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8 Questions and answers about Burkina Faso


Eric Montfort CC

Miriam Diez Bosch - published on 05/12/17

Let us travel to this West African country by means of 8 questions and answers to learn about the current situation there.

In the center of West Africa lies Burkina Faso, a country about half the size of Spain [or roughly the area of Colorado]. It has a population of slightly more than 17 million inhabitants, and 9 distinct ethnic groups. Morissa Cañigueral, originally from Spain, has been living in the capital, Ouagadougou, for 18 years. Let us travel to this West African country by means of 8 questions and answers to learn about the current situation there, the way people live, and their circumstances, guided by this Burkinabé from Catalonia who defines herself as an immigrant in Africa.

What languages are spoken in Burkina Faso?

The official language is French, since the country only became independent in 1960. However, the main language lives alongside a variety of regional languages. Among the most important are Mòoré, Mandinka and Bambara.

What is the political situation?

“During the past several years, there have been many changes,” Morissa explains. She is referring to the popular revolution that took place in 2014, which overthrew the government of President Blaise Campaoré. According to Morissa, the motive was “deep economic dissatisfaction.” Nonetheless, “there was very little violence,” she explains, adding, “the uprising was the initiative of young people.”

What are the principal sources of wealth?

In Burkina Faso, there is no industry, but “the country is a source of raw materials,” says Morissa. Gold mines, cotton, mangoes, shea nuts, and green beans are some of the sources of income—along with leather.

What religions are practiced there?

Officially, the State is secular, but Catholicism and Islam are the majority religions. According to Morissa, “the majority of the people are also animists” by tradition. “The real wealth of Burkina Faso is peace and interreligious dialogue,” she assures us. In this African country, “we all celebrate everyone else’s holidays.” There are 14 national holidays: 5 Muslim ones, 5 Catholic ones, and 4 political ones. “When there is a celebration like Christmas, a lot of guests always come to your house, and then they go to other houses as well. There is a lot of community life,” she emphasizes. In fact, the morning after the revolution, ordinary citizens went out to clean the streets.

What is the situation regarding education?

The level of illiteracy is high; Morissa tells us it’s at around 70 percent. Nevertheless, technological progress is helping tear down barriers. “Many people have neither water nor electricity, but they do have two cell phones.” Thus, she explains, in the last few years, technology—and above all, mobile phones—have facilitated social progress. Furthermore, initiatives are being carried out in the area, such as a library which has been set up in the northern part of the country, with a digital version which allows the knowledge it contains to reach more people.

Is polygamy legal?

Yes, “when a couple gets married, they can choose if they prefer monogamy or polygamy,” Morissa tells us. She adds that the great majority of men have more than one wife because in Burkina Faso that symbolizes power and economic well-being. “If they don’t have additional wives, there are the so-called deuxième bureau or tresieme bureau, which are lovers.” In marriages, it is taken for granted that the husband can be with more women, and if not, it is socially “looked down upon.”

What is the situation of women?

“In Burkina Faso, a woman is inferior to a man,” Morissa explains. The majority do not consider it necessary for women to study or to have any economic autonomy. In fact, polygamy is only accepted for men; women can be severely punished if they practice it.

Is female circumcision practiced?

Female circumcision is illegal in Burkina Faso. “The reality is that, in towns far from the capital, there are still communities that practice it.” Nonetheless, “if the authorities find someone who performs female circumcisions, they arrest him,” she assures us.

For Morissa, social cohesion and the character of the country’s people are the great strength of Burkina Faso. That is an important cause of the notable social, political, and economic change that has taken place in recent years. The current context and the technological tools that are now available may constitute a combination that will contribute to ongoing progress.

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