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Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso - Green City of the Upright People

Emmanuel Kariuki has been an Art and Design lecturer and an Exhibition Designer in a Museum. He has also authored several story books.

Ouagadougou, the capital City of Burkina Faso

Ougadougou is the largest city and capital of Burkina Faso, the land of the upright people, which literally means incorruptible. The official language is French but the most widely spoken language is moore of the Mossi. The Mossi make up 52 % of the Burkina Population. The other widely spoken language in Burkina Faso and by millions of people in West Africa is Dyula as a principle language of commerce. Once you visit Ouagadougou, you will always remember it as the 'City with wide streets and a million plus motorbikes'. Besides sampling the art of Burkina Faso at the Village Artisanal, do not miss a visit to these three Museums during your stay in Ouagadougou

  • National Museum of Music
  • National Museum of Burkina Faso
  • Musee de bendrologie de Manenga
Ouagadougou city centre

Ouagadougou city centre

Walking near the Municipal Stadium in Ouagadougou

Walking near the Municipal Stadium in Ouagadougou

Motorcycles and discipline in Ouagadougou

Ouagadougou has a population of 2.5 m. Being a landlocked country, Burkina Faso’s access to the rest of world is by a rail system from Ouagadougou to the port city of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. The other point of access is the Thomas Sankara International airport of Ouagadougou. The City has grown around the airport leaving it no room for expansion. This has led to plans for another airport, about thirty kilometers away.

To its credit, Ouagadougou is a leafy city with large trees and wide roads. Many buildings are unique in designs that have borrowed from African motifs. This gives Ouagadougou an artistic look when compared with cities like Nairobi that have buildings of a dull geometric shapes.

One thing that a visitor from a country with a semblance of public transport system will note are the thousands of motorbikes. My host informed me that it was unusual for a home not to own at least one motorbike with the poorest owning a bicycle. A parking lot can have several layers of motorcycles, with a breadth of more than fifty meters. What boggles a visitor’s mind is how one finds their ‘moto’ as they call it, in that jungle. Another remarkable character of the Ouagadougou residents is their obedience to traffic rules. Tens of motorcyclists can be seen waiting for a traffic light to turn green, even when the road ahead is clear. Perhaps this is as a result of discipline filtering down from a succession of military governments.

By comparison, though Nairobi has definitely a much larger population but fewer motorcycles, the cyclists flagrantly disobey traffic rules even as they ride past traffic policemen. Kenyan motorcyclist wheel away without a care in this world and traffic police do not even try to stop them.

Burkina Faso road engineers must take the credit for designing roads that have a special lane for motorcyclists, who, remarkably again, stick to their designated lane.

Motorcyclists waiting for a green light

Motorcyclists waiting for a green light

A brief Political History of Burkina Faso

According to Mossi traditions, their ancestors came from the East around the 13th century. The Mossi soldiers were skilled horsemen who kept the Mali empire to the north and the Songhai in check. They remained independent in most of what is Burkina Faso today until the French occupied their territory and named it the Upper Volta. However, the French allowed the Mossi administration to remain in place. To this day, the Moro Naba hereditary ruler of the former Mossi Kingdom still performs traditional duties from his palace in Ouagadougou. Every Friday at 7am, the Moro-Naba presides over the Moro-Naba Ceremony at the palace for about 15 minutes. Tourists are welcome but photos are prohibited.

The country was not always known as Burkina Faso. Before colonial times it was part of the Mossi Empire that covered parts of Ghana. In 1896, the French colonized the area and named it Upper Volta. The name persisted for several years after independence in 1960.

It would appear that the French started to prepare for the independence of their colony in 1957 when they installed Daniel Ouezzin Coulibaly as the leader, though the position of Prime Minister had not been created. Coulibaly was in power from August 1956 to September 1957 when, under the noses of the French colonialists, he was deposed by Maurice Yameogo who stayed in power up to and after independence in 1960 when the post of Prime Minister was created. Maurice Yameogo was deposed in January 1966 by Sanguole Lamizana.

