings or permanent signs, and roundabouts. The majority of paved roads do not have adequate markings, which leads to confusion among drivers. Drivers must go well beyond norms of defensive driving here.





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Page last modified: 06-06-2017 18:16:03 ZULU