WRITTEN BY : LIVITY
Neo-colonialism, a term the first leader of an independent Ghana Kwame Nkrumah coined, refers to the indirect ruling of former colonies by their colonizer. These dependent, pseudo-independent countries were governed by “Africans” whose purpose was not the development of Africa but the maintenance of the power and profits of European nations and their multinational corporations whose profits dependent upon control of African natural resources. If one studies history, it becomes clear that those who served corporations held long careers full of luxury and foreign protection from dissidents. Those who served the masses were forcibly removed or assassinated. Thomas Sankara, the Che of Africa, was one of those rare leaders whose blood was shed for the betterment of his people. Sankara’s uniqueness rested in his incorruptibility, his shunning of wealth and luxury while focusing on the development of the people of Burkina Faso. Sankara was able to accomplish a remarkable amount in a short period time solidifying his place in history as one of Africa’s greatest leaders of the twentieth century.
- THE BIRTH OF A REVOLUTIONARY
Thomas Sankara was born Thomas Noel Isidore Ouegraogo. He was raised in a Catholic family who descended from a Muslim tribe. Though he never embraced one religious belief he was influenced by the teachings of the Bible and the Koran. Even though Sankara’s upbringing was privileged, it was through classmates that he was first exposed to social and economic injustices.
“A soldier without training is just a criminal in power.”
Sankara was supposed to attend seminary at the request of Catholic priest, but he attended a military academy instead. It was in Madagascar at the Antsirabe Academy that Sankara came into his own. During this time he read Marxist books, mastered French, and conceptualized ideologies of the productive role of military in a poor nation. Sankara believed an educated soldier is the best soldier, implementing civics, agriculture, and athletics in military training.
On August 4,1983, Thomas Sankara and Council of Revolution (CNR) overthrew Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo. In 1985 he changed the country’s French name Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning “Land of the upright people.” The name derives from the use of languages from two indigenous tribes, the Moore and the Fulfulde.
- A WOMAN’S WORTH
Africa has long been a continent in which male dominance has led to cruelty towards females. Thomas Sankara was a stalwart in providing rights to the women of this small African country. Polygamy, sexual abuse, physical abuse, financial suppression, and denial of education were social ills that kept the women suppressed on the African continent. Sankara looked to change this by implementing numerous programs that heightened the role of women in society, providing them with education, employment in government and the private sector, protection from sexual and domestic abuse, and dignity.
Usually when government officials speak of austerity they are refering to the reduction of expenses, usually coming from funds designated for programs for the citizenry. Sankara’s approach to decreasing expenses focused on the spending of government officials. Officials were only allowed to fly coach and lodge in modest accommodations when traveling abroad. Government luxury vehicles were sold and replaced with cheaper economy-sized vehicles. Sankara personally rode his bicycle or in an economy car when conducting his presidential duties. While abroad attending conferences or meetings he was known to hitch a ride with fellow dignitaries. Officials who were accused of corruption were either terminated or imprisoned. Others had their salaries terminated and were forced to work for free to re-pay what they stole from the people. Such actions brought Sankara a tremendous amount of enemies.
While in Madagascar early in his military career Sankara was exposed to the importance of developing the environment of the nation for self-sufficiency. Sankara was responsible for the building of wells, providing lessons in sustainable agriculture, but most of all the planting of over ten million trees in an effort to prevent deforestation.
- FASO DAN FANI
Before there was Karl Kani, FUBU, Rocawear, or Sean Jean, there was Faso Dan Fani. Thomas Sanakra, in true revolutionary spirit, used his country’s cotton and craftsmen to develop clothes that embraced the African heritage and exemplified self-reliance while also stimulating the economy. Unlike Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya) who was known for his expensive European attire, Sankara only wore clothing made in Burkina Faso with cotton from Burkina Faso. Sankara believed wearing European clothing demonstrated remnants of dependence of the oppressor. Government employees were obligated to wear local clothing while on duty. A revolutionary in every sense of the word, Sanakara truly understood that Burkina Faso must produce and purchase its own products to grow a self-sufficient nation.
- PEOPLE’S REVOLUTIONARY TRIBUNAL
“To the immoral ‘morality’ of the exploiting, corrupt minority, we counterpose the revolutionary morality of an entire people acting in the interest of social justice.”
These trials exposed government officials of embezzlement, misappropriated funds, extortion, waste, and other abuses. These trials were not just governed by state judiciary officials but also regular citizens. Those who were found guilty had their names and crimes announced on public radio.
- WHITE HOUSE
In 1984, Thomas Sankara was scheduled to address the UN General Assembly and visit the White House. After White House representatives reviewed his speeches his invitations were terminated. Sankara refused to change the message of his anti- imperialist speech, criticizing the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources, support of revolutionaries in Nicaragua, and the crippling debts African nations owed the IMF. The White House also disliked Sankara’s outspoken support for Fidel Castro (Cuba), Samora Machel (Mozambique) and Maurice Bishop (Grenada). Sankara was forced to cancel a visit with Atlanta’s Mayor Andrew Young. Sanakra was allowed entry into New York were he spoke at Harriet Tubman School in Harlem on October 3, 1984.
Speech in Harlem, NYC 1984
- ALPHA COMMANDO LITERACY CAMPAIGN
Sankara inherited a tribal country crippled by illiteracy and ignorance. In an effort to increase the literacy among the population, specifically citizens in the rural areas, he implemented the Alpha Commando Literacy Campaign in February 1986. This program used volunteers, who consisted of students, activist, soldiers, civil servants, and teachers. Their efforts reached over 30,000 citizens, with about half becoming functionally literate.
- VACCINATION COMMANDO
African countries have suffered and still suffer from diseases that don’t really exist in industrialized countries that immunize their populations, preventing unnecessary loss of life. One of Sankara’s greatest triumphs was the implementation of the ‘Vaccination Commando’. In September 1984 he launched a child immunization program that vaccinated over two million children from measles, meningitis, and yellow fever. During the early 1980’s UNICEF reports stated 18,000-50,000 children died from measles and meningitis. These revolutionary actions were unprecedented in both Africa and the world. One must also note Sankara was not receiving sufficient aid from France, America, and the World Bank during these times. One must acknowledge the role of Cuba in assisting Thomas Sankara in achieving such great feats.
- PEOPLES DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
PDD (Peoples Development Program) was responsible for building 351 schools, 314 maternal health centers and dispensaries, 88 pharmacies, 274 water reservoirs, and 2,294 wells and boreholes. Unlike other colonial countries that depend on multinational companies to build up their infrastructure, all these projects were governed and done by the citizens of Burkina Faso. Sankara believed the skills and confidence citizens received from these projects was crucial in reforming their minds into one of self-reliance and togetherness.
- AM I MY BROTHERS KEEPER?
On October 15, 1987 Thomas Sankara was assassinated. His actions to improve his nation and speeches against the oppressors created numerous enemies both domestically and internationally. However, the men who would take his life were comrades led by Captain Blaise Compare, Sankara’s right-hand man.
Compare’s schism with Sankara began when he married Chantal Terrasson De Fougeres, daughter of the France-backed president of Cote de’Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny. True to colonial history the revolutionary is assassinated with the aid of the mother country, instilling a puppet regime that serves the interest of corporations while suppressing the people. Sankara’s tense relations with French-supported border nations Mali, Togo, and Cote d;Ivoire also contributed to his assassination. These countries feared the influence Sankara would have on their citizens, believing his death would be beneficial to both African and French leaders.