Burkina Faso is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. One of its biggest exports is its people, up to 3,000,000 of whom work in neighbouring countries, primarily the Côte dIvoire. Although 16 per cent of the population lives in urban areas, it is estimated that ninety per cent of Burkinabè continue to depend directly or indirectly on farming. One million people live in the capital, Ouagadougou - just under ten per cent of the countrys population.
Burkina Faso has more than 60 ethnic groups, but one people, the Mossi, make up more than half of the population. Their language, Mooré, is more widely spoken than French, the countrys official language. Dioula developed as a trading language, and is spoken by about six million people in western Burkina Faso and northern Côte dIvoire.
Other ethnic groups include the Fulani, Lobi, Bobo, Bissa, Gourounsi, Gourma and Tuareg. Most are agriculturalists, with the exception of the Fulani and Tuareg, who herd livestock. Despite the diversity of language and culture, inter-marriage is common and there is little conflict between the ethnic groups. They all have one thing in common - loyalty to their family and to their village.
Between many peoples like the Gourounsi and Bissa, Bobo and Fulani, Samo and Mossi, there is a special joking relationship which helps to defuse any tensions. For example, a Bissa man visiting a Gourounsi homestead might climb, uninvited, onto the flat roof of a house and lay down as if to sleep. The owners will shout at him and pretend to chase him off, waving sticks. Though this looks alarming, it is no more than play-acting.
Many Burkinabè are Animists, a belief which reflects the spirituality of people who live in harmony with their natural environment. Forces in the natural world are made known through their ancestors and can be used for good or evil: it is humanity which has the moral responsibility of choice. About 40 per cent of the population is Muslim, and about ten per cent Christian.
Ouagadougou is a city of a million people - just under ten per cent of Burkina Faso's population. The old Central Mosque remains one of the tallest buildings, and its twin domes are constantly circled by a cloud of swallows. The 12-floor headquarters of the West African Central Bank is perhaps the grandest of the towns few modern high-rise buildings. The city also has its churches and the 'Cathedrale de lImmaculee Conception', which overflows every Sunday morning during its four services in French and in Mooré.
Most buying and selling takes place at the Central Market - and at the stalls lining the main roads, where you can buy almost anything from a toothpick to a fridge-freezer.
The best way to get around Ouagadougou is by mobylette (moped). The mobylette is used by many people to get around Burkina Fasos cities and towns - they are a great way to avoid rush hour traffic jams. Although the main roads are finished in tarmac, the wind carries dust from the dry plateau that surrounds the city so some riders wear blue or white masks, or wrap a scarf around their faces, to keep out the fine dust that hangs in the air. Newer roads in the city include a bike and mobylette lane.
Many of the mobylette riders are women. Some are dressed for the office in suits or vivid local fabrics. Others are traders, dashing through the traffic with bundles of clothes, plastic kitchen goods, or huge basins of fruit balanced on their heads. On the quieter, leafier streets of the countrys second city, Bobo-Dioulasso, teenagers can be seen making their way to school by mobylette, sometimes two up, rucksacks on backs.
The countryside around the edges of the city is sprinkled with Mossi homesteads there are no sprawling shanty-towns or slums, which are a feature of many cities in the world.
Photos for Oxfam GB by Crispin Hughes
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