Burkina Faso cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
The social topic most often used in Burkina Faso, no matter what age group or gender, is the family. In fact, asking about the family of the person with whom you are speaking is well regarded. This demonstrates interest in the person, the family being the main reference point of society.
Subjects to avoid are all those that require a decision or a commitment on the part of the person with whom you are speaking. The first meeting is exclusively for you to get to know one another and not for making decisions. Questions about money, for example, should be avoided at the first meeting; impatience is a sign of disrespect and can even evoke doubt. Why be in such a rush?
If there are any sensitive questions, these will be brought up by the person from Burkina Faso or by the eldest of the group. Indeed, the locals hosting the foreigner will clear up any misunderstandings.
The family is very important and is usually the first topic of conversation. Inquire about how the immediate family is doing (partner, children, parents), asking them especially about their health and then about more distantly related family members. You can even ask about the extended family (uncles, aunts, grandparents). Next, talk more in depth about other family-related subjects such as the number of children that you have, their schooling or your partner’s occupation. Work or business often come second. The person to whom you are speaking may be rather vague about this; it is, therefore, important to not dwell on it. If you are in a rural area, you can ask about how the fields and crops are doing. Asking about the person’s ethnic background and other questions related to this topic are acceptable but the general rule is that it is nevertheless best to avoid bombarding the person with questions the first time you meet. Politics, religion and sexuality are delicate subjects and should only be broached if the person to whom you are speaking takes the initiative. A sense of humour is very much appreciated and it is common to see people of one ethnic group tease people of another. This is what we call "les parents ou cousins à plaisanteries". These jokes may also be made between people of similar social classes.
It is important to avoid physical contact until a certain degree of familiarity has been established, especially in male/female relations. Proximity, however, is a sign of trust. One can think of proximity as the distance at which it is not necessary to raise your voice in order to be heard.
It is not necessary to continuously look at people when speaking to them. This can create an uncomfortable situation and it may be interpreted as a challenge. Looking at a person is a sign of increased interest. Straightforwardness is appreciated in public as long as it does not create an uncomfortable situation or make someone lose face.
Raising your voice is not recommended at any time. This shows aggressive behaviour seeking confrontation.
Greetings are extremely important; never address someone before greeting him/her with a handshake and asking about the health of his or her family. Starting a conversation without this step would be a sign of impoliteness. ALWAYS shake with your right hand since the left hand is used to wash oneself. People will greatly appreciate it if you greet them in their own language. If you enter a room with many people in it, it is most appropriate to shake hands with everyone or to greet everyone in a general manner, if there are too many people. You should also shake hands with the people you are speaking with before you leave. Between friends or people who know one another fairly well it is acceptable to kiss the person on the cheek three times, alternating sides.
In general, people are used to physical contact and being close to the people around them. In public places, in a line-up at the bank or in a bus for example, the distance between people may only be a few centimetres. However, when communicating with someone distances may vary according to the type of person you are addressing. It will be greater (approximately an arms length or more) if it is someone older, a more senior person in the hierarchy or if it is a person is of the opposite sex. On the other hand, the distance considerably decreases between two people of the same sex, age, or social class. It is common, for example, to see two men who know each other well holding hands or walking arm-in-arm in public.
Display of emotion
In public, people are reserved. Showing emotions in public is a sign of immaturity: it is children who act spontaneously in such situations. Adults are expected to demonstrate self-control.
However, there are noteworthy exceptions, such as deaths or marriages when there are outbursts of emotions. In a more formal atmosphere, that is to say, at work, this should be avoided.
Public displays of affection are not acceptable, whether a couple is married or not. Occasionally, in large cities it is becoming more common to see young adolescent couples hold hands, but nothing more. Even public displays of affection between a mother and her children are more limited and discrete. Gestures are rather common especially during passionate debates over a glass of tea. However, showing anger in public is rather rare and not very well regarded. People are naturally reserved in the expression of their emotions and always try to act respectfully.
Dress, punctuality & formality
The secular nature of society means, in an urban environment, that there are no restrictions on the way in which you dress. Nevertheless, pastel colours should be avoided because of the dust. White should also be avoided. Somewhat darker colours are preferable. Because of the heat cotton is advisable and polyester should be avoided.
