The Republic of Upper Volta (République de Haute-Volta) was established on December 11, 1958, as a self-governing colony within the French Community. Before attaining autonomy it had been French Upper Volta and part of the French Union. On August 5, 1960 it attained full independence from France.
Thomas Sankara came to power through a military coup d'état on August 4, 1983. After the coup, he formed the National Council for the Revolution (CNR), with himself as president. Under the direction of Sankara the name of the state was changed on August 4, 1984, from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning "the country of honorable people."
The name Upper Volta indicated that the country contains the upper part of the Volta River. The river is divided into three parts, called the Black Volta, White Volta and Red Volta, and the colors of the national flag corresponded to the parts of the river.
French Upper Volta was established on March 1, 1919 under the Third Republic as a part of French West Africa, from territories that had been part of the colonies of Upper Senegal and Niger and the Côte d'Ivoire. The colony was later dissolved on September 5, 1932 being split up on the Côte d’Ivoire, French Sudan and Niger. After World War II, on September 4, 1947 the colony was revived as a part of the French Union, with its previous boundaries.
A revision in the organization of French Overseas Territories began with the passage of the Basic Law (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956. This act was followed by reorganizational measures approved by the French parliament early in 1957 that ensured a large degree of self-government for individual territories. Upper Volta became an autonomous republic in the French community on December 11, 1958.
Upper Volta achieved independence on August 5, 1960. The first president, Maurice Yaméogo, was the leader of the Voltaic Democratic Union (UDV). The 1960 constitution provided for election by universal suffrage of a president and a national assembly for 5-year terms. Soon after coming to power, Yaméogo banned all political parties other than the UDV. The government lasted until 1966 when after much unrest-mass demonstrations and strikes by students, labor unions, and civil servants-the military intervened.
The military coup deposed Yaméogo, suspended the constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, and placed Lt. Col. Sangoulé Lamizana at the head of a government of senior army officers. The army remained in power for 4 years, and on June 14, 1970, the Voltans ratified a new constitution that established a 4-year transition period toward complete civilian rule. Lamizana remained in power throughout the 1970s as president of military or mixed civil-military governments. After conflict over the 1970 constitution, a new constitution was written and approved in 1977, and Lamizana was reelected by open elections in 1978.
Lamizana's government faced problems with the country's traditionally powerful trade unions, and on November 25, 1980, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in a bloodless coup. Colonel Zerbo established the Military Committee of Recovery for National Progress as the supreme governmental authority, thus eradicating the 1977 constitution.
Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from trade unions and was overthrown two years later, on November 7, 1982, by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). The CSP continued to ban political parties and organizations, yet promised a transition to civilian rule and a new constitution.
Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CSP and the radicals, led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, who was appointed prime minister in January 1983. The internal political struggle and Sankara's leftist rhetoric led to his arrest and subsequent efforts to bring about his release, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaoré. This release effort resulted in yet another military coup d'état on August 4, 1983.
After the coup, Sankara formed the National Council for the Revolution (CNR), with himself as president. Sankara also established Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) to "mobilize the masses" and implement the CNR's revolutionary programs. The CNR, whose exact membership remained secret until the end, contained two small intellectual Marxist-Leninist groups. Sankara, Compaore, Capt. Henri Zongo, and Maj. Jean-Baptiste Lingani-all leftist military officers-dominated the regime.