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What Should I Know About Burkina Faso?

Burkina Faso is a country in Western Africa, and shares borders with Mali, Niger, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
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  • Written By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 August 2014
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Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, is a landlocked country located in Western Africa, sharing borders with Mali, Niger, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Most of the country is savannah, with three main rivers running through it: the Mouhoun River, the Nakambé River and the Nazinon River, formerly known as the Black, White, and Red Volta, respectively.

Hunter-gatherers may have lived in the area as early as 12000 BCE, with various people groups and governments following, including the Songhai Empire in the 1400's and 1500's. In 1896, the Mossi kingdom of Ouagadougou fell to the French and was made a French protectorate, becoming a colony shortly thereafter.

Burkina Faso achieved full independence from France in 1960. For the next two decades, the country underwent repeated military coups, with Captain Thomas Sankara becoming president in 1983. Another coup occurred in 1987, resulting in Sankara being killed and President Blaise Compaore gaining power in 1987. When multiparty elections were held in the 1990's, Compaore continued to win, still holding office as of 2007.

With a tropical climate, Burkina Faso has hot, wet summers and warm, dry winters. Most of the country is flat, with some hills to the west and southwest. Prone to recurrent droughts, lack of water, desertification, deforestation, and overgrazing are damaging the agriculture that is a key part of Burkina Faso's economy. One of the lowest GDPs in the world, Burkina Faso has a per capital income of $1200 US Dollars.

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Many citizens of Burkina Faso, called Burkinabe, work as seasonal farm laborers in neighboring countries. Recently, their employment has been disrupted by political conditions in Cote d'Ivoire and the northern part of Ghana. According to the United Nations Development Program Report, the Burkinabe are the most illiterate of any country in the world — with a literacy rate of under 13%.

In 2007, the population of Burkina Faso numbered over 14 million people; the country has a high mortality rate due to AIDS and an average life expectancy of less than 50 years. The AIDS epidemic seems to be declining in this country, however, with the lowest percentage of HIV positive people in the Sub-Saharan Africa — 2.3% of the population in 2006, down from 7.2% of the population in 1997.

Although the official language of Burkina Faso is French, native languages include Mooré and Dioula. In 1984, the country's name was changed from the Republic of Upper Volta by President Thomas Sankara. Burkina Faso is meant to mean "the land of upright people," with Burkina literally meaning "men of integrity" in Mooré, and Faso translating as "father's house" in Dioula.

Although there is not much tourism in Burkina Faso, it is generally thought to be one of the safer and friendlier countries for tourists in Africa. The Ouagadougou airport receives flights from a few international cities, or buses and trains are also available from neighboring countries.

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