History & Politics

Peoples and kingdoms

Some of the earliest peoples to settle in the region are believed to be groups in the south and west, such as the Bobo, Lobi and Gurunsi.

Oral traditions then speak of warrior tribes and horsemen invading the area from the 15th century and establishing kingdoms – the Gurmanché in the east, the Fulbe and Tuareg in the north and the Mossi in the centre.

Men with influence

Today, villages, towns and quarters of the capital all have their nabas. The Moro Naba still has the greatest influence.

Several Mossi kingdoms developed, ruled by kings or nabas. The most powerful had its centre at Ouagadougou and was headed by the Moro Naba ('great lord'). The Ouagadougou Mossi were fearsome warriors and repelled invasions from the ancient Songhai and Fulani empires.

The arrival of the French

Having defeated the Moro Naba in 1896, the French took control of the region. They divided it into administrative cercles (“circles”) and allowed the various chiefs to keep their traditional seats.

A modern but ruthless man

Thomas Sankara, by Jag36 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A champion of women’s rights, Sankara appointed women to a quarter of his ministerial positions and decreed a national day for husbands to do the family shopping.

The French joined the region to other African countries in the first half of the 20th century. Burkina Faso as it stands today was only established in 1947, when it was named ‘Upper Volta’ by the French. Independence came in 1960.

The African ‘Che Guevara’

In 1983, Thomas Sankara took over in a military coup. A left-wing idealist, Sankara is sometimes called ‘the Che Guevara of Africa’.

Sankara renamed the country Burkina Faso – ‘Land of Honourable/Incorruptible Men’ in 1984 and ordered all his officials to open up their bank accounts for public scrutiny. Under his leadership, a huge programme of social welfare began, including the vaccination of 3 million children within 15 days.

However, he could also be ruthless and had opponents killed. Sankara himself was killed in 1987. At his death, his personal effects were an old Renault, a refrigerator, guitars, bicycles, 560 dollars in the bank and an outstanding mortgage.

Modern-day Burkina

Blaise Compaore, a former colleague of Sankara, took over the country in 1987. Market reforms were introduced to rebuild Burkina’s economy. A new constitution was drawn up in 1991, when the country’s first multiparty elections were held.

Re-elected president in 2010 for his fourth term of office, Blaise Compaore faced growing unrest as various groups demanded further reform and better standards of living. A popular uprising forced him to step down in 2014 and the country awaits the re-establishment of democratic governance.