IN CONVERSATION WITH…
THOMAS SANKARA, President
“I speak on behalf of the millions of human beings … thrown out of work by a system that is structurally unjust and periodically unhinged, who are reduced to only glimpsing in life a reflection of the lives of the affluent…. We must dare to invent the future. Everything man is capable of imagining, he can create.”
Last week’s profile of DON LEMON and our previous feature on NAACP President and CEO, DERRICK JOHNSON got us thinking about responsible leadership in action -with clear cognition that ultimately, we are the change agents we have been waiting to see. Periodically, over the next few months, we will be taking a present day and historic look at some of the most inspired men of our time, and in ICON MANN tradition allowing their words -as they spoke them- to tell their story. The objective, not to give a cradle-to-grave commentary or history lesson, but to share a snapshot of what ‘power to the people’ looks like and does for the advancement of all society-not just a select few. Today, our view is towards the West African country of Burkina Faso and THOMAS SANKARA, its former President and one of the greatest revolutionary thought leaders of the twentieth century.
Born Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara
President of Burkina Faso at the age of 33 years old
Assassinated at the age of 37 years old
WHY HE MATTERS
"The origins of debt come from the origins of colonialism. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before. They are those who used to manage our economies. Colonizers are those who indebted Africa through their brothers and cousins who were the lenders. We had no connections with this debt, therefore we cannot pay for it."
In the four years that he was President, Thomas Sankara implemented wide-sweeping political, social, gender, and economic reforms that emphasized a sovereign country and sustainability of its people and resources.
Independence: Rejected foreign aid from the IMF and World Bank
Land Reform: Reclaimed and nationalized the land and natural resources from foreign control.
Famine Prevention + Sustainability: Promoting agriculture as means of self-sufficiency so less dependence on foreign imports. Doubled country’s wheat production and distributed it to the poor.
National Literacy and Education: Mandatory education for all, including pregnant girls, until 15 years of age. Built more than 350 community schools throughout Burkina Faso.
Public Healthcare: Distributed yellow fever, meningitis, and measles vaccinations that immunized more than 2.5Million children.
Climate Change: Planted more than 10,000,000 trees to prevent desert expansion due to global warming.
Infrastructure: Constructed a national road and railway system in order to build the infrastructure between Burkina Faso and its six neighboring countries: Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Taxation: Eliminated poll tax and ceased payments to tribal leaders. Subsidized housing to the poorest.
Made In Africa: Mandated that every member of his government wear clothing made in Burkina Faso. Eliminated governmental use of Mercedes.
Gender Equality/Women’s Rights: Supported women in the workforce and within government. Outlawed female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
“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.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME : BURKINA FASO
Sankara was a Pan-Africanist. He knew that in cutting all ties of colonialism that all of Africa, not just his country, could sustain itself. With this awareness, his first act as President was for the country and its people was to restore an identity they could be proud of. No longer defining themselves by the French Colonial name, UPPER VOLTATO. Sankara, understanding the power of words and their meanings on the psyche and national pride renamed the country BURKINA FASO, translation LAND OF THE UPRIGHT MAN. A title selected to be a constant reminder that independent of one’s status in life that their divine right was to walk proudly and equal with all.
“While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
The irony of fate lies in Sankara’s friendship with Nigerian musician and fellow freedom fighter FELA KUTI. Both men believed in the independence, and unity of the African continent. Both men understood the richness of its people. Fela was born on October 15, 1938. On the same day 49 years later, Sankara was assassinated in a coup led by his former comrade and friend Blaise Compare, who immediately overturned every advancement of Sankara including restoring French relations.
Within Sankara’s lifetime, Fela produced albums:
Unnecessary Begging (1976)
No Agreement (1977)
Music of Many Colors (1980)
Suffer Head (1981)
FELA’S REMARKS TO SANKARA’S DEATH
“His departure is a terrible blow to the political life of Africans, because he was the only one talking about African unity, what Africans need, to progress. He was the only one talking. His loss is bad… (Long silence)… but my mind is cool because Sankara’s death must have a meaning for Africa. Now that Sankara has been killed, if the leader of Burkina Faso, today, is not doing well, you will see it clearly. This means that in future, bad leaders would be very careful in killing good leaders."
