Until the end of the 19th century, the history of Burkina Faso was dominated by the empire-building Mossi. The French arrived and claimed the area in 1896, but Mossi resistance ended only with the capture of their capital Ouagadougou in 1901. The colony of Upper Volta was established in 1919, but it was dismembered and reconstituted several
times until the present borders were recognized in 1947.
The French administered the area indirectly through Mossi authorities until independence was achieved on August 5, 1960. The first President, Maurice Yameogo, amended the constitution soon after taking office to ban opposition political parties. His government lasted until 1966, when the first of several military coups placed Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana at the head of a government of senior
army officers. Lamizana remained in power throughout the 1970s, as President of military and then elected governments.
With the support of unions and civil groups, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in 1980. Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from trade unions and was overthrown 2 years later by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CSP and radicals led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, who was appointed
Prime Minister in January 1983, but was subsequently arrested. Efforts to bring about his release, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaore, resulted in yet another military coup d'etat, led by Sankara and Compaore on August 4, 1983.
Sankara established the National Revolutionary Committee with himself as President and vowed to "mobilize the masses." But the committee's membership remained secret and was dominated by Marxist-Leninist military officers. In 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning "the country of honorable people." But many of the strict security and austerity measures taken by Sankara
provoked resistance. Despite his initial popularity and personal charisma, Sankara was assassinated in a coup which brought Capt. Blaise Compaore to power in October 1987.
Compaore pledged to pursue the goals of the revolution but to "rectify" Sankara's "deviations" from the original aims. In fact, Compaore reversed most of Sankara's policies and combined the leftist party he headed with more centrist parties after the 1989 arrest and execution of two colonels who had supported Compaore and governed with him up to that point.
With Compaore alone at the helm, a democratic constitution was approved by referendum in 1991. In December 1991, Compaore was elected President, running unopposed after the opposition boycotted the election. The opposition did participate in the following year's legislative elections, in which the ruling party won a majority of seats.
The government of the Fourth Republic includes a strong presidency, a prime minister, a Council of Ministers presided over by the president, a unicameral National Assembly, and the judiciary. The legislature and judiciary are nominally independent but remain susceptible to executive influence.
Burkina held multiparty municipal elections in 1995 and 2000 and legislative elections in 1997 and 2002. Balloting was considered largely free and fair in all elections. The Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), the governing party, won overwhelming majorities in all the elections until the 2002 legislative election, where the CDP won with a small majority of the 111 seats. The opposition
made large gains in the 2002 elections.
Compaore won the November 1998 presidential election for a second 7-year term against two minor-party candidates. But within weeks of Compaore's victory the domestic opposition took to the streets to protest the December 13, 1998 murder of leading independent journalist Norbert Zongo, whose investigations of the death of the President's brother's chauffeur suggested involvement of the Compaore
The opposition Collective Against Impunity--led by human rights activist Halidou Ouedraogo and including opposition political parties of Prof. Joseph Ki-Zerbo and (for a while) Hermann Yameogo, son of the first President--challenged Compaore and his government to bring Zongo's murderers to justice and make political reforms. The Zongo killings still resonate in Burkina politics, though not as
strongly as in the past. There has been no significant progress on the investigation of the case.