Four other presidents were to follow and suffer the same fate of being deposed in the then, Upper Volta. They were Saye Zerbo, Henri Zongo and Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo.

Up to this time, none of these leaders had the wisdom to change the country’s name until Thomas Sankara overthrew the government of Jean-Babtiste Ouedraogo in 1983 with the help of his close friend, Blaise Campaore. It is unfortunate that Sankara died when his supposed friend, Blaise Campaore overthrew the government.

During his four-year reign, Thomas Sankara changed the country’s name from upper Volta to Burkina Faso. He also changed the National flag and the National Anthem. He is credited with composing the new National Anthem himself. He had played in a band - Tout-à-Coup Jazz”- and was an accomplished guitarist.

Upper Volta Flag, 1960

Upper Volta Flag, 1960

Thomas Sanakara - a former president of Burkina Faso

Thomas Sanakara - a former president of Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso Flag, 1984

Burkina Faso Flag, 1984

Artisanal village

The Artisanal village in Ouagadougou is a space for artists to produce, display and sell their creations. You can find a wide array of handicrafts from jewelry, bronze figurines, sculptures made from wood or multimedia and fashion accessories among others. This wonderful architectural creation can accommodate up to 500 artisans.

This complex was constructed through cooperation between the Government of Burkina Faso and Lux-Development of Luxembourg. Construction was completed with a year in 1999, having started the previous year. The first batch of artists took up residence in the 2000. One prerequisite for having a stall there is for the artists to be members of legal professional associations.

The markets and artisanal villages are teeming with textiles. The Textile industry in Burkina relies on imports from Benin. These fabrics are then printed with designs by Fasotex factory in Koudougou.

One of the specialty crafts of Burkina artist is bronzing in the lost wax casting method. It is said to have originated in a neighborhood called Niongsin which was home to three major ‘bronze casting’ families. Burkina Faso authorities have created the Vitrine du Bronze to permanently establish bronze casting and marketing. Bronze casting is a major income source for many artisans that have since learned the craft. In Kenya, artists struggle to send their modeled sculptures for bronzing outside the country, in the last instance that I know of, china. If African countries cooperated, Kenyan artists could learn the craft from the artisans in Ouagadougou or at the very least, send their bronzing projects to Burkina Faso instead of sending to China.

A sculpture at a street corner

A sculpture at a street corner

Wooden figurines in a crafts shop

Wooden figurines in a crafts shop

Baskets made in Ouagadougou

Baskets made in Ouagadougou

African Print fabrics sold in Ouagadougou

African Print fabrics sold in Ouagadougou

Graffiti at a bus stop

Graffiti at a bus stop

Museum of Music

As mentioned earlier, the Museum of music is an architectural wonder, designed in concrete to be a visual representation of Music. The design of the building is so unique that an image of will be recognizable anywhere in the world. The Burkinabe must be very demanding to the architects that get government contracts in a bid to come up with iconic buildings. Many buildings in major cities of the world, are mere boxes clad with a lot of glass - buildings that cannot be distinguished one from the other except by a change in color.

The Museum of Music has a large collection of Musical instruments belonging to the cultures of Burkina Faso, which as I understood include parts of Ghana that were the Mossi Empire.

The interior design of the Museum of Music is exquisite with open spaces for easy movement from one display to the other. The architecture allows for a lot of natural light. There is an auditorium with musical instruments on a podium and sitting space for an audience. Visitors are allowed to play any of the instruments in that room. Several life-size sculptures accompany the instruments in a well planned layout.

The exhibits include traditional instruments of all kinds, each displayed with its variants – xylophones, drums, flutes, percussion and harps.

The Museum of Music

The Museum of Music

Visitors can try any of the instruments in the auditorium

Visitors can try any of the instruments in the auditorium

One of the many xylophones on display

One of the many xylophones on display

The National Museum of Burkina Faso

This museum is a must-visit. It is not too far from the City Center, and its architecture is equally exquisite. When I visited there was an exhibition on the Cultural artifacts of the Lobi and Dagara people. The Lobi belong to an ethnic group that originated in present day Ghana who speak Lobiri. The Term Lobi refers to several closely related groups that include the Lobi proper, and Dagara out of seven other ethnic groups.


