Remembering Thomas Sankara
October 15, 2021 marked 34 years since Thomas Sankara was assassinated in Ouagadougo via the inhuman conspiracies of the Western imperialists, Ivory Coast and his good friend Blaise Compaore on October 15, 1987. Nevertheless, even in death Sankara has joined the pantheon of immortals whole ideals and praxis dominated and influenced Africa and will therefore live forever in the hearts of the people. His life was story of revolutionary regeneration of Burkina Faso (with a population of 8.5 million in 1985 and now 19.7 million).
Before his emergence as the leader of Burkina Faso, his country was one of the poorest countries in Africa ravaged by the exploitation of the Western Powers in collaboration with corrupt internal collaborators. At the age of 33 in 1983 when he became President, he immediately unleashed profound changes in the social, economic and political trajectory of his country. In tacit alliance, with socialist inclined states like Cuba, North Korea, China, Russia and China etc, he awakened the ideological consciousness of Burkina Faso people.
His charismatic popularity resonated throughout the world. He became a regular guest in regional and world forums like ECOWAS, Non Align Movement, United Nations etc. The major plank of his administration was the nationalization of the key sectors of the economy and mobilization of Marxist tendencies in the evolution and reconstruction of Burkina Faso.
He changed the name of the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (The land of Incorruptible people) in 1984. He abrogated the ostentatious lifestyle of Burkina Faso leaders and people.
He discarded expensive Mercedes Cars being used by political appointees and replaced them with Renault Cars. Most of the time, he went to the office on bicycle. He lived a modest life and in unison, his people emulated him. He prioritized education and health. Education was made free and compulsory. Civil education was encouraged. School attendance under Sankara rose from 6% to 22%. Some unorthodox practices against women like female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages were exterminated. From 1982 to 1984, the infant mortality rate dropped from 208 per 1,000 births to 145. Pharmacies were built in 5,384 out of 7,500 villages. Two Million children were vaccinated against yellow fever, measles etc.
He spent most of his time trying to reclaim land devastated by desert encroachment by planting 10 million trees. He built more roads and 100km of rail without external borrowing. The GDP of the country doubled within two years of Sankara in power (CFAFr 455bn in 1985).
As an admirer of Fidel Castro of Cuba, his foreign policy was anti-imperialism. He abhorred aids from international monetary fund and World Bank. In Agacher strip war of 1985, Sankara mobilized his country against Mali and kept the latter in check. He constantly reminded the world that Africa had come of age and that we should keep our destiny in our own hands. No wonder Cuba rewarded Sankara with the highest honour of the State, “The order of Jose Marti”. He called on Africans to repudiate the foreign debt they owed, arguing that the loans were fraudulently negotiated and obtained.
Indeed, Sankara was a Charismatic leader. In his speech titled “Democratic and popular Revolution”, on October 2, 1983 written by his good friend Valera Some, he enunciated his popular enigmatic policies which were geared towards eradicating corruption, desertification, famine and promoting education and health facilities. He mobilized his country towards aggressive development.
However, towards the middle of 1983, his policies have started attracting criticism. In 1984, several individuals accused of treason, were tried and executed. 2,500 teachers were dismissed and replaced by untrained graduate teachers. Popular Revolutionary Tribunals that he set up resorted to arbitrary judicial activism and political persecutions. Amnesty International accused Sankara Government of not doing enough towards conforming to international accepted standards in the area of judicial processes. He demanded that all Government officials should wear cotton made national colours, the” Faso dan Fami”. The Civil Servants resented this policy as their wardrobes had to be updated at their expense. In January 1987, the prices of beer were increased by 37.5 percent. As a result, there was less demand for beer. Because of decrease in patronage, staff strength was reduced. In order to muster good image for the Country, Sankara outlawed begging, which did not go down well with the poor. In eagerness to encourage individuals to grow more fruits and vegetables and save foreign exchange, he banned their importation. There was a colossal fall in custom duties on fruits and vegetables. Local fruits and vegetables became expensive. Labour unions were emasculated. Also the humongous demand for mobilization towards the revolutionary cause triggered a wave of exhaustion.
All the above can be regarded as the remote causes of Sankara’s fall. However, it must be stated that the immediate cause of the fall of Sankara was the emergence of internal wrangling within the Government fuelled by envy, jealousy, hatred attracted by Sankara. Sankara at this period had attained the height of most charismatic African leaders. No wonder on October 15, 1987, he was killed with 100 of his aides at the presidential palace in Ouagadougou.
The popular front (PF) Government of Campaore was not different from Sankara’s Government except on the level of radicalism. Campaore argued that the ideology of Sankara was still intact and that his Government would only engage in “ Rectification” of policies. “Rectification” remained rather a vague conceptualization. It was clear that the demarcation between Sankara and Campaore was engineered by personal vendetta and not political – ideology.
According to Michael Kevame of Santa Clara University, California, “Sankara was a confident revolutionary who wanted to transform society, without being all that wise about society. He wanted to rule on the basis of trust and good-will expecting that he could always persuade his detractors. This was precisely the argument that Biaise Compaore faction used to justify Sankara’s killing. In criticizing Sankara, one runs the risk of appearing to legitimise Compaore”.
Nevertheless, all progressive forces all over the world are happy that Compaore and his killer squad are presently on trial in Burkina Faso for the killing of Sankara. Though Compaore is in exile in Ivory Coast, he Continued to deny his dastardly involvement. If he was not involved in the killing of Sankara, why did he continue to treat Sankara with disdain, even after death? Why did he not allow Mariam, the widow of Sankara and her two Sons to leave Burkina Faso and fly to Gabon until 1988. If according to Campaore, that he did not kill Sankara, who killed Major Lingani, Minister of Defence and Captain Zongo, Minister of Economic promotion on September 19, 1987?. The truth is that the above two ministers were accused of plotting to bomb Campaore and his plane on his return from an Asian country visit. Consequently Lingani and Zongo were executed. The fact remains that Campaore has blood on his hands and the day of judgment has come. It would be in the larger interest of Africa, that Government of Cote d’Ivoire should repatriate fugitive Campaore to Burkina Faso to face well deserved justice. African countries should begin to realize that there is no more hiding place for murderers. Sooner or later all political murderers in Africa shall slowly but surely pay for their wickedness.
“When you go home, tell them of us, and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today” is inscribed on a memorial to British soldiers who were killed in World War II at Kohima in Eastern India . Likewise, Sankara died, so that Burkina Faso people could live. He was one of the greatest African Leaders that has ever lived. For the four years, he presided over Burkina Faso, he revolutionized the country on the path of positive development, he cut down the cost of government, ruled by example, eschewed corruption, introduced people-oriented policies, lampooned imperialism and spoke for Africa. Indeed, he was lion of Africa.
Dr. Oramalugo is a Historian, Political Scientist and a Fellow of Nigeria Institute of Management (Chartered).