Thomas Sankara-Revolutionary Hero

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Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (21 December 1949 – 15 October 1987) was a Burkinabé military captain, revolutionary, pan-Africanist theorist, and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution.

  • He vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles in a matter of weeks.
  • He initiated a nation-wide literacy campaign, increasing the literacy rate from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987.
  • He planted over 10 million trees to prevent desertification
  • He built roads and a railway to tie the nation together, without foreign aid
  • He appointed females to high governmental positions, encouraged them to work, recruited them into the military, and granted pregnancy leave during education.
  • He outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy in support of Women’s rights
  • 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 1700 kg per hectare to 3800 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. (The reason being to rely upon local industry and identity rather than foreign industry and identity)
  • 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

Sankara seized power in a 1983 popularly supported coup at the age of 33, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. He immediately launched one of the most ambitious programmes for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent. To symbolize this new autonomy and rebirth, he renamed the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Man”). His foreign policies were centered on 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 nationwide 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 women to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school even if pregnant.

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In order to achieve this radical transformation of society, he increasingly exerted authoritarian control over the nation, eventually banning unions and a free press, which he believed could stand in the way of his plans. To counter his opposition in towns and workplaces around the country, he also tried corrupt officials, “counter-revolutionaries” and “lazy workers” in Popular Revolutionary Tribunals. Additionally, as an admirer of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, Sankara set up Cuban-style Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs).

His revolutionary programs for African self-reliance made him an icon to many of Africa’s poor. Sankara remained popular with most of his country’s impoverished citizens. However his policies alienated and antagonised the vested interests of an array of groups, which included the small but powerful Burkinabé middle class, the tribal leaders whom he stripped of the long-held traditional right to forced labour and tribute payments, and France and its ally the Ivory Coast. As a result, he was overthrown and assassinated in a coup d’état led by Blaise Compaoré on October 15, 1987. A week before his murder, he declared: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”

On October 15, 1987, Sankara was killed by an armed group with twelve other officials in a coup d’état organised by his former colleague Blaise Compaoré. Deterioration in relations with neighbouring countries was one of the reasons given, with Compaoré stating that Sankara jeopardised foreign relations with former colonial power France and neighbouring Ivory Coast. Prince Johnson, a former Liberian warlord allied to Charles Taylor, told Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that it was engineered by Charles Taylor. After the coup and although Sankara was known to be dead, some CDRs mounted an armed resistance to the army for several days.

Sankara’s body was dismembered and he was quickly buried in an unmarked grave, while his widow Mariam and two children fled the nation. Compaoré immediately reversed the nationalizations, overturned nearly all of Sankara’s policies, rejoined the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to bring in “desperately needed” funds to restore the “shattered” economy,[34] and ultimately spurned most of Sankara’s legacy. Compaoré’s dictatorship remained in power for 27 years until overthrown by popular protests in 2014.

Sankara’s visionary leadership turned his country from a sleepy West African nation with the colonial designation of Upper Volta to a dynamo of progress under the proud name of Burkina Faso (“Land of the Honorable People”). He led one of the most ambitious programs of sweeping reforms ever seen in Africa. It sought to fundamentally reverse the structural social inequities inherited from the French colonial order.

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Sankara focused the state’s limited resources on the marginalized majority in the countryside. When most African countries depended on imported food and external assistance for development, Sankara championed local production and the consumption of locally-made goods. He firmly believed that it was possible for the Burkinabè, with hard work and collective social mobilization, to solve their problems: chiefly scarce food and drinking water.

In Sankara’s Burkina, no one was above farm work, or graveling roads–not even the president, government ministers or army officers. Intellectual and civic education were systematically integrated with military training and soldiers were required to work in local community development projects.

Sankara disdained formal pomp and banned any cult of his personality. He could be seen casually walking the streets, jogging or conspicuously slipping into the crowd at a public event. He was a rousing orator who spoke with uncommon candor and clarity and did not hesitate to publicly admit mistakes, chastise comrades or express moral objections to heads of powerful nations, even if it imperiled him. For example, he famously criticized French president François Mitterand during a state dinner for hosting the leader of Apartheid South Africa.

28 thoughts on “Thomas Sankara-Revolutionary Hero

  1. Wow! Amazing brotha! Pan-Africanist, Women’s Rights Activist, a Black Robin Hood and much more all in one. It’s too bad we lost him so soon; that’s what happens to all our great leaders like Malcolm X under racism white supremacy, but these sorry ass Klansmen are left alone to spread hate and evil. smdh

    • Yeah Black Robin Hood is a good way to put it!lol Sankara was really down for his people. He truly loved African people and wanted them to be liberated. Not like these other cowardly African leaders. Of course the Europen elite groups had him taken out. Low life bastards! This is why so many of our people are scared to speak up. But Sankara wasnt’ afraid to stand up to these demonic bastards! His birthday should be a holiday in all of Africa. We need more brothers like him. He was a shining example of a real hero.

