The West African nation of Burkina Faso has had a tumultuous history. Its past is a story of invasions by neighboring lands, battles between indigenous ethnic groups, and being tussled over by various European colonial powers. It emerged as an independent nation in 1960 and adopted its current name and flag in 1984.
Before 1896, the area of Africa that is now Burkina Faso experienced periods of stability alternated with periods of conflict. In 1896, the land became a French protectorate. In 1958, France designated the area the Republic of Upper Volta. This republic was still a French colony, but it was allowed to largely govern itself. From 1896 until 1958, the French flag was flown over what is now Burkina Faso.
The Republic of Upper Volta put away the French flag in favor of its own. The republic was given its name because of the Volta River that flows through it, and the flag was given three colors to represent the three branches of the river. Those branches are the Black Volta, the White Volta and the Red Volta. Accordingly, the flag of Upper Volta had three horizontal stripes of equal size. The top stripe was black, the center stripe was white, and the lower stripe was red.
In 1960 the Republic of Upper Volta gained full independence from France. This was followed by a period of political upheaval. The most recent change in government resulted from a coup in 1983. At this time, Thomas Sankara was installed as president and it was his decision to change the name of the country to Burkina Faso.
Although French is the primary language of Burkina Faso, indigenous languages are still commonly spoken. Sankara coined the new name of the country using elements of two of the most dominant native languages, and it is variously translated as “Land of the honorable men” or “Land of incorruptible men.”
The new nation adopted its new flag in 1984. It is evenly divided into two horizontal stripes. The top stripe is red, symbolizing the revolution, and the lower stripe is green, symbolizing agriculture and plenty. In the center of the Burkina Faso flag is a bright yellow five-pointed star which represents the light that guided the revolution.
The people of Burkina Faso are encouraged to honor their flag by flying it proudly each National Day, December 11.