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Burkina Faso

Comprehensive Country Overview

Explore the geography, history, and socio-economic factors shaping Burkina Faso

Country description

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country situated in West Africa, bordered by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, and Ghana. The terrain is mostly a vast plateau with gently undulating savanna, with the southwest having sandstone plateaus and the highest peak, Ténakourou. The climate is predominantly tropical with two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. Major rivers include the Mouhoun, the Nakambé, and the Nazinon. The country faces environmental issues such as desertification, soil degradation, deforestation, and limited access to safe water sources.

Historical Background

The Mossi Kingdoms were the dominant power in the region from the 15th century onwards, resisting attempts at domination by neighboring empires. In 1919, Burkina Faso became a French colony named Upper Volta, where it experienced forced labor and was used as a source of manpower for the French military. It achieved independence from France in 1960, with the first president, Maurice Yaméogo, leading an authoritarian regime. Burkina Faso has a history of military coups and political turmoil throughout the post-independence period. Notable figures include Sangoulé Lamizana, Thomas Sankara, and Blaise Compaoré. The country has seen democratic transitions with multiparty elections held regularly since the 1990s. However, it faces persistent security threats posed by jihadist insurgencies linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Socio-Economic Overview

Burkina Faso has a population of over 23 million, with the Mossi being the largest ethnic group. Other groups include the Fulani, Gurunsi, Bobo, and Lobi. It is one of the world's poorest countries, with agriculture being the mainstay of the economy and cotton as the leading export. Gold mining has also grown increasingly important. The country faces significant challenges including extreme poverty, food insecurity, low literacy rates, and limited access to basic healthcare. The social structure is a mix of traditional and modern influences, with Islam, Christianity, and traditional African religions being practiced. Burkina Faso has a rich artistic heritage, including music, sculpture, masks, and textiles. Major cultural events include the International Festival of Arts and Crafts of Ouagadougou and the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou.

Workforce description

Burkina Faso's population is exceptionally young, with a median age of around 17 years and over 60% of the population under 25 years old. This presents both challenges and opportunities for workforce development. Approximately 80% of the population lives in rural areas, highlighting the dominance of the agricultural sector in the economy. However, the country has a low labor force participation rate, especially among women, indicating significant untapped potential within the workforce.

Skill Levels

Literacy levels in Burkina Faso are among the lowest in the world, with the adult literacy rate estimated at approximately 43%. This poses a challenge in terms of developing a skilled workforce. Due to limited access to formal education, a significant portion of the workforce possesses informal skills acquired through apprenticeships and traditional knowledge transfer. There is a mismatch between skills possessed by workers and those demanded by employers, especially in emerging sectors like technology and services.

Sectoral Distribution

Agriculture Dominance

Agriculture is the backbone of Burkina Faso's economy and the primary source of employment for the majority of the population. Most agricultural activities are focused on subsistence farming, with crops like millet, sorghum, maize, and rice being the most common. Burkina Faso is a significant producer of cotton, a major cash crop.

Informal Sector

The informal sector plays a crucial role in Burkina Faso's economy, absorbing much of the labor force. Activities in the informal sector include petty trading, artisanal crafts, and small-scale services.

Other Key Sectors

Burkina Faso possesses gold reserves, and the mining sector is growing in importance. The construction sector is also experiencing growth driven by infrastructure development needs.

Cultural norms impacting employment

In Burkina Faso, the cultural norms greatly influence the employment sector. The Burkinabé culture places a strong emphasis on family obligations, which often necessitates flexibility from employers for family events, caretaking, or religious observances. Unlike the strictly time-bound Western models, Burkina Faso operates with a more fluid perception of time. This may mean meetings starting late or deadlines viewed as flexible rather than rigid. Extended vacations as typical in the West are less common, with time off often tied to major life events or religious holidays.

Communication Styles

Burkinabé people often favor indirect speech to avoid overt confrontation or disagreement. It's important to be attuned to nonverbal cues and subtleties in phrasing. Business is built on trust, so investing time in getting to know colleagues before delving directly into work topics is crucial. While French is the official language, it may be a second or third language for many. Patience and ensuring clear understanding, especially with complex concepts, is necessary.

Organizational Hierarchies

Respect for age and seniority is a significant aspect of the Burkinabé culture. Elders and those in positions of authority command significant respect, and decisions usually flow top-down. The patron-client system, relationships of mutual benefit or obligation, can influence hiring and promotion practices. It's also common to address colleagues using formal titles (Monsieur, Madame) followed by their last name until invited to do otherwise.

Key industries and employment sectors

Burkina Faso's economy is largely based on subsistence farming, with a vast majority of the population engaged in growing crops like sorghum, millet, corn, and rice for their families. Cash crops such as cotton, groundnuts, sesame, and shea nuts also play important roles. Historically, cotton has been the mainstay of the export economy. Despite recent setbacks, it remains a significant generator of income and employment.


Burkina Faso has emerged as a significant gold producer in Africa, providing a boost to the economy and employment. Other minerals such as zinc, manganese, and limestone are also mined in smaller quantities.


The services sector is increasingly important, encompassing retail, transportation, and telecommunications. A large portion of this sector is informal, consisting of small-scale trading and other activities.

Emerging Sectors

Solar energy projects are receiving attention to improve electricity access, which could create jobs and diversify the economy. There is also potential for growth in the digital sector offering services and innovation, particularly in mobile-based solutions. Burkina Faso holds a modest tourism sector, but possesses cultural and natural attractions that could see expansion with targeted development.

Key Employment Considerations

Burkina Faso has a young and growing workforce, posing a challenge to generate sufficient employment opportunities. Investing in education and skill-building is crucial to prepare the workforce for evolving sectors and improved productivity. Agriculture remains a primary source of employment, emphasizing development strategies in rural areas. Addressing the large informal sector is a complex and important aspect in employment policy and stability.

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