Formality is appropriate in the beginning. People are wary of foreigners’ (especially Westerner’s) ability to work within the local hierarchy. Addressing people using the formal form of "you" [in French "vous"] is recommended in the beginning. As time goes on, relations will become more familiar.
The way time is seen is relative: there is always a good reason to not be on time. Time is elastic. What is not done today will be done tomorrow. Time must be given due time. As an old saying goes, If you do take the I’M IN A RUSH road, you will get to the IF I KNEW village. You will need an extra margin of time for respecting deadlines.
You must work at the same pace as the group in order to blend in. Attracting attention to yourself by being extremely productive only creates stress among the group.
Physical appearance and clothing are very important. This is why at work it is appropriate to be well dressed, wearing clean clothes that are well ironed. Due to the dust and heat, people often go home at noon to change their clothes before going back to work. This preoccupation about clothing is even greater for women, and haircuts, jewellery, and other accessories are of particular importance. The way to dress depends on whether the workplace is in the city or in a rural area. In the city, men generally wear pants and a long- or short-sleeved shirt or a clean t-shirt. Some men also wear a jacket and tie. Men do not wear shorts, but it is becoming more and more common to see young people wearing clean jeans. In rural areas, men often wear pants and a t-shirt. It would even be acceptable for a male expatriate to wear long shorts in a rural area, but not in the city. Women mostly wear dresses, shirts or a "pagne" (a skirt or dress made out of traditional materials) in either the city or in a rural area. Both shirts with and without sleeves are worn to work by women. Dresses and skirts should fall below the knee. Few women wear pants. For an expatriate woman, it is advisable to wear a dress or skirt that falls below the knee, but wearing pants is also possible and acceptable.
A supervisor should be addressed in a formal and respectful manner by using the formal form of "you" ("vous" in French) and by calling him "Mr." followed by his last name until he tells you to address him informally with the French word "tu". Between colleagues, the more formal way of addressing one another is used initially and quickly this becomes more informal. Instead of calling people by their first name, colleagues who know each other well often simply use the family name of the person without a formal title such as Mr. or Ms. This is not derogatory because last names are very important and hold a significant place in social interaction. It says a lot about the person, his/her background, and even family history. If a person to whom you are speaking has a name that indicates that he/she is a joking parent or cousin, he/she will joke around and tease you a lot.
In Burkina Faso and Africa in general, the approach to time is cyclical and, therefore, rather different from the linear conception of time that North Americans have. The linear approach to time that we have in North America necessitates long-term planning for a number of months or even years at a time and revolves around the production of goods and services.
In Burkina Faso, on the other hand, the cyclical notion of time necessitates short-term planning, which is influenced by a number of social, technical or seasonal factors. Work and the production of goods or services are not put ahead of the well being of an individual who may need support to solve a personal problem. Therefore, time management at work in a rural area will be influenced by the rainy season and in the city by a wedding or funeral. It is common to see employees leave work to help out at a funeral. The same will be expected of you. This is why punctuality (arriving late for a meeting) and absenteeism are quite widespread in the workplace. You will rarely see people working overtime because the work that was not accomplished in the expected timeframe is postponed for another time.
Of course, this notion of time affects productivity and has an impact on the deadlines set for accomplishing a task. An everyday task that you are used to doing in North America may often take a lot longer in Burkina Faso. The rise of the information age and the advent of the Internet (e-mail) have helped make time management more efficient since communication is faster. However, the machines may be out of date, poorly protected from heat and dust or the server may be unreliable, which causes a number of technical difficulties. Be aware though that as an expatriate it will generally be expected that you will be on time since people know that that is how things are in North America! It often takes time for an expatriate to adjust to this kind of time management and is often quite a challenge and takes...time, patience, and practise!
