The untimely death of Thomas Sankara was a big blow to many people across Africa, especially the Burkinabé people of Burkina Faso. Sankara has left a legacy difficult to emulate as a man whose vision for his people and for Africa has made him a hero and an icon for African unity, progress and prosperity. It is only right that Newstime Africa pays tribute to a man who was assassinated in cold blood by those he trusted and called friends. Thomas Sankara stands out as one of Africa’s finest and will go down in history as one of those who challenged his country’s economic difficulties with the strong belief that self-sufficiency can be attained and reliance on foreign aid and assistance was not the way forward in achieving prosperity for the African people.
Sankara was killed in brutal fashion by an armed gang along with twelve other officials in a coup d’état alleged to have been organised by his former colleague, Blaise Compaoré. Deterioration in relations with neighbouring countries was one of the reasons given, with Compaore 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 and two children fled the nation. Compaoré immediately reversed the nationalizations, overturned nearly all of Sankara’s policies, returned the country back under the IMF fold, and ultimately spurned most of Sankara’s legacy. A week prior to his death Sankara gave what would become his own epitaph, remarking that “while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
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.
“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 of my husband is his integrity.”
— Mariam Sankara, Thomas’ widow
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.
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.
He was known for jogging unaccompanied through Ouagadougou in his track suit and posing in his tailored military fatigues, with his mother-of-pearl pistol.
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.
The following videos provides an exceptional insight into the life of Africa’s true hero, Thomas Samkara: