Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, covers 274,200sqkm and has borders with Mali, Niger, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Côte d'Ivoire. Between the 13th and 15th century the Mossi rode into the area from Ghana and established a powerful kingdom that held onto power until the French invaded in 1896, defeating Naaba Wobgo, known as the Elephant Emperor.
The French changed the territorial borders of the kingdom and began to use Burkinabe labourers in Ivorian cocoa plantations. Today, Burkina Faso still experiences border disputes with neighbouring countries and a diaspora population in Côte d'Ivoire has faced land expulsions.
The country gained independence in 1960 and Maurice Yameogo became the first president. Rampant corruption caused discontent and he was overthrown by a military coup in 1966.
For two decades the country continued to experience political instability. In 1983 Thomas Sankara took control of the government and conducted a nationalist and socialist policy that placed priority on the rural population. He came to be seen as a champion of the people. However, he remained unpopular with tribal chiefs and the government elite, who felt that he was undermining their authority.
After cutting ministerial salaries by 25 percent, he was ousted and assassinated by his second in command, Blaise Compaore in 1987, who then took power.
A constitution was adopted in 1991 and multi-party elections were held that same year. Compaore won the vote and has been re-elected twice since that time.
Peace and security
An ongoing conflict in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire has created tensions in Burkina Faso. The government of Côte d'Ivoire has accused Burkina Faso of backing rebels that control the north of the country. Burkina Faso denies the claim, and accuses Côte d'Ivoire of mistreating Burkinabes who live in Côte d'Ivoire, particularly those that work in the cocoa plantations.
Burkina Faso is also involved in a border dispute with Benin and in January 2006, it was reported that Burkinabe troops had entered Benin, but the claim was denied by the government. Benin accuses Burkina Faso of moving boundary markers.
A border dispute between Mali and Burkina Faso led to wars in 1974 and 1985. The issue was resolved by the International Court at The Hague. However, there was recent fighting between two villages over the cultivation of land. Ministers from both countries mediated between the villages to try to ease tensions.
Burkinabes living in Côte d'Ivoire for generations, mainly as cocoa farmers, had to flee the land they worked due to persecution. In 2005, close to 6,000 were living at the Nicla refugee camp in Côte d'Ivoire. It is estimated that close to 365,000 - part of the Burkinabe diaspora in Côte d'Ivoire - entered Burkina Faso between 2002 and 2005 when civil war broke out in Côte d'Ivoire. Most returnees were taken in by relatives and absorbed into villages. No refugee or IDP camps were established.
There were 521 persons with refugee status in Burkina Faso and an additional 541 persons who had requested refugee status. Most were nationals of Côte d' Ivoire, Togo, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo. Others were from Chad and Liberia. Almost all the refugees and applicants lived in Ouagadougou.
Democracy and governance
Current President Blaise Compaore has been in power since 1987. He first took power when he organised a military coup against socialist ruler Thomas Sankara. At the time of the coup, Compaore was Sankara's second in command.
A constitution was adopted in 1991 that made provision for multi-party elections. Opposition parties, however, boycotted the first elections in 1991 and the following elections in 1998, complaining that the electoral system was unfair and "opaque".
Compaore made amendments to the constitution so that he could run for a third term. Elections were held in 2005. Measures were taken to ensure campaign fairness and transparent elections to encourage opposition parties to run.
Compaore won over 80 percent of the vote, according to poll officials.
Compaore has quashed two coup attempts, one in 1996 and another in 2003. A former military leader trained in Morocco and Cameroon, he maintains tight control over the military and top government institutions.
Municipal elections took place on 23 April 2006, resulting in the first election of local governments for 302 newly established rural communes.
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and this is relatively well respected, although some media outlets practice self-censorship and the state-run radio and newspaper demonstrate a pro-government bias. Radio is the most popular form of media, and several foreign radio and TV stations are available in the capital Ouagadougou.
