The republic of Upper Volta achieved independence 1960. Maurice Yaméogo, leader of the Volta Democratic Union, became president. His government quickly became authoritarian and banned all opposition. Yaméogo was replaced in January 1966 by Lt. Col. Sangoulé Lamizana, a former army chief of staff, who suspended the 1960 constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, and formed a military-civilian cabinet.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Upper Volta suffered from severe political instability. A constitution that provided for an elected assembly was adopted in 1970, but factional struggle broke out and in February 1974, President Lamizana announced that the military had again taken over the government. A new constitution was approved in 1977; under this constitution, Lamizana won election to the presidency in 1978. On 25 November 1980, however, Lamizana was deposed in a bloodless coup led by Col. Sayé Zerbo, who became president. Zerbo's government was overthrown on 7 November 1982 by yet another army coup, and Maj. Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo was named president.
Under the Ouédraogo regime, a military faction emerged that was suspected of having close ties to Libya. Prominent in this group was Capt. Thomas Sankara, who served as prime minister from January until May 1983, when he was purged by Ouédraogo. On 4 August 1983, in what was Upper Volta's third coup in three years, Sankara seized power. Sankara sought to instill his nation with a spirit of revolutionary fervor. In August 1984, on the first anniversary of his rule, he renamed the nation ‘Burkina Faso’. A substantial number of politicians, soldiers, government officials, and labour leaders were jailed.
In December 1985, Burkina Faso briefly fought Mali over possession of a disputed border strip. On 22 December 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of dividing the territory into roughly equal parts, a decision both nations accepted. On 15 October 1987, faced by opposition among the trade unions and civil servants, the government was overthrown by an army unit led by Capt. Blaise Compaoré, the president's chief adviser. Sankara and 12 aides were immediately shot, and Compaoré assumed the presidency.
At the start of the 1990s, the authorities sought to legitimize their position through elections, including the drafting of a new constitution. In March of 1991, the ruling party abandoned its Marxist ideology and embraced free enterprise. After elections Youssouf Ouédraogo was named prime minister. The introduction of multi-party competition was a major reform, but the lack of probity in the electoral process prompted critics to label the government and its reforms a "shamocracy."Under Compaoré, Burkina Faso conducted an active foreign policy in West Africa. It sent troops to Liberia and harbored dissidents from Gambia. The country continued its support of Liberian insurgent Charles Taylor and his NPFL despite a West-Africa-wide deployment of forces in Liberia. Burkina Faso refused to contribute forces despite international pressure until 1995.