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.

Culture

People

Burkina Faso, which occupies an area about half the size of France, is extremely diverse, with its 18.5 million people scattered among some 60 ethnic groups. The largest of these is the Mossi, who are primarily concentrated in the central plateau area.

Important groups in the south include the Bobo, Senoufo, Lobi and Gourounsi. In the Sahel areas of the north are the Hausa, Fula, Bella and Tuareg.

Around 75% of Burkinabés live in rural areas.

Religion

An old local joke says that 50% of Burkinabés are Muslim, 50% are Christian – and 100% are animist. In reality, the actual percentages for Islam and Christianity are about 60% and 23%, respectively, but most people do retain traditional beliefs.

The remaining are animists, who have not been converted or adopted Christianity or Islam. This traditional religion attributes a living soul to plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomena, and involves ritual sacrifice of animals (such as chickens or cows) to ancestors.

Arts

Burkina Faso has a vibrant contemporary arts and crafts scene: painting, sculpture, woodcarving, bronze and brass metalwork and textiles are all represented. Artistic works are exhibited in Ouagadougou's galleries, cultural centres and collective workshops. And there's no shortage of artisan stalls and craft shops selling masks and leatherwork in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso.

The Burkinabés live and breathe music: it's the mainstay of traditional celebrations, with djembe (drum), balafon (a kind of xylophone) and flute the main instruments. Modern musicians draw on traditional influences from home and the rest of the continent, especially Mali, Congo and Côte d'Ivoire, as well as Jamaican reggae, jazz, rock and rap. You'll find numerous bars in Ouaga and Bobo offering live music several nights a week.

Burkina Faso also has a thriving film industry that receives considerable stimulation from the biennial Fespaco film festival. Two Burkinabé filmmakers who have won prizes and developed international reputations are Idrissa Ouédraogo, who won the 1990 Grand Prix at Cannes for Tilä, and Gaston Kaboré, whose film Buud Yam was the 1997 winner of the Étalon d’Or.

Environment

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.