Burkina Faso: The People “Les Burkinabés”


Burkina Faso’s 15.2 million people (2008) belong to two major West African cultural groups–the Voltaic and the Mande (whose common language is Dioula). The Voltaic Mossi make up about one-half of the population. The Mossi claim descent from warriors who migrated to present-day Burkina Faso from Ghana and established an empire that lasted more than 800 years. Predominantly farmers, the Mossi kingdom is still led by the Mogho Naba, whose court is in Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso is an ethnically integrated, secular state. Most of Burkina’s people are concentrated in the south and center of the country, sometimes exceeding 48 per square kilometer (125/sq. mi.). Hundreds of thousands of Burkinabè migrate to Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, many for seasonal agricultural work. These flows of workers are affected by external events; the September 2002 coup attempt in Cote d’Ivoire and the ensuing fighting there meant that hundreds of thousands of Burkinabe returned to Burkina Faso. A plurality of Burkinabè are Muslim, but most also adhere to traditional African religions. The introduction of Islam to Burkina Faso was initially resisted by the Mossi rulers. Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, comprise about 25% of the population, with their largest concentration in urban areas.

Few Burkinabè have had formal education. Schooling is in theory free and compulsory until the age of 16, but only about 72.5% of Burkina’s primary school-age children are enrolled in primary school due to actual costs of school supplies, school fees, insufficient infrastructure and teachers, and to opportunity costs of sending a child who could earn money for the family to school. Of those enrolled, only about 40.7% complete primary school. The University of Ouagadougou, founded in 1974, was the country’s first institution of higher education. The Polytechnical University in Bobo-Dioulasso was opened in 1995. The University of Koudougou was founded in 2005 to substitute for the former teachers’ training school, Ecole Normale Superieure de Koudougou.

More Quick Facts

Age structure
  • 0-14 years: 46%
  • 15-64 years: 51.5%
  • 65 years and over: 2.5%
Median age 16.8 years
Population growth rate 3.095%
Birth rate 43.98 births/1,000 population
Death rate 13.02 deaths/1,000 population
Infant mortality rate 82.98 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth 53.32 years
Total fertility rate 6.21 children born/woman
Urbanization urban population: 20% of total population
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