A prosecution in the 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo and three of his companions is still outstanding. Zongo was the publisher and editor of the newspaper L'Independent and his charred body was found after his newspaper began to investigate the death of the chauffeur of the president's brother.
An enquiry named six members of the presidential guard in association with the murder. Only one was charged and in July 2006 these charges were dropped. It is rumoured that the president's brother was involved in the murder and in October 2006, Reporters Without Borders lobbied to have the case reopened by presenting a document that it said contained new evidence. The prosecutor general refused to reopen the investigation.
Burkina Faso is one of the less developed countries in the world, with 45 percent of the population living on less than a dollar per day. Landlocked and with few natural resources, the country's economy has gone through difficulties.
The Compaore government has introduced more market-oriented economic policies and fostered the privatisation and liberalisation of the economy. The country has managed to sustain an economic growth rate of 5 percent.
These reforms have helped the country qualify for debt relief and in 2006 it also qualified for the multilateral debt reduction initiative, leading to the cancellation of outstanding debts to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank.
The country's economy remains vulnerable to climatic conditions: Nearly 90 percent of the population relies on subsistence farming which can be severely affected by poor rains.
The conflict in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire has also affected the economy with fewer remittances coming in from Burkinabe workers in Côte d'Ivoire.
The main export is cotton and a downturn in prices on the world market has affected the sector. Burkina Faso, along with other African countries, is lobbying to have improved access to Western markets.
A sharp rise in oil prices has worsened these difficult economic conditions. The cost of oil rose by 43 percent, nearly doubling in price since 2004.
The gold-mining potential of Burkina Faso has been compared to that of neighbours Ghana and Mali, the largest gold producers in West Africa. The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit said gold production in Burkina was set to reach 8,700 kg in 2007 - a nearly six-fold increase on 2005.
Burkina Faso has a population of 12.8 million people. The growth rate is 2.9 percent and women have on average 6.7 children.
Most of the population of the country is concentrated in the south, sometimes exceeding 48 people per square kilometre, a high density for Africa. The main ethnic group is the Mossi, who make up 48 percent of the population. Their kingdom once dominated the country and is still led by the Mogho Naba dynasty, whose palace court is in the capital Ouagadougou. Other tribes include the Grosi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, Mande, Gurma and Fulani.
Over 90 percent of the population speak native African languages belonging to the Sudanic family.
Half of the population is Muslim, 35 percent hold indigenous beliefs and 15 percent are Christian.
Nearly half the population is under 14 years old.
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world and is ranked 174 out of 177 countries on the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index .
Life expectancy at birth is 47.9 years and 39 percent of the population is without access to an improved drinking source. The literacy rate is low at 21.8 percent and the combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio is 26.4 percent.
By law, education is meant to be free and compulsory until the age of 16. The government allocated 25 percent of the national budget to education, yet it still did not have the means to fulfil the mandate set by the law.
Endemic poverty also prevents many children from attending school. They are kept to work in the fields or are sent out to other jobs. Parents also cannot afford the cost of supplies.
According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 35 percent of girls and 46 percent of boys are in primary school. Schools in rural areas had even lower percentages of female students, and the illiteracy rate for girls in rural areas is as high as 95 percent. Only 29 percent of children complete the full course of primary education. Schools also suffer from excessive overcrowding, with a ratio of 49 students for every one teacher.
Enrolment rates drop drastically at the secondary level, where students must qualify for free education based on grades and level of poverty. Only eight percent of girls and 11 percent of boys are in secondary school.
The adult literacy rate is 29.4 percent for men and 15.2 percent for women.
According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), children under 18 make up 56 percent of the population. Poverty poses the biggest threat to children, preventing many from going to school or living in healthy conditions. The under-five mortality rate is 192 for every 1,000 live births; 38 percent of children under five are underweight and 39 percent suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition.
Child labour is common with 57 percent of children between five and 14 engaged in economic activities and domestic labour. The country has become a source, transit, and destination country for internationally trafficked children. Since 2004, the police have intercepted 921 trafficked children. Some are trafficked to work on cocoa plantations in Côte d'Ivoire.
