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Burkina Faso

year, tin ore, cassiterite, Upper Volta, French West Africa

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Burkina Faso, country in western Africa, formerly known as Upper Volta. It was a French colony until 1960, when it gained independence. The country took the name Burkina Faso, meaning “land of upright people” in 1985. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries of what was formerly French West Africa, and each year thousands of its people seek jobs in neighboring countries, chiefly seasonal farm work in Ghana or Cote d’Ivoire.

Burkina Faso is situated in drought-prone grasslands in the heart of western Africa. This landlocked country lies between the Sahara to its north and tropical rain forests to its south. Most of its people, who are known as Burkinabe, live in the southern part of the country, which is densely populated. They live chiefly by farming, despite poor soil and frequent droughts.

Kingdoms established by the Mossi people in what is now Burkina Faso rank among Africa’s oldest kingdoms, and date back hundreds of years. After gaining independence in 1960, the country experienced repeated coups and periods of military rule. Burkina Faso has had a democratic government since a new constitution was introduced in 1991.

Burkina Faso is bounded on the north and west by Mali, on the east by Niger, and on the south by Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire. Ouagadougou is the capital and largest city.

Natural Resources

Generally, Burkina Faso’s land is much drier than the figures on rainfall suggest. Most of the soils are infertile and, in general, do not retain groundwater, hindering agricultural efforts. Water supply is a problem in so dry a country and offers few opportunities for irrigation. About 18 percent of the land is cultivated.

Burkina Faso is known to have valuable deposits of manganese, gold, and zinc, and mining of these minerals is planned or underway. The country also has resources of copper, iron ore, cassiterite (tin ore), and phosphates.

Environmental Issues

The desert nation of Burkina Faso suffers from desertification and recurring droughts. Burkina Faso’s government is party to several international agreements such as those pertaining to ozone layer protection and endangered species.


Burkina Faso

Englebert, Pierre. Burkina Faso: Unsteady Statehood in West Africa. Westview, 1996. Recent history and current economic and political status of this landlocked country.

McFarland, Daniel Miles, and Lawrence Ripley. Historical Dictionary of Burkina Faso. 2nd ed. Scarecrow, 1998. A detailed chronology of the republic's history and its relations with neighboring countries.


Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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