Tolerance and Hope in Burkina Faso

by ACT

  • Posted on May 24, 2019

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In the 20 years since we began working in Burkina Faso, our experience has been that it is a country of tolerant, upright and honest people.  The name Burkina Faso translates as ‘Land of upright people’. Over the years the nation has been let down by poor internal governance and has led to it been caught up in wider geo-political conflicts.

The name of the country’s second city, Bobo-Dioulasso, reflects this tolerance as it is made up of the names of two of the largest ethnic groups the Bobo and the Dioula. A local resident, the playwright, Francois Moise Bamba, says:

“No One has a Monopoly on God. Here in Burkina Faso, we still have the intelligence to allow different religious groups to co-exist. You can find people of different faiths in the same family, for instance.”

But the country’s reputation for religious and ethnic tolerance has been tested in recent years by an alarming increase in terrorist attacks. But as always there is hope.


Since Independence from France in 1960 Burkina Faso has witnessed a succession of coup d’états and authoritarian regimes, which have left the country with a complex relationship between; Christians, Muslims, Leftists, Militarists, pro-Western and pro-Eastern citizens.  From the late 50’s to the mid 60’s Mauice Yaméogo (the first President) presided over a largely pro-Western dictatorial regime, which was toppled by a general strike in 1966 which was led by school girls chanting the slogan “Bread, water, democracy”. Hopes of democracy and economic development were short lived however, as a series of totalitarian rulers and coups arrested the nation’s development until the military leader Thomas Sankara seized power in 1983. As a leftist he oriented the country towards the Soviet Union and attempted some social reforms and welfare programs, including; building an extensive road and rail network, vaccinating 2.5 million children, promoting women’s rights and a education campaign, which increased literacy from 13% to 73%. But despite this the authoritarian nature of the regime had many failings and Sankara was also deposed in a coup. For 27 years the country, which Sankara had re-named Burkina Faso from Haute-Volta, was ruled by Blaise Compaoré, who did little to advance his people’s interests. After weeks of protests Compaoré fled to the Ivory Coast in 2014 and in 2015 Roch Marc Kabore became the first democratically elected president.

Recent Events

Apart from the historical, there are other dynamics at play within modern Burkinabé society.  A majority Muslim country, Burkina Faso has a significant Christian minority, making up about 30% of the population. There are roughly 18 million Burkinabé, the vast majority of whom are under 30. Two thirds of these people live in rural communities and exist largely through subsistence farming. As has been seen the world over in recent decades the rise of Islamist terrorism, has had and is having a terrible effect on many aspects of life, especially in the north of the country near the border with Mali, where French troops along with local forces have tried, unsuccessfully, to root out Jihadis who use the treacherous conditions of the Sahara desert to evade detection and capture.  In May 2019, 20 masked gunmen attacked a church in the Christian village of Dablo in Northern Burkina executing the priest and 5 parishioners selected at random. And in the same month two French soldiers were killed rescuing four hostages from militants.

There were 158 terrorist attacks in the country in 2018 and as one can imagine, this had had a drastic effect on everyday life, especially schooling. In the three areas affected by an upsurge in violence in Burkina Faso, 1,111 out of 2,869 schools have closed in recent months. This has affected more than 150,000 children.

“When children miss out on school – especially in times of conflict – not only are they unable to learn the skills they need to build peaceful and prosperous communities; they also become vulnerable to horrific forms of exploitation including sexual abuse and forced recruitment into armed groups,”

–  Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN children’s agency.

ACT is a Pathway to Hope

Charities and aid organisations have been intimidated in recent years and some have left but not ACT. With our partner, the charity, Child Hope (D’Abord des Enfant) we deliver education for impoverished children and business development for widows. It is the young, the new generations who will have to build up this nation and that simply can’t happen without a good education. Through the passion and hard work of people like Constantine (of Child Hope) himself an orphan, ACT has been able to develop a care and support system with; after school clubs, weekend tutoring and homework help. The children did very well achieving pass rates well above the national average and we now work across 14 districts. This system has been so successful we have supported hundreds of kids though school and given them opportunities to be children and have fun in spaces away from conflict and want.

And for Widows, our village MBA gives them support to plan, develop and implement business ideas either independently or in collaboration with others. This business skills training is broken down into the ‘five Ps’; Pricing, Product, Place, Packaging and Promotion.

Using this system we have enabled more than 300 women to start initiatives, which develop skills and make money. One of our success stories is Collette Ilboudou, who had the idea to start manufacturing clothes. With our support she was able to turn one loom and herself into a business of 12 looms and a team of workers.

Another positive consequence of helping people is that they in turn are likely to help others. This simple principle cannot be seen any more clearly than in the work of Jaques Tonde and the ACT Alumni Group. Jaques was a child we helped through school and he wanted to give something back so he setup a network of ACT graduates, whose mission is to raise money to help fund further ACT outreach work in Burkina Faso.  In 2018 the ACT Alumni Group of Burkina Faso collected 70,000CFA and donated it to ACT. So now our graduates are supporting the next generation who in turn will support the next. Burkina Faso is experiencing tough times at the moment but education and improved material conditions are essential if the country is to retain its reputation for tolerance. The work ACT does is an important example of what can and needs to be done.

To find out more about sponsoring a disadvantaged child or orphan with ACT please click here.

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