Sankaraship, a term coined by Joagni Pare, is all about the life and leadership principles practiced by Thomas Sankara — the young, charismatic, and Pan-African leader who served as President of Burkina Faso from 4 August 1983 to his assassination on 15 October 1987.

Thomas Sankara‘s short life, as we all know, is filled with inspirational and motivational lessons for today’s youth. And on his website –  – Joagni has made it a point to consistently provides his readers with invaluable life, leadership, and success lessons all drawn from Sankara’s life and leadership style. 

These are analyses based on well-researched anecdotes about Thomas Sankara which he has collected over the years from a diversity of credible sources, including books, documentaries, and interviews with close collaborators of Thomas Sankara. The goal is simple: to help his readers use Thomas Sankara as well as other great heroes of Africa to revolutionize many aspects of their own lives and accomplish what they believe to be their calling on earth. Enjoy his first article. 


[…] Immediately after becoming president of Burkina Faso on 4 August 1983, Captain Thomas Sankara famously initiated an unusual diplomatic tradition never heard of in Africa: at a time when most of his peers on the continent were preoccupied with hiding the reality of their dirty poor looking towns in order to impress foreign visitors and donors, the 33-year-old President decided that the presenting of credentials would no longer be carried out in the country’s Presidential Palace located in Ouagadougou. Instead, receiving credentials from new ambassadors would, from now onward, take place in the deep countryside, far away from the country’s big cities, amidst the village-based peasants.

Afraid that embracing this kind of diplomatic practice that disregards traditional diplomatic niceties would expose the country to ridicule and embarrassment, some of Sankara’s comrades in the National Council of the Revolution (CNR) begged him to reconsider. But Sankara would not relent.

When we have to receive an ambassador who has to present his credentials,” Sankara insisted, “we no longer do so in this Presidential Office. We take him to the deep countryside, amidst the peasants. He’ll take chaotic roads; he’ll suffer from dust and thirst. Then and only then, can we welcome him by saying: ‘Your Excellency, Mr. Ambassador X, this is Burkina Faso as it is; and it is with this Burkina Faso that you have to deal, not with those of us who are seated in the cozy offices.’”

Following this newly established tradition, President Sankara formally received, in the fall of 1984, the diplomatic credentials of two ambassadors: their Excellences Mr. Michael Geier of Germany and Mr. Leonardo Neher of the United States. The ceremony took place in the little town of Boromo, under the shade of giant silk-cotton trees, with a huge crowd of peasants all around.

It was a marvelous scene, a scene of complete mass ecstasy: with their mouths wide open, children were jumping for joy and pressing each other in the crowd. Next to them, and unable to contain the happiness beaming in their eyes, were wrinkled and sun-tanned old villagers standing on toes and craning their necks in an effort to  catch a glimpse of their young leader.

Now it was time for Sankara to address a few introductory remarks to the assembly. The lean and red-beret-wearing president stood up, swept the giant trees with his eyes, then looked at the audience steadily for a few seconds, as if to say that they were about to witness a life-changing event.

The whole place became quiet in anticipation of what he was going to say. Then in a moving, confident, amicable tone sustained by well-crafted punchlines, Sankara broke the silence: “Brave men and women of Boromo, today you are receiving three great powers: the United States and Germany — their great powers, and Burkina Faso — our great power.

Probably outraged by Sankara’s zeal and overconfident style (this remains to be proven), the newly appointed American ambassador packed up a few days later and returned to his country where no one was expecting him. After he had been fully and accurately briefed on what exactly had happened, US President Ronald Reagan ordered Mr. Neher to return to Burkina Faso. The matter was settled, and Leonardo Neher remained his country’s ambassador to Burkina Faso until he was succeeded by David H. Shinn on August 1, 1987.

Whether or not you like Sankara’s idea of receiving diplomatic credentials in the countryside is absolutely up to you; but the foregoing anecdote is worthy of thorough analysis and meditation, for it contains three invaluable success and leadership principles, the knowledge and application of which constitute the hallmark of all those who, throughout history, have attained to the great heights of achievement in their respective callings.

Principle 1: Never Think Less of Yourself

When Sankara became president in August 1983, Burkina Faso (known at the time as Upper-Volta) had a curriculum vitae that reads like this: A country covering an expanse of 274,000 square kilometers; a population of 7 million inhabitants over 6 million of whom were peasants; an infant mortality rate of 180 per 1000; a life expectancy of 40 years; an illiteracy rate of 98 percent (if we consider a literate person as someone who is able to read, write and speak a language); 1 doctor for every 50,000 inhabitants; a school enrolment rate of 16 percent; a gross domestic product of 53,356 CFA francs, that is, just over $100 per capita.

