Thomas Sankara, former president of Burkina Faso (1983 to 1987)
The great Thomas Sankara, this is a man who wanted to AND did the right thing. He loved his country, and was loved by many.
He shunned the West and single handedly proved that Africa can be self sufficient and self reliant. He was honest and upright, he renamed the country to Burkina Faso which means- Land of Upright Man; a reflection of the culture he was promoting amongst his people. He was a man of unquestionable integrity, Sankara knew how to show his people that they could become dignified and proud through will power, courage, honesty and work.
There were many against him, from their former colonizer France and its ally Ivory Coast, to feudal lords and chieftains… He was assassinated by his best friend. A week before he died he said ‘While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.’
Sankara made revolutionary developments and national economic programs that shook the foundations of the traditional economic development models imposed on Africa.
He redistributed land from the feudal landlords to the peasants, introduced series of irrigation and fertilization programs and Wheat production increased from 1,700 kilograms per hectare (1,500 lb/acre) to 3,800 kilograms per hectare (3,400 lb/acre), making the country food self sufficient and creating a surplus! (In less than four years)
In an attempt to fight deforestation, and desertification in the Sahel, he rallied the people to plant 10,000,000 trees; and 7,000 nurseries in the villages.
Over 700 km (430 mi) of rail was laid by Burkinabé people to facilitate manganese extraction, without any foreign aid or outside help. They went on to build a road and rail network across the country.
He promoted public health and in one week alone 2.5 million Burkinabé children were vaccinated, in an attempt to eradicate polio, meningitis and measles. He made every village build a medical dispensary.
His commitment to women’s rights led him to outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy. He appointed women to high governmental positions and encouraged them to work outside the home and stay in school, even if pregnant. In his own words ‘’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’’
Furthermore, Sankara was the first African leader to appoint women to major cabinet positions and to recruit them actively for the military.
Large-scale housing and infrastructure projects were also undertaken. Brick factories were created to help build houses in effort to end urban slums.
He prioritized education with a nationwide literacy campaign. He had 350 communities build schools with their own labour.
He spoke out against neo-colonialism, imperialism and foreign aid arguing that the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay money to the rich and exploiting.
He sold off the presidential fleet of luxury cars and forbade travel in first class for himself or government officials; he refused his portrait to be hung in public places as was the norm with other dictators because in his own worlds, there are 7 million burkinabés just like him; he mandated public officials to wear tunics woven from burkinabe cotton; he refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was only available to a handful of Burkinabé; he wrote the national anthem (he was also an accomplished guitarist); he reduced his salary to 450usd/month and his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer…..
He touched the hearts of many and was a beacon of hope, during a time in Africa with dictators and tyrants oppressing and robbing the people just like their colonialist predecessors, he was doing the opposite; enriching his people and proving that it was possible.
He died at 37.
Rest easy Thomas! You and all you stood for will never be forgotten.