National Museum Building

National Museum Building

Cultural objects of the Lobi/Dagara

Cultural objects of the Lobi/Dagara

Cultural objects of the Lobi/Dagara

Cultural objects of the Lobi/Dagara

Musée de Bendrologie de Manéga

This museum displays the arts, musical instruments and ritual objects of the diverse people of Burkina Faso. Besides musical flutes, the museum has numerous funerary objects including earthenware jars and bracelets. The oldest objects on display belong to the 2nd AD. Also on display are Mossi rifles that were acquired over 200 years ago.

Meat grilled on an open fire

Meat grilled on an open fire

Cuisine

Tô, a staple food of the Burkinabe, is made of wheat, sorghum, millet or maize flour balls. Tô is served with tomato or peanut soups. Some meat may also be served with this meal.

Another common dish is called Babenda. It is made by mixing a variety of green traditional vegetables which may also include spinach, kale, cabbage and any of several grains. Protein is added by the inclusion of fish to the pounded mixture.

Meat in Ouagadougou is sold in the market and hawked in bars. Patrons can buy meat from the hawker and pass it on the bar management for grilling over an open charcoal fire.

Fufu is a staple food in many West African countries that include Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana. Fufu is made by mixing pounded cassava and plantain flour with water. It can also be made with maize to make a stiff dough that is served with a stew. Fufu is like what we call ‘ugali’ in East Africa.

Ragout d'Igname is a ‘yam stew’ that can be served with vegetables and any meat, from poultry to fish or beef.

In the hotel that hosted me, Shawarma, a Lebanese dish was the spealty. It a ‘Chapatti’ like flat bread roll stuffed with stewed chicken or beef.

Meals are served with juices A popular one is the bissap. The bissap drink is made from flowers of the hibiscus family and sweetened with sugar.

Another popular drink is made with the weda fruit - Saba senegalensis.

This plant grows predominantly on riverbanks and in woodlands. This fruit is hawked on Ouaga streets for making a sour juice that is sweetened with sugar. Scientists have found traces of vitamins E, K, carotenoids, anthraquinones and sterols and triterpenes in Saba senegalensis. The latter two have anti-inflammatory properties. I was so enchanted by its taste that I carried a big bunch in my suitcase. This almost got me into trouble with the Ethiopian Airlines officials because my suitcase had crossed over the weight allowed by almost five Kilos. However, after some tongue lashing, I was forgiven and allowed to proceed.

Other popular drinks include degue, which is made from millet and mixed with yoghurt and Zomekome which is made from millet flour. Zomekome is given zing by the addition of lemon, tamarind and ginger.

Milk is rarely taken in Ouagadougou. While in East Africa black tea is taken for lack of milk, my experience in Ouagadougou was black tea or coffee as the order of day. When I asked for milk to put in my black tea at the hotel, I was given condensed milk imported from France.

Foo foo served with peanut soup

Foo foo served with peanut soup

Markets

Market are vibrant with a lot of fresh produce. Some stalls also stock manufactured goods. One thing that the visitor from East Africa may find odd is the selling of meat in an open market. Meat is also hawked on the streets. In one drinking place that we visited, we selected meat from a hawker and gave it to the establishment to roast. The meat was pinned with skewers, roasted and served.

Perhaps because of my short stay, I was not able to find fresh milk in shops and one supermarket that I visited. However there was a lot powered milk, and skimmed milk, mostly imported from France.

Outside the main Market in Ouagadougou

Outside the main Market in Ouagadougou

At the local market. I bought traditionally processed shea butter here

At the local market. I bought traditionally processed shea butter here

You can buy goat meat at the market as well

You can buy goat meat at the market as well

The long eared goats in the suburbs of Ouagadougou

The long eared goats in the suburbs of Ouagadougou

Shea butter

Shea butter is much valued by women as a natural skin and hair crème. This crème is sold In Ouagadougou markets as thick paste known as l’huile de karite. One can also buy processed hair and skin crèmes with shea butter in supermarkets.