That was the truth about this landlocked West African country, and Sankara knew all these great facts. In fact he was the one who mentioned these statistics on 4 October 1984 in his speech at the thirty-ninth United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Needless to say, Sankara knew he was the leader of a small country with limited resources. And he was also aware of the fact that with limited resources, there were limits to what he and his comrades could do on the global stage. But not only that, he was also acutely conscious that his two guests were the representatives of two countries with dominant positions in world affairs.

Knowing all these truths, Sankara could have retracted by saying, “Well, I’d better keep my tail between my legs. There is not much I can do. I’m just the leader of a small and poor country, and poor countries must always behave like poor countries.”

But Sankara didn’t do that. Instead, he stood up in front of his Western guests and said with undisturbed confidence what I believe is worthy of repetition here: Brave men and women of Boromo, today you are receiving three great powers: the United States and Germany — their great powers, and Burkina Faso — our great power.

By calling his country a great power, by inviting his people to see themselves as a great power despite all the signs of material poverty around, Thomas Sankara was not trying to be ironic or sarcastic. He was simply trying to teach us a vital success and leadership lesson: the importance of recognizing our true value or worthiness and conducting ourselves accordingly.

Lacking knowledge of our true value is the reason why so many of us go through life insecure and easily derailed by the storms of life. Lacking knowledge of our self-worth is what keeps too many of us from enjoying freedom, equality, and success today.

In fact, the root cause of our failures, including the social, political, physical, emotional, and spiritual problems that we experience today, is our failure to recognize and accept our self-worth as human beings made in the image of God. You see, when you don’t know your value, it’s easy to dismiss yourself, saying “I’m not valuable … I’m just average … I’m just an insignificant subatomic particle in the grand scheme of a complex Universe … or I’m just an inferior being with no past glory and probably nothing good in my future! 

Yet whoever you are, and whatever your current position on the social ladder, there is an empowering truth about you that cannot be denied: you are far more valuable, far more powerful than you think you are. The difference between you and the other creatures of the universe is that you have been given the power to consciously shape your destiny and create the quality of life you truly believe you deserve. In Oration on the Dignity of Man by Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, we are reminded of that divine power God has given to man through Adam:

“We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgment and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature […]. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.” 

Whether you consider yourself a descendant of Adam or not is absolutely up to you; but I believe that God is saying to each of us what He once said to Adam: You’re not an ordinary creature; you’re a superpower! You’re an unlimited, powerful creator of reality. And if you are going to leave your mark on this world, you must start embracing and living that undeniable truth. In other words, it’s high time you started conducting yourself as the superpower you’re meant to be.

History is filled with examples of men and women who not only excelled in their respective callings, but also succeeded in influencing the world as a result of their awareness of this vital principle. Queen Elizabeth I of England is one of them.

In 1588, the Spanish Armada was unexpectedly defeated by the British in what is still remembered today as one of the greatest naval battles in history. Prior to that historical battle, Queen Elizabeth I gave a speech rallying the British troops assembled at Tilbury near London. Many historians agree that the queen’s attitude, appearance, and self-image before and during that speech played a vital role in that victory over the Spanish. A role that some believe was even just at least as important as the actual battle.

Wearing a plumed helmet and a steel cuirass over a white velvet gown, Elisabeth I rode atop a grey gelding, passing like some Amazonian empress through the troops. A few minutes later, it was a queen exhibiting an unruffled demeanor “full of princely resolution and more than feminine courage” that was addressing the British troops:

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England, too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.”

I don’t know about you, but the first time I read this speech, I couldn’t help but say to myself, “You know what, it’s not just men who have balls! Perhaps women have bigger balls than most men do!” In fact, the world has been blessed with countless women whose level of courage and bravery help confirm that conviction of mine. Wangari Maathai—the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize as a result of her social, environmental, and political activism—is a very fine example.

In the 1980’s, at a time when their government would not tolerate dissent; at a time when Kenyans were so afraid of challenging their local government authorities that they preferred to whisper their concerns behind closed doors, this relatively insignificant Kenyan woman, armed with nothing but an unwavering determination to leave a greener environment to the next generation of Kenyans, decided to stand up against her country’s government to stop a large project that those in power wanted to see completed: the construction of a 60-storey skyscraper that would serve as a business complex in a downtown park known as Uhuru Park.