Preferred managerial qualities
The most highly regarded qualities in a local superior are experience and having a consensus-based approach. Traditionally, age has determined one’s standing in the hierarchy. In our present-day society, age has been replaced by experience, which often goes hand-in-hand with age. You gain respect and acceptance with experience because you are supposed to know more by virtue of either your level of education or your extensive experience in the field. Group consensus is also important. People in Burkina rarely say no and imposing your will not guarantee success. Passive resistance is the most difficult form of resistance to overcome since it is not easily detected. Therefore, to keep everyone happy, try to take into account differing opinions.
When the supervisor is an expatriate, the mostly highly regarded quality, first and foremost, is respect for what has been done in the past. Respect for who we are as people from Burkina Faso is important. People understand that you are likely to commit errors as someone who comes from elsewhere. However, they also want to show that they do not come empty-handed - that they too have something to bring to the table; in particular, the local knowledge and experience that the expatriate supervisor is looking for. Be subtle. Field staff are aware of the gaps in your knowledge about the area and they will wait to see how much you are willing to involve them before expressing their real viewpoints to you.
The best way to know how your staff views you is to have an intermediary on the team who is someone with whom you see eye-to-eye and who is respected by the local team. Confrontation should be avoided; intermediaries will be in the best position to get a feel for and inform you of people’s perceptions (uneasiness, admiration, hostility). They can also act as facilitators.
Respecting hierarchy is very important in most workplaces. A boss who is respected displays leadership and authority over his/her staff. The older a person is and the more years of experience the person has, the more that person is considered to be wise and respected. This is why having a diploma does not necessarily guarantee respect. A young person just out of university has less credibility because of a lack of experience even if he/she has a lot of technical expertise. The following proverb accurately expresses the importance given to older people: "Every elderly person who dies is a library that has burnt to the ground." For the expatriate, the situation is a bit different since he/she is often seen to be a specialist and diplomas are, therefore, more important. A person’s age and years of experience are still valued; however, the importance that is attached to them varies from workplace to workplace.
Generally, staff will never tell you directly how they perceive you and they will say even less if their perception is negative. You will perhaps find out about it through an intermediary who will act as a mediator and who perhaps will be from outside of your workplace. It will be up to you to decode the non-verbal cues and attitudes of the staff (by the way they address you, look at you, their tone of voice, etc. in order to figure out what they think of you).
Hierarchy and decision-making
Decisions are made by the administration. The highly hierarchical Mossi culture (52% of people from Burkina Faso are Mossi) has rubbed off on all aspects of society at all levels. There may be consultations, but decisions are made by individuals. Consultations are often informal. Most of the time in formal meetings, the agreements have already been made and the team consulted. You should always sound out the team before meetings so as to not find yourself in an awkward situation. People are used to this kind of decision-making and have a frame of reference. Consultation is very important, but leadership attracts a lot of attention and people will wait for the administration’s confirmation before deciding definitively. It is very important to respect hierarchy.
Consulting an immediate superior to obtain answers or feedback is appropriate and shows respect for hierarchy.
The way decisions are made may depend on the workplace, but in general the supervisor or boss has the last word and makes the final decision. Given his/her position, he/she is considered to be the most qualified to make good decisions. It is very important to respect the hierarchy and a superior’s decision is the final one. Employees rarely contradict a decision made by their superior. They can offer their suggestions to their supervisor, which might eventually be part of actions or decisions announced by the supervisor at a subsequent meeting.
Work relations are rather formal and during a meeting the director of your workplace will likely make an opening speech and will generally hold the floor and chair the meeting. Letters, notes, reports or any other business documents are always read and signed by the director and not by the employee who created and submitted them. This workplace strategy stems from the fact that collective productivity is more important than individual productivity; individualism is neither an important nor practised value. The director, by virtue of his/her signature, represents the company as a whole, which includes all the employees. The individual, thus, works together with colleagues for the good of the company.
It is possible to meet with an immediate supervisor to ask questions, but you must allow him/her the time he/she deems necessary to get back to you. It is often difficult for an expatriate to receive critical feedback about his/her work. If you ask a superior what he/she thought about your work, you will generally be told that all is well and that he/she is satisfied with it without going into details about any sort of evaluation criteria or assessment. In order to obtain more feedback, it would be useful for you to ask specific questions about certain aspects of your work about which you would like to have feedback.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Gender equality is not a reality in Burkina. Burkina Faso’s society is still dominated by men: males hold most of the positions of responsibility. Men are as likely to bring up the subject as women, but in a joking manner as it is rather sensitive.
