“I have just watched a video of an amazing African man talking about neo-colonialism and debt, but I can’t remember his name?” “Was it Lumumba?” “No, that wasn’t him.” “Thomas Sankara?” “Yes. Yes, Thomas Sankara!”
This was me at 18 after attending a panel discussion that was introduced by Sankara’s speech on debt. He delivered his speech against debt in July 1987 at the summit of the Organization of Afrikan Unity (now Afrikan Union) held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was mesmerized by his words and charisma but memory failed me when I tried to remember who that brave Afrikan man was. When my father picked me up from the venue, he let me know who he was. Immediately, I searched for him on the internet. I watched every documentary and interview that I could find on YouTube and fell absolutely in love with this revolutionary.
I was so obsessed with him that I even noted in my high school history book “why aren’t Sankara, Lumumba, and X mentioned here?” when there were a few lines white-washing slavery and colonialism. Thomas Sankara introduced me to a new world showing and proving to me that Afrikans have always resisted, fought against their oppressors, and were often dangerously successful. But who was the man who epitomized uprightness?
Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara was born in Yako on 21 December 1949 of a father from the Peul nation and a mother belonging to the Mossi nation. His father was one of the many Afrikan men forcefully recruited to fight in the 1939-1945 west second tribal war (its only global aspect being the exploitation of people and resources from the colonies) and Thomas himself received military education and training. Thanks to the military he, and his then friend Blaise Compaoré, traveled to different parts of Afrika including, Morocco, Cameroon, and Madagascar, where he witnessed the revolution that toppled the Malagasy President Tsiranana. This insurgency impacted him tremendously as he returned to his land with newly acquired principles of democratic and popular revolution.
After successive coups d’état and his liberation from prison on 4 August 1983, he became the leader of the Revolutionary National Council and President of the nation at the age of 33, forming a new revolutionary government. On the first anniversary of the uprising, Sankara re-baptized the country and named it Burkina Faso: “the land of the upright people.”
Although his presidency lasted a short four years, he showed by example how to be a real incorruptible man. He:
- Purged deeply entrenched bureaucratic and institutional corruption
- Slashed the salaries of ministers
- Abolished many of the privileges of government
- Sold off all extravagant vehicles. Made the Renault 5, the cheapest car in the country, the official car of government, including for himself as president
- Civil servants were made to donate a month’s wage every year into a state development fund
- Led an agricultural revolution
- Redistributed land from the economic elite to subsistence farmers
- Launched massive irrigation and fertilizer enrichment programs
- Constructed social housing in the cities
- Promoted women’s rights, FGM was banned and women were put into top government and state owned company positions
- Forced marriage and polygamy were made illegal
- Declared day of solidarity with housewives, during which men took on the role of their women
He also promoted “made in Burkina Faso” by sporting faso dan fani (clothes of the country), had himself and members of the government fly economy because, as he stated, whether first of second class everybody takes off and lands at the same time.
Sankara didn’t hold back in his rightful criticism of France and forms of neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism either. He made sure to educate himself for “without patriotic political education, a soldier is only a potential criminal.” He made it plain and used practical examples to get his message through. When describing imperialism, he said: “Some people ask: ‘But where is imperialism?’ Imperialism… look into your dishes when you eat. The imported seeds of rice, corn, millet, that’s imperialism.” He believed in food self-sufficiency because “he who feeds you, controls you” and, through land reforms, made sure that all Burkinabe had two meals every day.
“Some people ask: ‘But where is imperialism?’ Imperialism… look into your dishes when you eat. The imported seeds of rice, corn, millet, that’s imperialism”Thomas Sankara
His outspokenness, approachability, and breaking down the complex systems of exploitative work so that the average person could understand him, made him a perilous person not only in the Sahel and Afrika but in the world. In four years he passionately demonstrated that a small country that had just got out of colonialism didn’t need to rely on its former colonizer (France), or financial institutions like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank. Institutions that – as Kehinde Andrews writes in The New Age Empire – continue to “manage globalization and maintain the logic of empire under the guise of “development.”
Despite centuries of exploitation and oppression, Burkina Faso was successfully recovering and was on its way to becoming a real independent force. This living and breathing example of Afrikan resilience needed to be stopped so as not to spread the seed of revolution, liberation, and socialism around the globe. This is why France armed his brother Blaise Compaoré with other traitors to assassinate Thomas Sankara and his 12 companions on 15 October 1987: Babou Paulin Bamouni, Bonaventure Compaoré, Patenema Souré, Abdoulaye Gouem, Wallilaye Ouédraogo, Der Somda, Emmanuel Bationo, Christophe Saba, Sibiri Zagré, Noufou Sawadogo, Amadé Sawadogo, Frédéric Kiemdé.
34 long years after their transition, those responsible and complicit in the death of these great revolutionaries are being tried in Burkina Faso. General Diendéré has pleaded not guilty and now told his version of events. Who are the absent parties? Compaoré the former president who took power following Sankara’s murder, who is now exiled in Côte d’Ivoire, and France. Sankara may be gone, but his ideals, his revolution, his charisma, his words will forever live on. As the saying goes “kill Sankara, a thousand more Sankara will be born.”
“Kill Sankara, a thousand more Sankara will be born”
La patrie ou la mort, nous vaincrons ~ Our country or death - we shall prevail