Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Upper Volta
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 933-934
UPPER VOLTA: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

The land now known as Upper Volta was traditionally dominated by the powerful Mossi tribe, who successfully resisted being conquered by Muslim invaders and preserved their animist beliefs although surrounded by Muslim influences. The Mossi, however, accepted French rule for the advantages of protection against warring neighbors. The French maintained the area as a colony from 1896 to 1932, when administration was divided among some of the surrounding colonies. After World War 11, the Mossi pressed for recognition of Upper Volta as a separate territory, and the French granted this status in 1947. Pressures for independence were stimulated by the Parti Démocratique Voltaique (PDV), founded by Oeuzzin Coulibaly in 1948 as a section of the interterritorial Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA). In the same year, the Mossi formed the Union Voltaique, a traditionalist party favored by the French, who hoped to suppress the PDV.

By 1954, the French had relaxed their opposition to the PDV-RDA, and the Mossi party began to disintegrate because of personal differences among the leadership. The party split into the Mouvement Populaire de 1'Evolution Africaine (MPEA), based in the west, and the Parti Social de l'Education des Masses Africaines (PSEMA), based in the east and backed by the Mossi leader, the Moro Naba. A fourth party, the Mouvement Démocratique Voltaique (MDV), also had Mossi support in the north.

The PDV-RDA entered an alliance with the PSEMA to form the PDU. After the 1957 election, the PDU formed a coalition with the MDV, and Ouezzin Coulibaly gained control of the territorial assembly, whose powers had expanded because of reforms following the French Overseas Reform Act. Ouezzin's position was threatened in late 1957 when the MDV and some former PSEMA members bolted from the coalition, but in early 1958 Maurice Yameogo led some deputies from the MDV into the PDU, supporting the government. When Ouezzin died unexpectedly in 1958, Yameogo maneuvered himself into the governmental leadership and was named president by the assembly. Upper Volta became an autonomous state in the French Community in 1959 and achieved complete independence in 1960. Opposition parties either merged with the governing party, now called the Union Démocratique Voltaique (UDV?RDA), or were banned, transforming Upper Volta into a single party state, headed by Yameogo until a military coup in 1966.

Continuity and Change since 1962

 Although Upper Volta displayed a kaleidoscope of party activity from 1950 to 1962, only one party maintained its dominant position after 1962, but it did so again in a context of challenges from other parties and interruptions of civilian government by military takeovers. One new party qualified for study.

Original Parties, Continuing

871 Democratic Union. Under President Maurice Yamdogo, the UDV held all the seats in the assembly and enjoyed the status of the only legal party. In 1966, Yameogo was deposed by the military, which dissolved the assembly but which did not ban political parties. In late 1970, the UDV won a clear majority of the assembly seats in elections under a new constitution. But factionalism in the government of Gerard Ouedraogo again brought military intervention and dissolution of the assembly in early 1974. Elections were held under another constitution in 1978. Although the UDV fell just short of a majority in the assembly (28 of 57 seats), it was able to form a government, despite bitter opposition and an internal split.  

New Party, Continuing

872 Progressive Union. Formed in 1957 as the National Liberation Movement (MLN), this leftist party operated clandestinely until emerging to contest the 1970 election and win all 11 percent of the seats. Its name was changed to the Voltaic Progressive Union (UPV) in 1977 in preparation for the 1978 elections, when it won 16 percent of the seats and qualified as the third legitimate party in the nation.


To reduce tribalism and regionalism in party politics, Upper Volta's new constitution has the unique feature of allowing for only three political parties. Although seven parties contested the May 1978 elections, only the top three parties in legislative representation were to be allowed to continue (Africa, February 1978, pp. 32-33). This rule apparently eliminated the PRA, which won 21 percent of the seats in 1970 and 11 percent in 1978 but came in fourth after the UDV, the Union Nationale pour la Defense de la Democratie (UNDD) and the Union Progressiste Voltaique (UPV). The UNDD was formed only for the 1978 election and thus was not in existence long enough to qualify for the study.

1. Our study of party politics in Upper Volta is based on a file of 346 pages from 39 documents, 19 of which are in French, 19 in English and I in Dutch. The only party in our study is the Voltaic Democratic Union (UDV, code 871) which is discussed on 240 pages or 69 percent of the file. The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Harold Barger. Mary Welfling used the file to code the UDV on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. George Martens was our consultant.