“Be self-sufficient. Be honest. Live Simply.”
"I am neither a messiah nor a prophet. I possess no truths. My only ambition is a double aspiration: firstly, to be able to speak in a simple language, with evident and clear words, on behalf of my people, the people of Burkina Faso; secondly to manage to also be the voice of the ‘great disinherited people of the world', those who belong to the world so ironically christened the Third World. And to state, though I may not succeed in making them understood, the reasons for our revolt."
4TH of October, 1984
Excerpts of Thomas Sankara speaking to the General Assembly of the United Nations:
“I speak on behalf of the millions of human beings…thrown out of work by a system that is structurally unjust and periodically unhinged, who are reduced to only glimpsing in life a reflection of the lives of the affluent. I speak on behalf of women the world over, who suffer from a male-imposed system of exploitation. … Women who struggle and who proclaim with us that the slave who is not able to take charge of his own revolt deserves no pity for his lot. This harbors illusions in the dubious generosity of a master pretending to set him free. Freedom can be won only through struggle, and we call on all our sisters of all races to go on the offensive to conquer their rights.
I speak on behalf of the mothers of our destitute countries who watch their children die of malaria or diarrhea, unaware that simple means to save them exist. The science of the multinationals does not offer them these means, preferring to invest in cosmetics laboratories and plastic surgery to satisfy the whims of a few women or men whose smart appearance is threatened by too many calories in their overly rich meals, the regularity of which would make you—or rather us from the Sahel—dizzy. We have decided to adopt and popularize these simple means, recommended by the WHO and UNICEF.
I speak, too, on behalf of the child. The child of a poor man who is hungry and who furtively eyes the accumulation of abundance in a store for the rich. The store protected by a thick plate glass window. The window protected by impregnable shutters. The shutters guarded by a policeman with a helmet, gloves, and armed with a billy club. The policeman posted there by the father of another child, who will come and serve himself—or rather be served—because he offers guarantees of representing the capitalistic norms of the system, which he corresponds to.
I speak on behalf of artists—poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, and actors—good men who see their art prostituted by the alchemy of show-business tricks.
I cry out on behalf of journalists who are either reduced to silence or to lies in order to not suffer the harsh low of unemployment.
I protest on behalf of the athletes of the entire world whose muscles are exploited by political systems or by modern-day slave merchants.
My country is brimming with all the misfortunes of the people of the world, a painful synthesis of all humanity’s suffering, but also—and above all—of the promise of our struggles. This is why my heart beats naturally on behalf of the sick who anxiously scan the horizons of science monopolized by arms merchants. My thoughts go out to all of those affected by the destruction of nature and to those 30 million who will die as they do each year, struck down by the formidable weapon of hunger. As a military man, I cannot forget the soldier who is obeying orders, his finger on the trigger, who knows the bullet being fired bears only the message of death. …. I protest on behalf of all those who vainly seek a forum in this world where they can make their voice heard and have it genuinely taken into consideration. Many have preceded me at this podium and others will follow. But only a few will make the decisions. Yet we are officially presented as being equals. Well, I am acting as spokesperson for all those who vainly see a forum in this world where they can make themselves heard. So yes, I wish to speak on behalf of all “those left behind,” for “I am human, nothing that is human is alien to me.”
Our revolution in Burkina Faso embraces misfortunes of all peoples. It also draws inspiration from all of man’s experiences since his first breath. We wish to be the heirs of all the world’s revolutions and all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World. Our eyes are on the profound upheavals that have transformed the world. We draw the lessons of the American Revolution, the lessons of its victory over colonial domination and the consequences of that victory. We adopt as our own the affirmation of the Doctrine whereby Europeans must not intervene in American affairs, nor Americans in European affairs. Just as Monroe proclaimed “America to the Americans” in 1823, we echo this today by saying “Africa to the Africans,” “Burkina to the Burkinabè.”
“Africa and the world are yet to recover from Sankara's assassination. Just as we have yet to recover from the loss of Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Eduardo Mondlane, Amilcar Cabral, and Steve Biko, 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.”
— António de Figueiredo
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