June 5, 2012
By Olajide Jatto
It’s no secret to say the word ‘hero’ is very much over used in the society we live in today. A corrupt politician or a prima donna celebrity or sports person manages to visit an orphanage after a long night of drinking and smoking and he or she is hailed a hero.
Well, the good news is heroes do exist. And in many cases, they pay the ultimate price for their beliefs. Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral; these are heroes. And so is Thomas Sankara.
Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara was born on the 21st of December, 1949. He was born a half caste between the Mossi and Fulani people of French Upper Volta. Some of the most disadvantaged people of the region. Biblically, Gideon comes to mind. A powerful and revolutionary leader rising out of the midst of some of the least influential people in the country. Thomas watched his father fight in the French army during the second world war. And captured by the Nazi’s! I wasn’t there, but this event must have shaped his thinking.
He must have thought, “are we really free from these people?” “Why can’t we just live our lives without their interference?”
Thomas, while serving in Madagascar, saw uprisings against the government of Philibert Tsiranana. And read writings by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. He held a couple of government positions on his return to his country and his popularity grew. Sankara resigned his position as secretary of state for information in protest to the government’s shabby treatment of labour unions. A coup overcame that government and Thomas became Prime Minister. Again, he was place under house arrest along with some of his friends. This move, due to the popularity of Sankara, caused an uprising.
Thomas Sankara became the president of Upper Volta in 1983 through a coup at the age of 33. It was time for this young leader to put everything he had learnt to use. He had been influenced by Che Guevera, Fidel Castro, Vladimir Lenin, Kwame Nkurmah and so on. And in my opinion, he had learnt well!
Sankara had an anti-imperialist agenda. He wanted Africa to be African. If we had independence, then he wanted us to be truly independent. Wear African. Think African. Act African. Be African. He had seen his father arrested by the Nazis fighting for a foreign country, and it probably just didn’t sit well with him. Why should we be free, but still take commands from our colonial masters?
And Thomas got to work!
And some job he did!
He was the one of the first world leaders to actively promote women’s rights. He was also the first African leader to appoint women to key positions in the cabinet. Thomas sold all the Mercedes cars that belonged to the government. All! And replaced them with the cheapest cars available in the country. He refused to take foreign aid. He was fully aware that this was the most effective way to be controlled. He gave land to the peasants rather than rich land owners. This made food production increase and the country achieved food sufficiency in a relatively short while. Sankara went around the country without the fanfare that seems to accompany most African leaders. He even changed the name of the country to Burkinafaso (a land of upright men).
And wait for this… it was even reported that he lowered his salary to 0 a month and limited his official possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a freezer!
He even composed the national anthem of the country.
Listen, Carlsberg don’t make presidents, but if they did, they’ll make Thomas Sankaras!
But by not ‘playing ball’ and keeping it business as usual, Thomas had stepped on toes. And like Lumumba, he had it coming.
Thomas Sankara had in the year 1976 met Blaise Compaore in Morocco. They had become best friends. Compaore had even master minded the coup that brought Sankara to power. Well, there is an African saying that says “If the internal death doesn’t kill, the external one can’t”. Compaore through the backing of the French and American powers was to later assassinate Sankara in a 1987 coup. He said it was a coup necessary to correct the faults of Sankara’s government. A fault only he saw big enough to necessitate the killing of one of the best leaders the continent has ever seen.
Sankara has always been compared to Che Guevara. They are both seen as associates of Fidel Castro. The berets are similar. And both are also keen motorcyclists. But more importantly, they were revolutionaries. People we need more of in Africa. Thomas even said “…we say that Che Guevara is also African and Burkinabe.” And above all, they both paid the ultimate price for what they believed in.
On the 15th of October 1987. A week after he had rendered the now famous words “…while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”, Sankara was murdered in a coup led by Blaise Compaore (who is still the country’s leader today!). Flimsy excuses were given, but the main reason is simply to silent another leading spark of light on the dark continent. To muzzle another voice that had dared to speak and act up against colonialism. To keep control of the continent by the imperial authorities.
And they succeeded! They have succeeded so far. And all we’re left to do is pray and hope that another comes. But will the other coming be allowed to be himself? Will he be allowed to live?
Sankara has come and gone. Played his part and left us. He will be remembered for standing tall for what he believed and being strong enough to fight when he had to. His legacy will live on. The question is will his dream ever see the light of day?