Ouagadougou, also known as Wagadugu, is the capital of Burkina Faso. The name may look daunting at first, but with some practice it will roll off your tongue with all its rhythmical musicality. If that is too much, you can do as the locals do and call it Ouaga. But Ouagadougou has a bit more to it than a cool name. It's an ancient city of one of the West African empires, for one.

The land was originally ruled by the Ninsi people, who founded the city in the 11th century and called it Kombemtinga, land of warriors. The Ninsi (or Nyonyosé) must have grown tired of fighting, for after some time they yielded it to the Mossi people, and the town was renamed Wogdgo, "come and venerate". There are two versions as to how this happened. The official Mossi story says that the Ninsi sent envoys to Emperor Zougrana of the Mossi to ask for protection from the neighbouring peoples. The emperor obligingly sent them his son, Oubri. Others say the Mossi conquered the area without any invitation whatsoever, and that the resistance was bloody, but unsuccessful.

In 1441, Ouagadougou became capital of the Mossi empire, and was governed by the Mogho Naba, ruler of the world. Emperor Naba Sanem moved his permanent quarters to the area in 1681, and the town grew up around his palace. By the time Europeans came by, it was a mega-village of 5,000 inhabitants.

Located almost 800 km from the coast, east of the River Niger, the city of Ouagadougou remained a secretive legend to colonisers from Europe who were traversing the globe in their aggressive manner. By the start of the 19th century it had still to be visited by a white man - it was part of "Darkest Africa". This was amended by the 1870s, when several expeditions came to have a look. The French in particular showed a great interest in Ouagadougou and its surroundings. With perfect French politesse, they asked the Mogho Naba permission to take over his lands - when he refused, they sent an army, which captured the city in 1896. Ouagadougou became the capital of their new colony, and a fort was constructed on the site where the royal palace had been located before the French razed it.

Upper Volta was formed from several smaller colonies in 1919, and Ouaga became its capital. It suffered a fall from glory in 1932, when Upper Volta was partitioned. However, when the state was brought back together again in 1947, the city reclaimed its old importance and quickly grew. A railway line to Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire was finished in 1954.

Although the Mossi lost their power to European colonists, there is still a Mogho Naaba in Ouagadougou. The population of the city today is half Mossi, half other. The Mossi, with a tradition for organisation and ruling, therefore have most of the political power in the city as well as in the country.

And although The French have left Burkina Faso, the country's capital includes many a souvenir from their colonial time. Along the river, there is a park called Bois de Boulogne. A main street is called Boulevard de Gaulle - then again, another one is called Avenue de la Liberté.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, but its capital manages to keep an international air of sophistication about it, and is known as a cultural beacon in West Africa. It hosts internatonal art and film festivals such as the Salon International de l'Artisanant Africain (an African arts and crafts show), the Panafrican Film and Television Festival (FESPACO), and the Jazz à Ouaga. As a bit of a regional centre for West Africa it also hosts many international conferences.

Ouagadougou is mainly a centre for administration and trade, but there are also several small to large-scale industries situated here, producing among other things food, beverages, tobacco, paper, chemicals and textiles. The population is about 750,000.

I'll add some extra information about this city to agazade's excellent node.


The town centre hosts most administrative and corporate headquarters. The presidential palace and embassys can be found in an area located to the east, called Quartier des ministères. The area around the Great Market which burnt down on May 27, 2003, is currently being rebuilt. This program is called the Zaca project and should last several years.

There are no sky scrapers due to the proximity of the airport, located south east, and most edifices do not exceed three or four storeys. As a result the city has rapidly stretched further and further creating many peripherical informal districts. To avoid shanty-towns the government has established residential zones called Cité de l'An II, III and IV during the Revolution. Land pressure is very high and the business center district is to be relocated in Ouaga 2000 (15 km south) where the new presidential palace will be established.

The city is composed of several districts organized around the historical centre. Each district has an area of about 2 to 5 square kilometers and blocks are laid out in geometric chessboard fashion. A large avenue, called the Boulevard Circulaire circles the inner districts. The city is further divided in about 30 sectors and encompasses 17 villages.


Street names are typically something like "rue 28.229", which means street 229 of sector 28. Only few of them, the large ones - like Boulevard De Gaulle - and those located near the centre have "real names". When people talk about somewhere in town, they refer to the closest administrative building for the sake of simplicity. Only the main streets and those of the centre are tarred, the others are often chaotic because the rain flow creates large holes in the ground.

The number of motorcycles and bicycles in the streets is impressive. Its low functioning costs - the taxes on gas are low - and the high cost of cars and four wheel drives make moving on two wheels the means of transport of choice for the citizens. When the traffic light turns green, the streets look like the departure of a grand prix moto and the air is rapidly filled with exhaust fumes. The heavy traffic has two major drawbacks : firstly the air quality is abysmal and secondly circulating is very dangerous. Very few people wear helmets so accidents are generally serious when a car and a motorcycle are involved. To tackle this issue, some streets have been arranged : there is a separate lane for the two wheels with their own traffic lights. The unpopularity of helmets discourages politics to take measures to enforce their usage.

The main streets are bordered with various shops (selling goods as diverse as clothes, furniture, refrigerators...), banks, barbers, restaurants, etc. When the night falls, women set up small stands near the road crossings where they sell food such as roasted corn, boiled peanuts, meat on sticks, fruits and vegetables. All day long, people - often kids or teenagers - sell paper tissues and mobile phone cards at each crossroad.


Very few homes are equipped with telephones and there are no public phone booths so people have to resort to one of the many Télécentres. There are many, many of them : on some streets one can be found every 50 meters. Some of them offer Internet access, others offer keyboarding, binding and copy services, etc. An increasing number of people own mobile phones. There are three major companies : Celtel, Tétécel and Onatel, all three in severe competition.


Another famous means of transport used by the citizens is the taxi cab. After motorcycles and bicycles taxis represent the next most important cause of traffic in the city. Taxis are apple green and charge between 200 FCFA and 600 FCFA (0.3 to 1 EUR) for a typical journey. Prices are discussed in advance. Most vehicles are in a catastrophic state : some taxi drivers have to fix things under the hood at every traffic light, many of those I've used had burnt or had malfunctioning headlights. Very often I've wondered whether I'd die of carbon monoxide poisoning given the amount of exhaust fumes that enters the cockpit each time the taxi comes to a halt.

A taxi driver has to pay for registration (about 5000 FCFA / 10 EUR per year), for insurance, for gas and for repairs. The taxi must pass a technical revision every three years. All in all it costs about 250 000 FCFA (400 EUR) per year. Taxi drivers can subscribe to a company that helps them spread their expenses throughout the year. Nevertheless they need about 100 000 FCFA (150 EUR) to start their business, which represents an important expense. Last year a bus company has re-opened after bankruptcy ten years ago, offering very interesting fees which are very likely to harm the taxi market.


The priority of the Burkinabè government is fostering development and fighting against poverty, which is far from being nature preservation. As a result there are very few measures taken to avoid pollution and the population isn't at all aware of environmental issues.

The intense traffic of old broken taxis and motorcycles is responsible for most of the air pollution in the city. Besides it is very hard to find binss in the city : people throw garbage directly in the streets which is not a great concern for organic waste since they rapidly get degraded by the sun or eaten by animals, but is a big problem for plastic based objects such as bags.

People wait for the rain to drain garbage away, which eventually concentrates somewhere in the city. When the stack gets too big, it is set on fire and the smoke produced adds up to that produced by the vehicles which renders the air quality of Ouagadougou alarming.

Source : information gathered during a trip to Burkina Faso from many locals from various social backgrounds.

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