About Burkina Faso

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Burkina Faso is a French speaking sub-Saharan country in West Africa ranked as one of the poorest in the world by the United Nations’ Human Development Index in 2005. In almost all the areas measured by this research, Burkina Faso came out at the bottom of the list.

Previously known as Upper Volta, Burkina Faso gained its independence from France on 5thAugust 1960.Cotton is the main export and counts for 30% of the GDP but this makes the nation very vulnerable to the global price for cotton. In 2004 the world cotton price fell by 30%. The US government heavily subsidised its own cotton farmers with a $4.2billion injection of cash, a sum greater than the entire GDP of Burkina Faso, and as a result Burkina Faso lost 12% of its income that year making living conditions even harder for the Burkinabe.

Politically more stable than some of its neighbours, Burkina Faso often lies below the radar of the world’s media who prefer to report the sensational rather than the simply factual, and as a result often overlook events that have a profound impact on the country and its people. In 2009 a flood following a particularly heavy rainy season resulted in 100,000 people being made homeless as their mud brick homes were washed away in the area around the capital Ouagadougou. The only international newspaper to report this at the time was the New York Times. Burkina Faso does not have the widespread starvation of Ethiopia or the atrocities of Darfur, instead it has a constant grinding state of poverty that produces chronic ill health and an average life expectancy 30 years less than in the Western world.

The Economy

  • The population of Burkina Faso is approximately 17 Million. This varies according to the season because of some nomadic people groups.
  • Average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita – the total income of the country divided by the number of people living in the country – stands at an estgimated $1500 per person each year – 199th in the world league table.
  • Debt Service – paying off the international debts of the country – accounts for 12.5% of the value of exports.
  • Burkina Faso is one of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries which are a group of 37 least developed countries with the highest levels of poverty and debt overhang, which are eligible for special assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
  • 81% of the population lives on less than $2 per day – over 10 million people.
  • 45% of the population live on less than $1 per day (the definition of poverty) – over 5.7 million people.

Health

  • 300,000 children under the age of 5 die each year from the effects of poverty, including malnutrition and preventable disease such as malaria.
  • Half the population are carriers of the malarial parasite and many of these suffer from recurrent, disabling attacks of malaria with a high risk of death during these episodes.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the only part of the world where death in childhood, in infancy in particular, is increasing.
  • 1/5th of the population  – around 3.4 million people – are malnourished.
  • Average life expectancy is 54 years – in the UK it is 80 years.
  • The chances of making it to 40 years of age are about 40%.

Education

  • Education tends to favour males
  • Literacy stands at 12.8% for those over 15 years, but for women this is 8.1% and for men 18.5%
  • 30% of 7 year olds attend primary school although this is much reduced in more rural areas where there may be no school at all.
  • 10% make it to secondary school, with only about 1% achieving tertiary education.

Religion

  • Depending on which statistics you read Burkina Faso is either 50% Islamic, 50% Christian, or according to other sources, 40% Islamic, 10% Christian and almost all the people animists regardless!
  • Christian and Islamic faiths appear to co-exist peacefully although their social involvement differs substantially.