Marking the Thomas Sankara anniversary in the UK


In October it will be 20 years since the death of Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina Faso who called for repudiation of debts. Ibrahim Hamani Souley from CAD-Mali on an inspirational figure for Southern debt campaigners…

 Thomas Sankara became President of Burkina Faso in 1983. He was known for his progressive policies, which included major initiatives to fight corruption and improve education, agriculture, and the status of women.

 President Sankara was assassinated on 15 October 1987, due to his radical stance against social, economic and political exploitation. The issue of African debt was prominent in his thinking: “The question of debt is the question of Africa’s economic situation. As much as peace, this question is an important condition of our survival,” he said. “The debt cannot be repaid. If we do not pay, our creditors will not die. We can be sure of that. On the other hand, if we pay, it is we who will die. Of that we can be equally sure.”

 In 2006, the Thomas Sankara International Youth Camp, part of the World Social Forum in Bamako, Mali, launched the idea of commemorating the 20th anniversary of Sankara’s assassination, which falls on 15 October 2007. African and European participants decided on the plans and since then Sankara committees have been established throughout the world.

Debt was deliberately chosen as the central theme of the commemorations for many reasons. Debt has been and remains an effective way to dominate and to exploit the resources of the countries concerned. Meanwhile, debt threatens the survival of the populations it affects. Because of debt, the people of Africa are deprived of life’s bare essentials: access to drinking water, education, health and a healthy diet. 

 The mechanism of debt and debt-repayment brings into question the very sovereignty of indebted countries. In order to qualify for debt relief, these countries are obliged to adopt social and economic policies that endanger their people. Through conditions attached to International Monetary Fund and World Bank debt relief schemes, adherents of the free market coerce indebted countries into opening up their markets to the global economy. This can have disastrous consequences for the local economies.

 Debt is an economic drain on the continent as billions of dollars leave the continent for the North. For example in Sub-Saharan Africa, $21 billion was paid in debt service in 2005.

 Thomas Sankara quickly realised that debt was a fundamental obstacle to the development of the continent. And since it was not his way to remain silent, but to speak the truth in an attitude of constructive criticism, he did not hesitate to demand that African leaders of the time renounce the repayment of this debt. Unfortunately they neither listened nor understood, as most leaders at the time were under the sway of former colonial powers. Today the same logic still exists in many countries in Africa.

 History has proven Sankara right, and today we can see that debt is indeed a fundamental barrier to the development of Africa. This is what led to the global campaign for the cancellation of poor countries’ debts, without harmful conditions.

The 20th anniversary of Sankara’s death, which falls in the global week of action on debt, will be marked in the UK as well. Jubilee Debt Campaign is planning a commemorative event around the anniversary, to explore Sankara’s ideas and the continuing realities of debt for the African continent. For further details see:



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