Saba Senegalensis fruit makes a sour juice that is sweetened with sugar

Saba Senegalensis fruit makes a sour juice that is sweetened with sugar

Hotels in Ouagadougou

There are many excellent hotels in Ouagadougou, from the regal five star to the budget hotels. There are also numerous good restaurants, some that offer local cuisine only while others offer both local and international. Below is a small list of hotels from the most expensive to the cheapest

Interestingly there is an Umoja Guest House in Ouagadougou. Umoja is a Swahili word that means ‘oneness’ or ‘unity.’ There is a big lower middle class housing estate in Nairobi called Umoja. The word also appears in the Kenyan National Anthem where the citizenry is beseeched to remain united as one.

Below is a small list of hotels from the most expensive to the cheapest.

Laico

Bravia

Faso

Splendid

Grand Calao

Bassnere

Hotel Kavana

I stayed at the Hotel Kavana. It is in a serene atmosphere with very nice rooms. The menu was printed on a board at the entrance but I frequently found that the only food available was ‘Shawarma.’ to East Africans, this roll might look like a chapatti that has been staffed with meat and vegetables.

Menu at the Hotel Kavana

Menu at the Hotel Kavana

Transport

Public transport was not very efficient and I noted that commuters waited for hours to board the few buses available. However, this has been mitigated by the fact that most people use their own motorcycles to move about the city. About 80% of public transport is by personal motorcycles. Which gives the impression that fuel is cheap. In most countries Public buses carry the bulk of commuters who would otherwise spend more if they used their own transport. However, there are plans to introduce a Rapid Bus Transport (BRT) by the year 2020.

An East African will definitely note the number of women who ride motorcycles in Ouagadougou. It seemed to me like one out of every five motorcyclists was a lady. Ladies can be seen transporting other ladies or babies on their motorcycles. The few ladies that did not ride a motorcycle rode a bicycle. In Kenya, this is a very rare phenomenon. Women in western Kenya do ride bicycles, but even among them, motorcyclists are very rare. In the few female motorcyclists in Kenya have ended up with interviews on TV to explain how they dared. In the coastal regions of Kenya, it is almost taboo for a woman to ride a bicycle, let alone a motorcycle.

A sea of motorbikes in a parking lot

A sea of motorbikes in a parking lot

Women are very comfortable riding motorbikes in Ouagadougou

Women are very comfortable riding motorbikes in Ouagadougou

If you do not own a motorcycle, you can ride your bicycle to town

If you do not own a motorcycle, you can ride your bicycle to town

Nazinga Game Ranch

The Nazinga Game Ranch is about 140 km from Ouagadougou city Center but is well worth your time. There are over 20,000 animals, out of which 30 are mammal species. These include Elephants, crocodiles and Buffalo. Other animals that are resident in the park are antelopes, hyenas and many primates. There are also many species of birds in the 94,000 hectares park.

You can see Elephants and Waterbucks besides many other animals at Nazinga

You can see Elephants and Waterbucks besides many other animals at Nazinga

Cathedral of our Lady of Immaculate Conception

Cathedral of our Lady of Immaculate Conception

References

Britanica

Wikipedia

studycountry.com

momaa.org

tripadvisor

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Emmanuel Kariuki

Comments

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 04, 2020:

@thecooliguana

@Linda Crampton

@Liz Westwood

Thank you all for reading my article so soon after it was approved. What surprised me about the City of Ouagadougou was how neat and developed it is despite the excessive military coups. It is a city worth visiting. Crime is low and the people are friendly. With its millions of motorcycles, it probably has the "highest motorcycle per capita" in the world. Thanks for the encouraging words.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 04, 2020:

This is a well-illustrated and very interesting article. I have learnt a lot from it.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 03, 2020:

Thank you for creating such an informative and interesting article. I knew very little about Burkina Faso before I read the article. I enjoyed learning about the country.

FOCUS HERE on June 03, 2020:

Very very interesting and quite extensive information provided. Learnt a lot and enjoyed reading. :-)

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