Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Captain Sankara | Che Guevara of Africa | Revolutionary Leader

At a time when so many Africans are talking about Independence, I wanted to focus my attention on one of the greatest progressive leaders since Independence, Thomas Sankara. He was the man to change the name of his country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means the Land of the Incorruptibles or Land of the Honourable Men. He died in October 1987 at the age of 39 but his legacy lives on.

Burkina commemorates slain leader

President Captain Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara was overthrown by the current president in Burkina Faso. He was an extraordinary revolutionary leader but more importantly he was a man of the people; a decent guitarist who played in a band called, Tout-a-Coup Jazz and also rode motorbikes.

"Our revolution in Burkina Faso draws on the totality of man's experiences since the first breath of humanity. We wish to be the heirs of all the revolutions of the world, of all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World. We draw the lessons of the American revolution. The French revolution taught us the rights of man. The great October revolution brought victory to the proletariat and made possible the realization of the Paris Commune's dreams of justice." Thomas Sankara

Sankara, better known as the Che of Africa was a great advocate for woman:
“The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.”
Improving women's status was one of Sankara's explicit goals, and his government included a large number of women, which was and still is an unprecedented policy priority in West Africa. His government banned female genital mutilationforced 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. Sankara also promoted contraception and encouraged husbands to go to market and prepare meals to experience for themselves the conditions faced by women. Furthermore, Sankara was the first African leader to appoint women to major cabinet positions and to recruit them actively for the military. Sankara's administration was also the first African government to publicly recognize the AIDS epidemic as a major threat to Africa.

Let us look at why the Captain was such a wonderful leader:
§                     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 just 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 eloquently 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 only $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer.


"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 th free world that together we are in the process of building. That is why we say that Che Guevara is also African and Burkinabe." - Thomas Sankara

At the time of his death in 1987 there was an outpouring of shock and disappointment here are some of the thoughts of the time:
"Sankara’s assassins were guided by imperialism, which could not allow a man with the ideas and actions of Sankara to lead a country on a continent so exploited for hundreds of years by international imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonial Governments that do their bidding. Sankara’s political ideas will endure, like those of Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Amílcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau, also assassinated by traitors at the behest of the empire."
– Ulises Estrada, a key organizer of Che Guevar's 1966-67 Guerrilla Mission to Bolivia 

"Africa and the world are yet to recover from Sankara’s assassination. Just as we have yet to recover from the loss of Patrice LumumbaKwame NkrumahEduardo MondlaneAmilcar CabralSteve BikoSamora Machel, and most recently John Garang, to name only a few. While malevolent forces have not used the same methods to eliminate each of these great pan-Africanists, they have been guided by the same motive: to keep Africa in chains."
– Antonio de Figueiredo, February 2008 

A great measure of a man is what his wife says about him after the event and here is what Mariam had to say:

“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 for my husband is his integrity.” Mariam Sankara, Thomas’ widow

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