Heart And Soul

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A Decade in Burkina Faso - The Facts

The 1980s were a bitterly hard decade for Africans - as they struggled against debt and the rigours of economic adjustment imposed by the West. But somehow, against all odds, they have still managed to make some progress. No African country is typical - and Burkina Faso has the second lowest rating in the world on the UN Human Development Index.1 But even in Burkina they continue to move forward.

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[image, unknown] HISTORY

  • 1400 The Mossi people came to the region from what is now Ghana and established 19 separate kingdoms, each depending on the most powerful central kingdom of Wogodogo (today's Ouagadougou).
  • 1600 They created what was effectively a centralized state with a strong administrative system that resisted conquest by neighbouring African empires.
  • 1900 This independence lasted until the French arrived in 1896, setting up a protectorate over Ouagadougou and making it part of the colony of Haut-Senegal-Niger in 1904.
  • 1930 In the first half of the century the French used the country as a pool of forced labour serving their more prosperous coastal colonies. All young men were dragooned into this virtual slavery. 1960The territory was reconstituted as the separate colony of Upper Volta in 1947 and was eventually granted independence in 1960. The modern era has been dominated by fraudulent elections and military coups.
  • 1970 France retains significant economic control to this day, not least through the CFA franc, the currency which Burkina shares with other former French African colonies and which is tied to the French franc.
  • 1980 This French influence survived the Sankara Revolution of 1983, which mounted a major challenge to neo-colonialism and changed the name of the country to Burkina Faso (Land of the Incorruptible) in 1984.
  • 1990 Current President Compaore came to power by coup d'etat but has since been elected and is an increasing favourite of both Paris and the IMF.

[image, unknown] PEOPLE

Burkina Faso's population is increasing fast - it has grown by around 50 per cent over the last ten years.2

[image, unknown] Burkina's population density of 35 people per square kilometre is relatively low - closer to the US's 27 than the UK's 235.1 But as with many African countries its soil is particularly fragile. Only 13 per cent of the land is cultivable.3

[image, unknown] The country's achievement in meeting people's food needs over the last decade has been remarkable. Despite the bigger population, food production per head in 1991 was 119 per cent of that in 1979-81.1 But with an estimated 7.1 million rural people in absolute poverty there is a clear need both to raise living standards and to make contraception widely available.


[image, unknown] ECONOMY

Burkina Faso’s attempt to strIke out towards self-reliance and economic independence was officially ended by the new regime’s acceptance of IMF loans and structural adjustment from 1990 onwards. Yet the biggest increase in per-capita GNP predated IMF involvement and the adoption of free-market policies.6

[image, unknown] Foreign debt was low during the Sankara years when the Government was aiming at seif-reliance but has soared since as the economy has pursued Westernization - from $681m in 1983 to $1,241m in 1992.6

• The devaluation of the OFA franc in January 1994 - haiving its value in relation to the French franc, and insisted on by Pans and the West as part of ‘adjustment’ - has caused widespread hardship amongst the poor.

• Burkina’s traditionally strong cattle industry has been destroyed by the European Union’s dumping of its beef mountain on West Africa as aid - at less than half of prevailing world pnces. It is now no longer profitable for Burkinabe herders to drive their cattle south to markets in Ghana and Côte d’lvoire.7

[image, unknown] EDUCATION

[image, unknown] Burkina Faso has the worst adult-literacy rate in the world, at only 18%. But even this dismal record has shown slow signs of improvement over the last decade.

  • Enrolment in Burkina's primary schools has increased from 18% in 1980 to 37% in 1991.

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  • There are 156 primary school-age children per teacher in Burkina Faso, a ratio eclipsed only by Somalia, Afghanistan and Mali.4

[image, unknown] HEALTH

African development strategies have a record of falling short of the mark. But over the long term they are at least producing significant improvements in the headline health statistics - people are living longer and fewer small children are dying.

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  • Without AIDS this under-five mortality figure would be projected to fall to 109 by 2010. But if AIDS continues to grow at its current rate the figure will remain static at 175.4

  • During the 1980s Burkina Faso made the fourth fastest progress in the world on provision of safe water to its people, surpassed only by Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Oman.4
  • Access to adequate sanitation in rural areas is, however, still poor, at only 15%.8

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  • A major positive influence on health has been the campaign - promoted by UNICEF and the World Health Organization - to immunize as many infants and pregnant women as possible.


1 Human Development Report 1994, UNDP. 2 The State of the World's Children 1986 and 1995, UNICEF. 3 Encarta Ô95. 4 The Progress of Nations, UNICEF 1994. 5 The State of the World's Children 1986-95, UNICEF. 6 The Africa Review 1987 and 1995, World of Information.
Africa Review 1993/94, World of Information. 8 The State of the World's Children 1995, UNICEF. 9 UNICEF country report 1995.
10 Diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus.

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

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New Internationalist issue 268 magazine cover This article is from the June 1995 issue of New Internationalist.
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