As a Canadian, you should avoid this topic of conversation in public as people take offence to anything that might be seen as a criticism of their customs. Adverse reactions can come equally from men as from some women, who also have preconceived notions about gender equality in countries like Canada.
However, things are changing as more women have access to education. In urban areas, women have more latitude than those living in the country.
People from Burkina Faso are religious. That is not to say that they are necessarily practising; but they do believe in something. Animism (traditional religion) is the principal religion in Burkina; religions coexist rather well. Within the same family, it is possible to find Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims due to the very secular nature of Burkina.
What is not accepted is not believing in anything. Atheism is very frowned upon in Burkina. The three biggest religions in Burkina are Animism (with the most followers), Christianity and Islam; the last two have equal numbers at this time. Religious practice usually does not occur outside places of worship.
Discussing religion should be avoided especially if you are not a believer; this would likely alienate you from your colleagues.
In urban areas, social classes differ from one another by their material goods and finances (house, car, children who are studying abroad). However, people from Burkina Faso are very discrete. It is part of the Mossi culture’s heritage that you should attract neither desire nor jealousy by showing off what you have.
Traditional chieftainship does not have much influence on urban life. However, in the traditional environment, chieftainship still dictates position. All actions affecting the community must be brought to the attention of the chief.
Ethnic groups are on good terms in Burkina. There are some 60 ethnic groups and the Mossi alone make up 52% (or even 55%) of the population. The next are the Peuls with 13%. Inter-ethnic mixing is also a reality in Burkina. There are few unions that are forbidden.
Ethnicity has created a social innovation called "parents et cousins à plaisanterie". In effect, different ethnic groups mock one another, which allows them to joke about sensitive subjects.
You may witness a scene where people from Burkina Faso insult each other by referring to their ethnic origins. Don`t be alarmed; it’s a game and you will sometimes be pushed into siding with one group or the other.
The society is very hierarchical and women have very different roles from men. Men and women are, therefore, not considered to be equals. The woman’s role relates to family matters such as looking after the children and the home. Men are considered to be the head of the household and have the decision-making power. Women must respect and obey them and they are less educated than men. Obviously, this is more prevalent in rural than urban areas. At work, this is reflected in the type of positions that men and women hold. Very few women have executive jobs and generally they hold junior positions or work in the informal sector (selling goods such as fabric or prepared food, etc). A female executive must, therefore, do than a male to prove her credibility at work. Thus, foreign women will also need to prove and show their skills before they gain any credibility and are generally trusted by others.
Whatever their religion (Muslim, Christian, or Animistic), people who live in Burkina Faso for the most part have a strong faith and practice it. Religion has an important place in their life and they often defer to God when it comes to accomplishing a project, carrying out actions, or when encountering a problem. The following saying can be heard several times a day: "God willing". People may also consult with God or witch doctors to figure out the answers or solutions to their work-related problems. This may result in a kind of fatalistic attitude which sometimes helps to justify why certain projects or actions do not occur.
The society in Burkina Faso is rather hierarchical; there are also many different social classes. The village chief, travelling poets, or blacksmiths all have their own specific roles to play. For example, in a rural area it is necessary to consult the village chief to get his approval before starting any project. In an urban area, city authorities such as the mayor or the prefect should be consulted. Everything is regulated by protocol ceremonies of which it is very important to respect the procedures.
There are more than 70 different ethnic groups in Burkina Faso. The two largest are the "Mossi" and the "Dioula". There are many alliances between ethnic groups and thus certain people are closer to some rather than others and may tease one another according to their relations as "parents ou cousins à plaisanterie". On another level, there may be a kind of competition between different ethnic groups and one group may have prejudices about another, but in general everyone lives together in a peaceful manner. Ethnicity may, therefore, have an impact on workplace relations. Certain ethnic groups may be specialists in producing particular goods or services such as the Peuls, who raise cattle, to cite just one example.
