Burkina Faso Today
In November 2015 former prime minister Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, a French-educated banker who identifies as a social democrat, became president. His platform aimed to reduce youth unemployment and to improve education and health care, with free health care provided for children under six.
But Burkina's relative stability was profoundly shaken in January 2016, when Islamist militants attacked a hotel and cafe in Ouagadougou. Twenty-nine people died, several of them foreigners. This has affected the rate of visitors to the country, leading to closures of businesses dependent on tourism.
Burkina ranks 181st out of 187 countries on the UN's Human Development Index. The economy remains overly reliant on cotton exports, and a recent gold rush – which has seen a huge increase in illegal mining – has increased the country's exposure to market fluctuations. Socially, Burkina's biggest challenges are to improve access to education (the child literacy rate remains under 30%) and address chronic food insecurity.
Landlocked Burkina Faso’s terrain ranges from the harsh desert and semidesert of the north to the woodland and savannah of the green southwest. Around Banfora, rainfall is heavier and forests thrive alongside irrigated sugar-cane and rice fields; it’s here that most of Burkina Faso’s meagre 13% of arable land is found. The country’s dominant feature, however, is the vast central laterite plateau of the Sahel, where hardy trees and bushes thrive.
Burkina's former name, Haute Volta (Upper Volta), referred to its three major rivers – the Black, White and Red Voltas, known today as the Mouhoun, Nakambé and Nazinon Rivers. All flow south into the world’s second-largest artificial lake, Lake Volta, in Ghana.