Bolgatanga, colloquially known as Bolga, is the capital of both the Bolgatanga Municipal District and the Upper East Region of Ghana, and has a population of about 72,000. Bolga is the major town between Tamale, 161 km (about 100 miles) to the south, and the border with Burkina Faso.
The Upper East Region is bounded by the Republic of Burkina Faso, 32 km (about 20 miles) to the north of Bolga, the Upper West Region 65 km (40 mi) to the west at the Sisili River, and the Republic of Togo, about 100 km (about 60 miles) to the east of the city. Bolga lies in the Red Volta River Valley (which serves as a major migration route of elephants), with the White Volta River and the cliffs of the Gambaga Escarpment to the south of the city forming the southern boundary of the region.
Historically Bolgatanga was situated at the southern terminus of the ancient Trans-Saharan trade route. The eastern route traveled through Northern Nigeria, converging with the Sahelian route from Mali via Burkina Faso, near Bolgatanga. Along the route, handicrafts—especially straw baskets, hats and fans, as well as leather goods, metal jewellery and indigenous attires called "Fugu" -- were exchanged for kola nuts and salt.
Although present long before on a smaller scale, in the mid-19th century, Samori ibn Lafiya Toure of the Wassoulou Empire, and the Zarma leader of the Mossi state of Gurunsi, Babatu, had drafted many Hausa-Fulani, Dagomba and Gurunsi mercenaries in the area to capture slaves from local villages in the Upper East region for their own financial profit.