      • we always see these worn fictional characters like Captain America and GI-Joe being looked at as Real American Heroes when in actuality, they are really villains, real Heroes are people like Thomas Sankara, and in one of my stories which I plan to write soon, I will base one of my characters off of Brother Sankara

      • That’s cool brother! That’s showing real appreciation to REAL heroes. Not these fake ass white comic book characters. Sankara should be represented well. I know you’ll do a great job!

  2. Pingback: Thomas Sankara, Revolutionary Hero – TheOriginalBlackPeople

  3. This post gave me goose-bumps, bro KP! A week before Sankara’s murder and the dismemberment of his body, he declared: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.” I see shades of Ausar (Sankara, the ‘Upright Man’ who, like Ausar was the popularly-loved bringer of civilization and leader of Kemet) vs. Set (Compaoré, the so-called ‘best friend from childhood’ turned traitor for the French neo-colonial puppet-master who, like Set, killed and dismembered his brother’s body into 14 pieces in order to usurp Ausar’s throne). Set (colonial agent) was known as ‘god of the desert, storms, disorder, violence and foreigners’, etc. I only pray that there’s coming a time when the colonial shadow-system is defeated so that we can recover under progressive ideas and humanizing leadership of our true Heros (Heru/Horus) such as Sankara… GOOSE-BUMPS! Asante for the post 🙂

    • Thank you my beautiful Malaika. I knew you would enjoy this post. I had been wanting to do a post on Sankara after getting a book about him three years ago. There was so much about him I didn’t know. I knew more about Nelson Mandela at the time. But Sankara is a far greater hero in my mind. He should be mentioned with Garvey and Malcolm X. I love that quote you posted. It is true that an idea can not be killed. That’s why we must keep the idea of freedom and liberation alive. Your analogy of Ausar vs Set is correct. We are battling the evil European powers that want to keep African people oppressed. Which is why we must organize ourselves as a power source. And use our resources to our benefit and stop letting other races manipulate us. We have to be a collective power and unify regardless of where you live. Our brothers and sisters in Africa,UK,Canada,Haiti,Jamaica and America must put aside our cultural differences. we have to if we want REAL freedom and liberation. Sankara was a great example we should all follow and aspire to be like. I’m glad you liked the post….and gave you goosebumps. 🙂

      • Amen, bro KP! So many wonderful quotes from this great leader, e.g.: “The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph. Women hold up the other half of the sky. ” (Thomas Sankara)

        P.S. I hope the video loads from the following link… just wanted to share as I’m feeling inspired from your post. Peace, M

      • Who is that woman? She really breaking down the TRUTH! I love seeing the facial expressions of the people when she’s dropping on the truth on them.lol Great video sis! Thanks for sharing it. I hope everyone watches that video. It’s very educational.

  4. I feel emotional right now, I have seen all his biography to the end!
    He has demonstrated that African governments have the resources, the capacity and the power to govern themselves and be especially independent!
    Africa is not a child with learning problems, who needs to be helped by Western father! The Burkina Faso was a former French colony, when he had begun his work, France was one of those European countries which wasn’t happy!
    The most horrible thing happened after his assassination, the streets had become degrading as before, and the people returned poor again!
    This suggests that there is no escape to the big CANCER called “WEST”.

    • That’s true Nubian. He was a real threat to their goal of keeping Africa people as beggars. You’re right,we don’t need Western father to the rescue. He’s not their rescue anyway. He’s there to oppress and exploit the people. Which is what he does everyone on the damn planet! The last thing Africans need is the “help” of Europeans. Cancer??? Yes that would be a fitting description.

      • Really I am pissed off over when it comes to white lives, they always have to put their damn nose in black business, and always engage our lives? Why we are forced to kick into, to protect them and coddle them then against us?
        I tell you what? They are spiteful, vengeful but they are forgiven for every atrocities, wars, slavery, colonization and apartheid, nobody is attacking them when they do shit!
        I don’t stand with these solidarity crap, when 200 years ago the Belgians killed 10 million Africans. The only reason why Belgium isn’t considered in the same negative light as Germany is because they killed Africans and not European Jews!
        http://blackgirllonghair.com/2016/03/customers-go-in-on-sheamoisture-for-ignoring-black-lives/

  5. Thomas Sankara, looked like someone who could have easily been one of my childhood friends.. Surprised I never heard of him before, I will definitely be looking further into his story and that of other African revolutionaries. For people like Blaise Compaore, il y a un place especial en l’enfer pour des gens comme lui….. (there is a special place in hell for people like him)

    • Yeah Sankara was the real deal! He was true inspiration to the people. It’s no wonder so many black children and adults don’t know the man. This is by design. They don’t want us to know about the real heroes that fought back. That’s why I had to do this post.

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