AS Burkina Faso grapples with its recent political vacuum, following the unhinging of autocratic leader Blaise Compaore through popular protest, we take a closer look at this intriguing West African nation.
Despite being one of the world’s poorest nations, landlocked, and having suffered through military coups and recurring droughts - this small West African nation is nothing but tenacious and a pioneer in fascinating ways:
1. It’s all in the name. In 1984, the country’s name was changed by popular leader Thomas Sankara from “Upper Volta” to “Burkina Faso” which means “land of the honest people” in the language of the Mossi community. The people, who had been known as Voltaics, became Burkinabes, and a new flag was also unfurled, in changes done during the eve of the first anniversary of the coup that brought the radicalist Sankara to power.
2. King of Cotton. Burkina Faso was the first African country to produce cotton and today is a regional powerhouse for cotton production and exports, with the cash crop being its main output. Production for the year to end-January 2013 was 630,000 tonnes. It is also one of the first countries in Africa to approve genetically modified cotton.
3. Leading environmentalist. Burkina Faso is an active party to regional and international conventions on climate change and biodiversity preservation – including the Kyoto Protocol. It is credited with being the first African nation to have adopted a national program of adaptation to climate change through support to smallholder farmers – serving as a model to neighbouring countries. The country also hosts the Executive Secretariat of CORESA (The West African Food Security Council that works on addressing the many environmental and economic challenges for food security and is also part of the Great Green Wall initiative meant to shield the region from potential Sahara desert invasion.
4. Open Data. In July 2014 Burkina Faso became the first African francophone country to step into the open data world when they launched the new Burkina Open Data Initiative (BODI) - home to over 50 government datasets that can be accessed and reused by anyone. The goal is for local startup companies and entrepreneurs to use this open data to develop innovative new services that will benefit all Burkinabe citizens.
5. Gold production. Despite having one of the highest levels of poverty in the world - almost half the country’s population lives below the poverty line – Burkina Faso is the 4th largest producer of gold in Africa. However, this has left it vulnerable to world market volatilities, as gold prices slump and exports remain undiversified.
6. Welcoming capital. The capital city of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou and literally means “You are welcome here at home with us”. The name dates back to the 15th century and was decreed by important Burkina Faso historical figure Wubri. Ouagadougou is a corruption of the original Wogodogo name and has its history in French orthography.
7. Largest African film festival. Burkina Faso is home to the “Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou” (Fespaco)- the largest and much-looked to festival of African cinema on the continent and which takes place every two years in Ouagadougou.
8. Changing motto. The country’s motto has changed three times. The first motto, “Unity-Work-Justice,” was changed in 1984 during the socialist Thomas Sankara’s revolution to the Fidel Castro-inspired “fatherland or death we shall overcome.” In 1991 the motto was changed again during the “rectification” of Blaise Compaoré, to “Unity-Progress-Justice.”
9. Ouagadougou’s scooter obsession. Many Burkinabè own mopeds with many dubbing it “the moped capital of Africa”. This capital even hosts an annual moped race around the city in which hundreds of Burkinabè compete in, with its historical starting point being Ouagadougou’s main thoroughfare, l’Avenue Charles de Gaulle.
10. Fertile people. Burkina Faso has one of the highest fertility rates in the world. The average woman has six children and therefore the population has increased five-fold in the past 50 years. Nigerien women—Africa’s most fertile—on average have 7.5 babies.