In Burkina, the trust that helps along business depends more on who you are than on what you do. For this reason it is essential to know each other first and, preferably, through an intermediary with whom you have a personal relationship. We do not work with strangers. Credibility is acquired through life experience and your personal background; not because of your professional role. Moreover, delicate questions are usually dealt with in an informal setting where there are fewer barriers. In an atmosphere that is more relaxed, there are fewer chances that someone will lose face.
In order to achieve this, it is important to participate in activities outside the workplace: baptisms, weddings, funerals and religious festivals. During these events, people invite one another to share in the happy or painful times. These are occasions to share and get to know each other better. Conversations in the courtyard or hallway, or over a drink after work are also ways to get to know one another better.
It is essential to establish a personal relationship before talking about business. The person to whom you are speaking will want to know you personally before deciding if you can be trusted. He or she will want to know your reputation and your social status before getting involved in anything. Even after meeting a number of times and having established a feeling of trust, it would be poorly viewed to begin a discussion by jumping directly to the heart of the subject without showing your interest in the person to whom you are speaking and in his/her family and talking about his/her personal preoccupations.
During a business meeting, the amount of time devoted to discussion about business is significantly less than the rest of the conversation and often comes only at the end of the discussion. For someone from Burkina Faso, the quality of a business relationship depends on the person’s manners as much as it does on expertise. People take advantage of informal occasions such as visiting people’s homes, dining together or having discussions over tea to talk about business.
Privileges and favouritism
Personal and social relations are intertwined with work relations.It is not advisable to give special privileges or considerations to someone. Society is community-based. The family is the basis of society and in the workplace it is the group. Such practices put the solidarity of the group in danger. In Burkina culture, the group is always more important than the individual.
Depending on the workplace, it is not unusual to see family members work for the same company. Hiring relatives occurs frequently and is, thus, an accepted practice. Interpersonal relationships at work are also very important and prove that someone can be trusted. Once the feeling of trust is established, employees can more effectively approach you to talk about personal problems and negotiate a salary advance, for example.
Conflicts in the workplace
Conflict resolution in Burkina, in an urban or rural area, is done through intermediaries. It would be unthinkable to confront in public or in private for fear that one of the parties may lose face. As a result, a neutral third party must be used, one with whom the expatriate has something in common and who knows the other person well. This is common practise and usually people are pleased to help. Make no mistake, it is important to avoid speaking about it with colleagues with any motive other than seeking mediation. Otherwise, your conflict will become the subject of malicious gossip, which is scorned.
You will learn about criticism or discourteous behaviour in the same fashion: through one of your colleagues. A third person will approach you to tell you about it. Everything depends on the severity. The more serious it is, the more an intermediary becomes indispensable.
It is really not advisable to confront a person directly and even less suitable to do so in public or in front of other colleagues where you run the risk of humiliating him/her. The confrontation should take place privately and the most common way to do this is to call upon a third party who will act as a mediator and assist the two people in the discussion. The two people might not even both be present during the mediation. The goal is to come to a compromise so that the two parties feel that they are respected. In any case, diplomacy is always appropriate and direct confrontations should be avoided. Your colleague will not tell you if he/she has been offended, but you will be able to tell by his/her behaviour. He/she might feign indifference or not be very cooperative. If you are not sure, you can check with the person to see if you have offended him/her. If it is a minor problem, forgiveness is quickly granted and if it is more serious you may need to call upon a mediator.
Motivating local colleagues
Poor work conditions are often cited in justifying poor or average performance. However, fear of failure is a source of motivation. In fact, locals are conscious that they gain from the expertise brought by Canadian colleague and the recognition that that entails. They will do their best to not let you down.
The need for an income and the fear of losing one’s job is without a doubt an important factor in performing well on the job. Indeed, often one person may look after the needs of an entire large family, including extended family, and provide for friends when necessary. The income of this person is, therefore, very important. A flexible workplace, where employees are respected and listen to when they have personal problems, is appreciated. Professional advancement and the opportunity to hold a higher position, which would make it possible to make a name for oneself and to be more involved in the decision-making process, may also be a source of motivation.
