Although murdered by retrogressive forces opposed to Burkina Faso’s true liberation and that of Africa, Thomas Sankara’s revolutionary ideas and initiatives remain a powerful inspiration to those individuals and movements that are dedicated to struggles for social justice everywhere
When you are fifty today in Africa, which coincides with fifty years of formal independence of the continent, the Pan-Africanist ideals you can feel inside, the thirst for sovereignty that is irrepressible in your heart, rebellion that nurtures within in order to break the chains of mental slavery, the motivation to fight in order to lead the continent towards a dynamic of emancipation and social construction, are not an elusive reality. These are ‘dreams’ that are still inspired by the first heroes and heroines who fought for the destiny of Africa.
When you are fifty what you learn from the struggles of leaders like Nkrumah, Lumumba, etc., only comes from readings and evocations, yet you have also lived through the era of Thomas Sankara. You have experienced the reality of resistance and realized that it is possible for Africans to take their destiny, assume it, build it and see ‘the people write their happiness.’
‘Seeing the people write their happiness’ is a formula of Thomas Sankara. This was the meaning of his political action. President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987, he led his country on the path of a cultural and economic revolution in accordance with popular aspirations, with tangible and effective results. Murdering Thomas Sankara on 15 October 1987, twenty-six years ago, was like assassinating a bold, proactive and emancipatory political project for Africa.
Sankara is seen as a visionary. He was. A number of axis of resistance have developed in Africa today, in order to fight against the systems of domination that organize the looting of the continent and arrest its development. The systemic rupture needed for a social justice based governance and a democratic system that is not falsely representative are illustrated in the words and deeds of Thomas Sankara.
For four years Burkina lived under his direction of popular power with human challenges, because his political will was beyond the feudal and social inertia factors. Sankara pushed land reform and redistributed land from feudal landlords to peasants. He suspended rural poll taxes and domestic rents. Commited to women's rights, he banned female genital mutilation, fought against forced marriages and polygamy. In his government, women were appointed in very important positions such as Minister of the Budget. They were encouraged to join the revolutionary commitees instead of only managing domestic work.
Was Sankara going too fast? Were the reforms too bold? Not at all, since he achieved significant results. In a continent coerced to adopt World Bank and IMF programs, limiting public investments with its social impact, Sankara promoted a national agenda focusing on agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, education, public health and infrastructure. Burkina Faso, under Sankara, doubled the rate of tuition in 2-3 years through a nation-wide campaign literacy campaign. It was a performance hailed by UNESCO. Also, in four years, 32 dams were built, against 20 in the 24 previous years - that is, since the independence of the country. These achievements of the Sankara regime where made on the basis of a popular mobilization, using local human and financial resources, involving grassroots communities and using their own labour. Indeed, Sankara was in line with the people’s aspirations.
In fact, Sankara was murdered by predatory cliques for whom organizing the systematic looting of Africa has been the guiding principle since the colonial era. The fatal conspiracy was fed by internal betrayal. It was facilitated by the complicity of groups hostile to reforms and upheavals that challenged their vested interests.
Africa has not forgotten Sankara. For the twenty-sixth anniversary of his assassination on 15 October 2013, several events took place on the continent and also in the world. In Dakar, Abidjan, Montreal (Canada), etc., conferences and debates were organized on the theme of Sankara’s legacy and the importance of his struggle. In Ouagadougou, the citizen movement ‘Balai citoyen’, led by young hip hop artists, called for traditional flowers to be laid on Sankara’s grave which was attended by a huge number of people. It is the force of Sankara’s example that motivates, but the driven force is the actuality of his struggle.
It is in this context that Pambazuka News has decided to devote a special edition to Thomas Sankara, published in three languages: French, English and Portuguese. Some articles that are not in the English edition of this week will be published next week, along with the Portuguese edition.
Contributions are from activists committed to Sankara’s cause and ideology. Through their analyses and testimonies, they:
- recall the story of a leader engaged in a genuine revolutionary process that remains "the last African revolution interrupted, as she began to garner promising results", (Justice for Sankara International Campaign statement)
- magnified the essence of the political ideology of Thomas Sankara, through the "warmth and compassion (he had) in respect of other human beings", (Amber Murrey)
- highlighted the strong will of Sankara for a "mental liberation of Africans, (after) colonization has led to states of mind that sometimes bordered on self-hatred", that made him the first apostles of the African Renaissance. (Sakosablig Agun Mod)
- showed what kind of leader Sankara would be today, engaging in fights against the "new enemies of the people in the African governments that engage in land rental” and “neoliberal policies that are anathema to those who have the best interests of the African people at heart" (Ama Biney)
- signified the importance of breaks engaged by Sankara in order to transform the administration, promote the redistribution of wealth, fight against corruption, favour the liberation of women, empower youth, etc.
Pambazuka News also offers some videos whose links can guide you in the course of Sankara’s political struggles, see his revolutionary enthusiasm and the strength of his determination, but also his awareness of the danger he was to face while fighting against the supreme enemy: imperialism.
The monster finally got him. But this special edition of Pambazuka News, like other initiatives, shows that his fight was one of those that remain eternal.
* Tidiane Kasse is the editor of the French edition of Pambazuka News
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