He is often referred to as Africa’s Che. This is what he had to say about Che: “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 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”
Thomas Sankara remains unknown to most of the world, including many Africans and people of African descent even though he is considered by some to have been one of the most outstanding revolutionary leaders produced by modern-day Africa. Sankara was born in what was then called the Republic of Upper Volta, a self-governing colony within the French Community. Sankara, an unassuming, charismatic leader, became President of his country in a 1983 popularly supported coup at the age of 33 and “immediately launched the most ambitious program for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent” in a manner very similar to the path taken by Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionaries.
To symbolize this new autonomy and rebirth, he even changed the name of his country from the Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Men”).
Anti-imperialism and self-reliance
According to Wikipedia, “his foreign policies were centered around anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalizing all land and mineral wealth, and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritizing education with a nation-wide literacy campaign, and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles.”
“Other components of his national agenda included planting over ten million trees to halt the growing desertification of the Sahel, doubling wheat production by redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents, and establishing an ambitious road and rail construction program to “tie the nation together”. On the localized level Sankara also called on every village to build a medical dispensary and had over 350 communities construct schools with their own labour.”
“Moreover, his commitment to women’s rights led him to outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy, while appointing females to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school even if pregnant.”
Personal self-sacrifice and humility
Accompanying his personal charisma, Sankara had an array of original initiatives that contributed to his popularity and brought some international media attention to the Burkinabé revolution:
- He sold off the government fleet of Mercedes cars and made the Renault 5 (the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time) the official service car of the ministers
- He reduced the salaries of all public servants, including his own, and forbade the use of government chauffeurs and 1st class airline tickets.
- He redistributed land from the feudal landlords and gave it directly to the peasants. Wheat production rose in three years from 1,700 kg per hectare to 3,800 kg per hectare, making the country food self-sufficient
- He opposed foreign aid, saying that, “he who feeds you, controls you.”
- He spoke in forums like the Organization of African Unity against continued neo-colonialist penetration of Africa through Western trade and finance.
- He called for a united front of African nations to repudiate their foreign debt. He argued that the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay money to the rich and exploiting.
- In Ouagadougou, Sankara converted the army’s provisioning store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone (the first supermarket in the country) • He forced civil servants to pay one month’s salary to public projects.
- He refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes.
- As President, he lowered his salary to $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer.
- A motorcyclist himself, he formed an all-women motorcycle personal guard.
- He required public servants to wear a traditional tunic, woven from Burkinabe cotton and sewn by Burkinabe craftsmen.
- He was known for jogging unaccompanied through Ouagadougou in his track suit and posing in his tailored military fatigues, with his mother-of-pearl pistol.
- When asked why he didn’t want his portrait hung in public places, as was the norm for other African leaders, Sankara replied “There are seven million Thomas Sankaras.”
- An accomplished guitarist, he wrote the new national anthem himself.
“Africa’s Che Guevara
“Sankara, who is often referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”, emulated Guevara (1928–1967) in both style and substance. Stylistically, Sankara emulated Guevara by preferring to wear a starred beret and military fatigues, living ascetically with few possessions, and keeping a minimal salary once assuming power. Both men also considered themselves allies of Fidel Castro (Sankara was visited by Castro in 1987), are well-known for having ridden motorcycles, and are often cited as effectively utilizing their charisma to motivate their followers.
“Substantively, Guevara and Sankara were both Marxist revolutionaries, who believed in armed revolution against imperialism and monopoly capitalism, denounced financial neo-colonialism before the United Nations, held up agrarian land reform and literacy campaigns as key parts of their agenda, and utilized revolutionary tribunals and CDR’s against counter-revolutionaries. Both men were also murdered in their late thirties (Guevara 39 / Sankara 38) by opponents, with Sankara coincidentally giving a speech marking and honoring the 20th anniversary of Che Guevara’s October 9, 1967 execution, one week before his own assassination on October 15, 1987.
Speaking about Che, Sankara 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 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.”
Twenty five years ago, on October 15, 1987, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, a West African nation, was assassinated by those opposing the revolution he was leading in his country.
“Thomas knew how to show his people that they could become dignified and proud through will power, courage, honesty and work. What remains above all of my husband is his integrity.” — Mariam Sankara, Thomas’ widow
Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Sankar
The Beaver: :http://travelbeaver.blogspot.com/2005/08/taking-third-road-independent.html