Burkina Faso Demographics

Burkina Faso Demographics


Ethnic groups

The population of Burkina Faso is made up of around 60 different ethnic groups. In terms of numbers, the Mossi dominate with a share of over 40%. Other important groups are the Peul (Fulbe), Lobi, Bobo, Senufo, Gurunsi, Gourmantché, Bissa, Sanan, Kurumba.

Mooré (the language of the Mossi), Dioula in the west and Fulfulde in the north of the country are the most important local lingua franca. (Map for the diffusion of native languages).

The spatial distribution of the local population reflects the specific migration and settlement history of the respective ethnic groups. Many of today’s ethnic groups formed in their present-day settlement area (Mossi, Gourmantché…) during a period of great migrations around 500 – 800 years ago through conquest, superimposition, separation of powers or a peaceful mixture with autochthonous peoples (Nioniosi). The language of the immigrants dominated, while the language of the Nioniosi continues to this day as a sacred language. With trade and modern professional life, there has been an ever stronger coexistence and intertwining of the ethnic groups. This created new ethnic groups such as the Silmi-Mossi, from which Thomas Sankara emerged.

Violent ethnic clashes hardly ever occur in Burkina Faso. Burkinabe have learned to deal with opposites and are extremely tolerant towards strangers. If conflicts between ethnic groups are reported nevertheless, the motives are mostly to be found in socio-professional differences. Then deliver Shepherd (Fulani) and farmers (Mossi) for centuries brawls. Mostly it is about the use of well water or the trampling or eating of fields by herds of cattle, which heats up the minds. One example is a dramatic conflict between ranchers and farmers near the provincial capital, Manga.In connection with migration, there can easily be conflicts over resources with the indigenous population, especially if mining rights in gold mining areas are at stake.

Joke relationships

A form of communication is maintained between certain ethnic groups (e.g. Gurunsi / Bissa, Samo / Mossi, Fulbe / Bobo etc.), which in Burkina Faso is called “Rakiiré”, French “Parenté à plaisanterie” (translated as ” joking relationship ” or “joking relationship “) is known. Such ritual comedies are about belittling the other person or mocking the other person as a negative stereotype of his ethnic group, in order to finally stand above him. In the “conversation” between members of related ethnic groups, ritual insults and insults up to laughing out loud often occur. In addition to being entertaining, this kind of verbal rivalry helps to reduce tensions and to secure social peace in the multi-ethnic society of Burkina Faso. In this game, a shoe shiner is allowed to insult a high boss of the related ethnic group and for a moment humorously remove the social inequality. Origin of the joke relationship between ethnic groups that stipulate insults at wedding and funeral rites but at the same time oblige both ethnic groups to provide unconditional assistance and solidarity, there are often peace treaties between the ethnic groups that are over 500 years old and the insight that no tribe can physically dominate the other. Emperor Soundiata Keita ordered his feuding tribal leaders to say to their bellicose subjects: ” Use your arms against the enemy, but when you see them, only insult them until you wriggle with laughter, then think about fighting ! ” This is how the first large African empire came into being in West Africa – in the 13th century.


In Burkina Faso, censuses are actually carried out every 10 years. However, the last national survey took place in 2006. The data can be viewed at the “Institut National de la Statistique et de la Demographie” (INSD). The country’s 5th census was scheduled for November / December 2019. Data are extrapolated using household surveys, most recently in 2016. Besides that, there are no more reliable sources. Some organizations try to make estimates that differ widely in the outcome. For example, the CIA’s World Factbook gives an average age of the population of 17.9 years for 2020 with a share of under 15-year-olds of almost 43.6%.

Urban-rural relationship

According to politicsezine, the gap between town and country clearly marks the transition from tradition to modernity, in which Burkina Faso seems to have jumped a millennium. The infrastructure in the country (water and electricity supply, schools, hospitals, roads…) is very poor or even non-existent. Even today there are still villages without a well and without a school. The illiteracy rate in some rural areas is over 90%. For young people, the city with its deceptive possibilities exerts a strong pull, while they have had enough of the yawning boring work of their parents in the fields, and work in the country has no financial incentive for them. The result is rural exodus. Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso are growing rapidly as a result.

While in earlier decades workers’ migration was mainly the domain of men, the migration of girls – from the age of 12 – from rural areas to cities or neighboring countries, where they want to earn some money as domestic help in families, has increased enormously. Terre des hommes uses the example of the province of Sourou to highlight the social and legal insecurity of girls.

Burkina Faso Demographics