Thomas Sankara commonly referred to as the African Che Guevara, is an often unheard of revolutionary who arguably changed the face of the African revolution forever. He showed ‘third world’ countries, and those that live there that you can, in fact, be independent of the western neoliberalism and imperialism and be prosperous. He acted in direct defiance of the west.
“The first year of his leadership saw him embark on an unprecedented mass vaccination that successfully vaccinated 2.5 million Burkinabe children.”
In 1983 Sankara seized power, of the then-named “Upper Volta” a colony of France, in a popularly-supported coup aged thirty-three doing away with the countries era of colonialism. Immediately in office, he set in place one of the most ambitious programmes to bring around social and economic change. He started purging the bureaucratic and institutional corruption from the now named Burkina Faso (The land of Upright Man) showing that he was not scared to single-handedly change his country for the betterment of his own citizens. The salaries of ministers were slashed and his presidential convoy was sold off, instead, he would use the cheapest car available in Faso, the Renault 5 to show solidarity with the citizens of Burkina Faso. Furthermore, he would never use the air conditioning in his office, stating there were those who could not afford should commodities in his own country. His portray was not allowed to be hung in the presidential office as he stated every Burkinabe is a Thomas Sankara.
Sankara pushed a reforestation program to help halt desertification of Burkina Faso by planting over 10 million trees. In 12 months of his presidency, he stressed female empowerment and campaigned for the dignity of women in a patriarchal society. Several positions in his government were given to women to show solidarity, furthermore, he introduced a day of solidarity with housewives by mandating their husbands take on their roles for 24 hours.
“[Sankara] preached self-reliance from the west stating famously “he who feeds you, controls you,” thus he encouraged the growth of local industry.”
Though his presidency was short, his achievements tell us otherwise. The first year of his leadership saw him embark on an unprecedented mass vaccination that successfully vaccinated 2.5 million Burkinabe children. This caused infant mortality rates to drop from 160 deaths per 1,000 live births to below 145 deaths per 1,000 live births. Sankara banned the importation of several items to Burkina Faso, and preached self-reliance from the west stating famously “he who feeds you, controls you,” thus he encouraged the growth of local industry. Soon all citizens were wearing 100% Faso Cotton, tailored and woven in Faso. Within 4 years after Thomas Sankara aggressively promoted agriculture, the country had become self-sufficient in food production. This was achieved only by the redistribution of land from chiefs, and landowners to local farmers.
In 1987, at a meeting of African leaders under the Organization of African Unity, Thomas Sankara tried to convince his fellow leaders to turn their backs on the debt owed to western nations, telling them that “debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa…turns each one of us into a financial slave.” He would consequently never accept or request aid from the west.
On the 15th of October 1987, Sankara was unfortunately assassinated by an armed group. One of the reasons given for his assassination and coup was that he jeopardized foreign relations with the former colonial power of France and the Ivory coast which neighbours Burkina Faso. Compaoré (a former colleague) immediately reversed any and all nationalizations and quickly overturned practically all of his policies before rejoining the IMFW. His revolution was officially dead, though his memory and legacy still go on. Many Africans are unaware of who Thomas Sankara is, but it is more important that they realize that it is not, and never will be impossible to repeat what he once achieved. Africa will never be kept in chains.