Recommended books, films & foods
In literature, l’Enfant nor de Camara Laye—the most widely read African book in Africa—helps you to understand the way the West African and Burkina Faso societies work. In terms of cinematography, Burkina is the most prolific country in black Africa, mostly thanks to Fespaco. At "La Boîte noire" in Montréal you can find films such as Gaston Kaboré’s film "Wend kuuni" or Idrissa Ouédraogo’s "Tilaï".
Regarding food, a restaurant such as "l’Abidjanaise" in Montréal in the Côte-des neiges neighbourhood will give you a taste of the food before you arrive.
The Africa Centre, where African missionary Fathers live, gives you the opportunity to meet the Fathers who have had relevant and interesting experience in Africa. Most of the time they even speak the local languages.
If you can get your hands on a book by the following authors: Patrick Ikboudo, Norbert Zongo, Monique Ilboudo, Alexis Guingané, Jean Baptiste Kiéthega, it will help you discover the many different facets of Burkina Faso as well as its political, social, cultural, and historical context.
Bill Aka Kora is a very talented and promising young singer, Flack SO MAN and Georges Ouédraogo for more traditional music.
Regarding food, there are a number of small restaurants in Montreal that offer dishes from West Africa. Even if they are not from Burkina Faso in particular, certain dishes are basically the same. Fatty rice, rice with peanut sauce, and "tô" drizzled with different sauces (gombo, baobab, etc.) will give you a taste of the dishes that you can try in Burkina Faso. Some of the films that are listed in the following question may perhaps be found at the NFB or may be presented that the annual "Vues d’Afrique" (film) festival in Montreal. The "Nuits d’Afrique" festival (music, culture), which is also held once a year in Montreal, might also be a way to discover artists from Burkina Faso or other African artists.
Among the local newspapers that stand out, there is "JJ", which is the Thursday newspaper, and a satirical weekly like France’s "Canard Enchaîné". It is a provocative newspaper that people from Burkina Faso love. Their website is: www.journaldujeudi.com.
Among television shows there are "soaps" from Burkina Faso such as Kadhy Jolie and À nous la vie, which describes the daily life of the Ouagalais humorously.
Events not to be missed if you are lucky are "Fespaco" (Ouagadougou’s International Film Festival) and "Siao" (Ouagadougou’s International Art Show). They are the two largest events of international acclaim. They are held every other year. "Fespaco" in February and "Siao" in December.
Ouagadougou’s "Grand marché" market is the economic centre of the capital and is worth going to see for the friendly atmosphere and good deals. Everything is negotiable. Ouaga "by night" is simply known as Avenue Kwama N’Krumah and it is where everyone in the capital goes to dance.
In the beginning, it is best for a colleague to guide you around while you expand your group of friends.
"À tirs croisés" and "Vis à vis" are two shows that discuss current events and social issues in Burkina Faso in an educational, but comical way. Television series such as Kadi Jolie, Sita, Mounia & Rama, A nous la vie, and Jeunes branchés all give an overview of everyday life. Variety shows (music and entertainment) such as "Bons dimanches" and "Reem Doogo" showcase the more artistic aspects of Burkina Faso’s culture.
Two weeklies: "L’indépendant" which is rather critical of political events and "Journal du Jeudi" which is a comical and satirical newspaper. "Le Pays" and "L’Observateur Paalga" are two dailies.
anything from director Idrissa Ouédraogo (Tilaï, Cri de Coeur, Yaaba, Le monde à l’endroit, Kini and Adams, Poko, ...), director Dani Kouyaté ( Keïta ou l’héritage du griot, Sia le rêve du python,...), director Gaston Kaboré ( Buud Yam, Wend-Kuni, ) and director Issa Traoré de Brahima (Sira ba).
In Ouagadougou, the capital: a number of concerts and other cultural events (theatre, traditional dance, modern and traditional vocalists) at the "Centre culturel français" and at the "Maison du people" for very reasonable prices. Pick up a copy of the monthly program at the Centre culturel français.
Go see (the biggest) "football" game (the equivalent of our soccer) at the stadium on August 4th, attend a traditional wrestling match (in villages).