Child marriage in rural areas is 62 percent and the sexual exploitation of children is becoming a problem.
There are an estimated 830,000 orphans in the country.
The government has shown a commitment to improving health in the country. In cooperation with donors, it is trying to revitalise primary health care by providing support for nursing mothers and infants, vaccination campaigns for measles, meningitis, and other illnesses, and health education.
Nearly all children are vaccinated against the major vaccine-preventable diseases.
The population, however, still suffers from health threats such as cholera, yellow fever and malaria. Only two percent of children under five sleep under treated mosquito nets and only 12 percent of the population uses adequate sanitation facilities.
Between January and March 2006, there were 3,636 suspected cases of meningitis, and 399 deaths were reported, the highest number in West Africa.
There are six doctors for every 100,000 people and 56.5 percent of births have a skilled attendant present.
The HIV prevalence rate in Burkina Faso is 4.2 percent and it is estimated that up to 470,000 people are living with the disease.
The president oversees a national council for sexually transmitted infections/HIV/AIDS control. This has helped stabilise the epidemic and achieve encouraging results.
The focus in 2005 was on improving access to care. The implementation and strengthening of programmes quadrupled access to treatment, including antiretroviral drugs. It also increased voluntary testing and counselling by 88 percent throughout 2004. There are also programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmissions in 67 percent of districts.
There are an estimated 270, 000 children orphaned by AIDS, yet only seven percent receive support and free assistance and there is a lack of proper case-management.
There is very limited knowledge about HIV among the main risk groups. Fewer than 50 percent of surveyed gold prospectors and lorry drivers knew about the disease, and an estimated 56 to 85 percent of military personnel and sex workers.
Agricultural production in Burkina Faso is vulnerable to climatic conditions, particularly in the north which is part of the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid land that separates the Sahara desert from tropical vegetation and is prone to poor growing conditions.
The area is still recovering from drought and locust infestations that hit it in 2004 and caused some farmers to lose up to 90 percent of their crops.
This slow recovery combined with high millet prices and the collapse of the cattle market means that one million people are in need of food assistance, reported the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Chronic malnutrition affects 39 percent of the population and 14 percent of children under five are severely underweight.
Between 2006 and 2010, WFP assistance aims to help 380,000 people in the most vulnerable provinces. Over this period, food distribution will increase from an average 8,000 metric tonnes to 12,000 tonnes per year.
Traditional practices have kept women in a subordinate position. Traditional law does not recognise inheritance rights for women and regards the woman as property that can be inherited upon her husband's death.
Domestic violence is frequent, yet there are no specific laws protecting women and no recorded legal investigations or proceedings against abusive husbands.
Excision (female genital muitilation/cutting) was outlawed in 1996 and to help eradicate the practice the government established the National Committee for the Fight Against Excision. It is estimated that up to 70 percent of girls and women had undergone the procedure. Since the committee came into being, the incidence of excision has decreased by 40 percent and more than 400 people have been sentenced for performing the practice.
Underage marriage remains a problem. According to UNICEF, 52 percent of women were married before the age of 18.
The majority of women do most of the subsistence farming. The private sector was made up of only five percent of women. Women held 11.7 percent of the seats in parliament and comprised a quarter of the government workforce, although most held lower paying jobs.
Excessive poverty denies many Burkinabes access to basic human rights. According to a US State Department report, problems include child labour, child trafficking, violence and discrimination against women and children, arbitrary arrests and excessive force against civilians.
After a delay in rains in most Sahel countries, unexpected torrential rain in the summer of 2006 caused flooding in the northern part of Burkina Faso, leaving thousands of families homeless and washing away many crops and food reserves.
The affected region has endured 30 years of successive droughts, locust invasions and loss of grain to birds. Agricultural production was below average for 2004 and 2005, and the threat of food insecurity looms.
A high malnutrition rate among children under five requires attention.
CREDIT : IRIN – United Nations Office – Humanitarian Country Profile