Burkina Faso : Remembering Thomas Sankara

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Burkina Faso : Remembering Thomas Sankara

“The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do no talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of 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

 On the 21st of December 1949 an African legend was born in Upper Volta; now known as Burkina Faso.Captain Thomas Sankara was the leader of the Burkinabe Revolution. In the former Upper Volta, a group of men decided to launch a revolution that would enable the country to accept the responsibility of its reality and its destiny with human dignity. Thomas Sankara was an African leader who wanted to give his country and continent a new socio-political order; and order which believed in mobilising the workers and peasants of a country to tackle the problems of economic backwardness and imperialist domination.

Fondly nicknamed “Tom Sank”; Sankara was considered by some to be the “African Che Guevara”. As a captain in the Upper Volta Air Force, he was trained as a pilot. He was a very popular and charismatic figure in the capital of Ouagadougou, also known for his love of motorbikes and amateur guitar skills.

Sankara was appointed Secretary of State for Information in 1981 and became Prime minister in 1983. He was jailed the same year after a visit from Jean-Christophe Mitterrand; a neo-colonialist enforcer of the former French Empire who saw to the arrest and imprisonment of Thomas Sankara and two other Ministers, igniting widespread uprisings in support of Sankara.

A coup d’état organised by Blaise Compaore and supported by Libya, resulted in Sankara becoming President on 4 August 1983 at the age of 33. Sankara saw himself as a revolutionary and was inspired by Ghana’s former President, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings and Cuba’s armed revolt led by Fidel Castro’s and allies against the US-backed authoritarian government of Cuban President Batista.

As President Sankara, promoted the “Democratic and Popular Revolution” (RDP Revolution Democratique et Populaire) 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 labor and tribute payments, including France and its ally the Ivory Coast

His policies were oriented towards fighting corruption, reforestation, averting famine, education, and health and gender equality. Improving the status and livelihoods of women was one of Sankara’s key goals; an unprecedented move in West Africa. His government banned female circumcision, condemned polygamy, and promoted contraception. The Burkinabe government was also the first African government to declare HIV/AIDS as a major threat for the future of Africa.

In 1984, on the first anniversary of his accession, he renamed the country Burkina Faso, meaning “the land of upright people” in Mossi and Dyula; the two main languages of the country. He also gave the country a new flag and national anthem.

On October 15, 1987 Sankara was shot dead during a coup d’état orchestrated by his former colleague and founder of the Congress for Democracy and Progress Party Blaise Compaore. Some sources say Compaoré described the killing of Sankara as an “accident”, but the circumstances have never been fully revealed.

  A few months ago Sankara’s family petitioned the government of Burkina Faso to exhume his remains so they could confirm that it was indeed his grave.Upon taking the Presidency, Compaore reverted many of the policies of Sankara, claiming that his policy was a “rectification” of the Burkinabé revolution. Only a week before his death Sankara was heard saying: “while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.

His words reign true; even today on Burkina’ Faso’s National Day of Independence (5 August 2015), Africans everywhere will remember their forefathers hopes for Africa; hopes and ideas that rely on us to realise for generations to come.