Major cultural events
The "FESPACO" (PanAfrican Cinema and Television Festival), the most important African film festival, is held in Ouagadougou every other year (odd years).
The "SIAO" (Salon internatinal de l’artisanat African de Ougadougou) is also held every other year (even years). The festival "Les nuits atypiques de Koudougou" showcases concerts by homeland artists as well as African artists from neighbouring countries. At various times though out the year, "Festival des Masques" are held in different regions and villages in Burkina Faso. During these festivals, people bring out their traditional masks and make them dance. The "Festival International de Théâtre et de Marionnettes de Ouaga" (FITMO) and the "Festival des arts de la rue" are two other of the many festivals that run throughout the year which may help you discover the many facets of the culture in Burkina Faso.
Your colleagues and Canadians who have also lived in the country for a while may also be good sources of information to help you discover Burkina Faso’s different cultural facets. The "Manega" museum, located not far from Ougadougou is an interesting place to visit in order to learn about the history and art of the country. "Laongo", an amazing spot, is about thirty kilometers from the capital.
A trip to the "Grand marché de Ouaga" is a cultural experience in itself! The first time you visit you should go with someone who is from Burkina Faso who can act as your guide. When you are invited to a wedding, baptism or even a funeral, do not hesitate in accepting the invitation. These invitations will be essential in your understanding the local culture and your presence will be very much appreciated by the people who invited you.
Princess Yennega is at the origin of the creation of the Mossi empire. Her horse, a stallion, bolted away. Thus she disappeared only to be found in front of the fallen Prince Rialé’s cabin. They lived for a long time and had many children. That is how the legend goes. This is why national sports teams in Burkina Faso are called the Stallions.
Thomas Sankara is without a doubt one of the country’s biggest heroes. He was the president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. He was assassinated during the last coup d’état that occurred when the current president overtook the country. Sankara was a socialist leader during the revolution and began many projects to launch Burkina Faso’s independence (from international aid), as well as its development, at many levels (constructing a number of schools and housing projects, encouraging the people to buy local products, massive vaccination campaigns). He was very well liked and close to the people because of his ambitious plans to develop his country which he quickly and truly put into place, as well as for his unpretentiousness. An example of this is that he had a Renault-5 as his official presidential vehicle!
Shared historical events with Canada
Not to my knowledge.
Canada and its people have a very good reputation in Burkina Faso. It is highly unlikely that historical events would affect work or social relations.
The local’s stereotype is to see Canadians as having wheelbarrows of cash. Therefore, avoid getting into relationships where money is involved, as it will destroy everything. Never give money as a present!!
Stereotypes that Canadians have about work are mostly related to time management and workplace organization. Given our different ideas about time and productivity, it is easy for a Canadian to think that all people who live in Burkina Faso are always late and disorganized at work. It is necessary to understand their priorities (focussed on humans instead of the production of goods and services) in order to overcome these prejudices. However, you should avoid falling into the trap of believing, for instance, that all Africans feel a sense of solidarity and share the same feelings. People from Burkina Faso also have their own interests and concerns that must be defended.
About the cultural interpreters
Your Cultural Interpreter was born in Paris, France, the oldest of four children. He was raised in the Ouagadougou where completed his primary and part of his secondary education. In 1987, his studies took him abroad to France, where he finished his secondary education and part of his studies at university. Following that, your Cultural Interpreter immigrated to Canada to study. In 2000, he created his own business and has just opened a branch in Burkina. He has been living in Montreal since 1992 and goes to Burkina four or five times a year. He is married with two children.
Your Cultural Interpreter was born in 1971, the younger of two children. She was raised in a town in a rural area. She studied Criminology at the University of Montreal. Her studies took her abroad for the first time in 1995 when she participated in an intercultural exchange program in a village in Burkina Faso. Later, she travelled to Burkina Faso where she lived for two years in the southwest of the country. During her stay, she worked as a volunteer co-operant Communications Advisor for an organization for the protection of human rights. Now back in Canada, she has lived in Montreal for the past year and a half and works as a Program and Human Resources Advisor.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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