‘We are heirs of the world’s revolutions’ :Lessons from Thomas Sankara, (December 21, 1949 – October 15, 1987) the leader of Burkina Faso’s popular revolutionary government from 1983 to 1987. —-
It is very vital to look at the role that we Africans play in our own liberation, and the role of the “liberal” Western imperialisms in thwarting them.
Nobel Prize Winner, James Watson made some racist comments, where he alleges that Africa is underdeveloped because Africans are more stupid. He is of course exploiting his celebrity to put more weight to ideas that run counter to the overwhelming scientific accord, although the topic is not even within his own area of professional capability. However, his offensive views do create a popular reverberation, because Africa and Africans are nearly always reported as victims, and African affairs are typically factually reported or fictionally portrayed only as they impact on white people.
In 1987 the French government engineered a coup d’état that overthrew Burkino Faso’s socialist government led by Captain Thomas Sankara: one of the most progressive governments that Africa has ever seen. A week prior to his death on Oct. 15, Sankara had made a speech that said: “while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
Captain Sankara was a left-wing and popular army officer with a captivating charismatic lifestyle and politics also driving a motorcycle and playing the guitar in a Jazz band: He was a prominent national figure.
In 1981, the government run by the military invited Sankara to take up the position of Secretary of State for information, a short while after he discovered that the government was not working in the interest of the people, he resigned. A subsequent coup in 1982 gave Sankara the office of Prime Minister. In May 1983 during Jean-Christophe Mitterrand’s alleged visit to Ouagadougou, Sankara and two other ministers were arrested and placed under house arrest, all of them being members of the Communist Officers’ Group” (Regroupement des officiers communistes – ROC).
A popular uprising in Sankara’s support resulted to a coup led by ROC member, Blaise Compaoré made Sankara president in August that year.
A record of remarkable progress was experienced in the subsequent four years within the country, including Sankara renaming the country from the colonial name of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso “The Land of Upright Men’’. The government’s main policies were centered around fighting corruption and government privileges ( selling most of the government’s fleet of Mercedes Benz cars and making Renault 5; cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time, the official car), averting famine, encouraging reforestation, education, health and women’s rights.
“The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.” he noted.
It is worthwhile to note his great accomplishments in the area of women’s rights, including a large number of women in his socialist government, banned female circumcision, condemned polygamy, promoted contraception and improved the status of the average woman which was and still is an unprecedented policy priority in Western Africa.
His government, the Rassemblement Démocratique et Populaire was also the first African government to publicly recognize that AIDS was a major threat to Africa.
It is very essential to recognise that the emphasis on reforestation made Burkino Faso’s socialist government one of the world’s pioneers in encouraging and promoting sustainability and defending the environment.
Earlier In October 1984, Sankara used the avenue of the United Nations General Assembly to speak on behalf of and for the exploited, subjugated and oppressed of the world. “I am here to bring you fraternal greetings from a country…whose seven million children, women, and men refuse henceforth to die from ignorance, hunger, and thirst,” Sankara said.
“I make no claim to set forth doctrines here. I am neither messiah nor prophet. I possess no truths. My goal is…to speak on behalf of my people…to speak for the great, disinherited people of the earth so disparagingly named the Third World. I wish to explain the reasons for our revolt, even though I may not succeed in making you understand them.”
As Mary-Alice Waters noted:
Speaking before the United Nations in 1984, he linked the freedom struggle of the people of Burkina Faso to the centuries of revolutionary struggle from the birth of capitalism to today—from the American and French revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century to the great October Revolution of 1917 that “transformed the world, brought victory to the proletariat, shook the foundation of capitalism, and made possible the realization of the Paris Commune’s dreams of justice.” We are the heirs of those revolutions, he said
Sankara voiced the determination and dignity of the people of one of the poorest countries of imperialist-ravaged Africa—one that then had the highest infant mortality rate in the world, an illiteracy rate approaching 98 percent, and an average life expectancy of 40 years. He reached out to, and spoke on behalf of, all those the world over who refuse to accept the economic bondage of class society and its consequences, including ecological devastation, social disintegration, racism, and the wars of conquest and plunder inevitably and lawfully wrought by the workings of capitalism itself. Sankara knew such conditions are not “natural” phenomena, but the products of today’s imperialist world order.
He explained that the world order and imperialism can be fought and must be destroyed. He believed like Che Guevara did, in the men and women so proudly and haughtily dismissed by the rulers of the imperialist world, as a revolutionary he did not think that man is “an incorrigible little animal, capable of advancing only if you feed him grass or tempt him with a carrot or whip him with a stick.
A world built on different economic and social foundations can be created not by “technocrats, politicians or wise men’’ but by the masses of workers and peasants whose labor, joined with the riches of nature is the source of all wealth, by the ordinary human beings who transform themselves as they become an active, conscious force, transforming their conditions of life, Sankara noted and the revolutionary government he led set out along this course, mobilizing peasants, workers, craftsmen, women, youth, the elderly, to carry out a literacy campaign, an immunization drive, to sink wells, plant trees, build housing, and begin to eliminate the oppressive class exploitation on the land.
Sankara stood out amongst leaders of the struggles for national liberation in Africa in the last half of the twentieth century because he was a socialist. “We are open to all the winds of the will of the peoples and their revolutions, and we study some of the terrible failures that have given rise to tragic violations of human rights,” he said. “We take from each revolution only its kernel of purity, which forbids us to become slaves to the reality of others.”
The battle against the encroachment of the desert is a battle to establish a balance between man, nature, and society. As such, it is a battle that is above all political, one whose outcome is not determined by fate….
As Karl Marx said, those who live in a palace do not think the same things, nor in the same way, as those who live in a hut. This struggle to defend the trees and the forests is above all a struggle against imperialism. Imperialism is the arsonist setting fire to our forests and savannahs, Sankara noted.
On Che Guevara he said:
Che Guevara taught us “we could dare to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in our abilities,” He instilled in us the conviction that “struggle is our only recourse.” He, Sankara insisted, was “a citizen of the free world that together we are in the process of building. That is why we say that Che Guevara is also African and Burkinabè.”
On Oct, 15 1987 Thomas Sankara was assassinated along with twelve other officials in a coup d’état organised by his former colleague, Compaoré
Referring to Sankara’s assassination, Ulises Estrada said he was “convinced that the hand of his assassins was guided by imperialism, which could not allow a man with the ideas and actions of Sankara to lead a country on a continent so exploited for hundreds of years by international imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonial governments that do their bidding.
Furthermore he said “Sankara’s political ideas will endure, like those of Patrice Lumumba of Congo and Amílcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau, also assassinated by traitors at the behest of the empire.”
Estrada concluded by saying that someday the peoples of Africa will realize “the dreams of Agostinho Neto, Sékou Touré, Julius Nyerere, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and so many others who left an indelible mark on history.”
“While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.” – Thomas Sankara