Wangari Maathai’s protest campaign immediately drew the wrath of the government, who labeled her “a mad woman” and “an ignorant divorcee” who had nothing but “insects in her head.” The government went so far as to unleash the riot police on Maathai and her supporters. The woman was clubbed in the head and knocked unconscious by the police. Arrested and beaten numerous times, Maathai had spent dark days in jail cells, which she described as “cold, dank, filthy, smelly and crowded, with no room to sit down, water was all over.”

Yet despite all these hardships, Wangari Maathai stood firm and unbowed through everything. Eventually, the powerful government backed off, and the 60-storey edifice project was dropped. After this spectacular victory over her country’s male dominated institutions, a man came over to congratulate Wangari Maathai with the following words: “You know what? You are the only man left standing in this country!

Mathai’s reaction was, “Thank you my brother, but in reality, we [the women] have never been anything else but men in this world. It’s only in your [men’s] eyes that we are ‘just women.’

The setting is very clear: whether it’s Dr. Wangari Mathaai calling herself “a man,” or Queen Elisabeth calling herself “a king” or President Thomas Sankara calling his country “a great power,” the message is always the same: In life, as I explained in my recent book, the trick to reaching your full potential is not calling yourself what you are. The trick to reaching your full potential is calling yourself what you could become. The song “What the Lord Has Done in Me” by the Australian musical group Hillsong Worship captures so well this truth with its empowering lines:

“Let the weak say I am strong;

Let the poor say I am rich;

Let the blind say I can see.” 

Again, whoever you are, and whatever your current position on the social ladder, there is an empowering truth about you that cannot be denied: you are far more capable than you think you are. And not only that, but you are also far more capable than what other people think you are.

Where you were yesterday is not who you are. True, your past may influence your future, but it shouldn’t and cannot define it without your personal will. You might have lost a number of battles in your life, but that doesn’t make you a loser. You might have failed at some of your undertakings, but that doesn’t make you a failure.

In the same way, where you are right now, is not who you are. I’m sure you have weaknesses (we all do, don’t we?), but never call yourself weak. You may not be on the same plane of opportunity that is enjoyed by other people right now, or perhaps you were born to the poorest of the poorest families on earth. Yet in spite of all of that, you must do what Sankara did: See yourself as a great power! Do what Queen Elisabeth I and Wangari Mathaai did: instead of allowing yourself to be handicapped by your circumstances, look beyond your circumstances and see the potential in you.

You see, Wangari Maathai was a woman, yet she didn’t dwell on the fact that she was a woman; she felt a man at heart and believed she could do anything a man could do. Elizabeth I was a queen, yet deep down, she knew she was a king. And she called herself a king, a fearless king. These two women understood their real value, which goes far beyond what people could see or know about a woman.

As long as there’s breath in your body, that’s the kind of attitude you are commanded to cultivate. Just like Thomas Sankara, you must believe you are a great power. Just like Wangari Maathai, you must see yourself as the only man left standing on earth. And just like Elizabeth I, you must see yourself as a king. In other words, you must believe you are royalty.

The truth is, you are far more royal than all the royals the earth has ever borne. Why? Because you are not a descendant of an earthly king. You are a descendant of a heavenly king, the King of kings. All you need to convince yourself is to dig into what the Bible proclaims over you: “The Lord will hold you in his hand for all to see — a splendid crown in the hand of God.

Did you hear that? You’re a splendid crown! That means there is royal blood running through your veins. In fact from the moment you were born, from the moment the Creator of the universe has breathed life into you, the angels of heaven fell down upon their knees to show you respect and honor. That’s exactly what the Holy Quran says about you: “Your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am creating man from clay. When I have fashioned him and breathed of My spirit into him, kneel down and prostrate yourselves before him.’ The angels all prostrated themselves except Satan, who was too proud, for he was an unbeliever.

Here is my question: Do you see yourself as royalty? Do you accept yourself as a divine creation endowed with superpowers? In other words, do you know your own inalienable intrinsic value, or are you living a fake and an insecure life of pretense?

It’s sad to say, but too many of us have no idea what our true value is. We often mistake our net-worth for our self-worth. We constantly base our value on what we do, the things we wear, what kind of car we drive, how big a house we live in, how much stuff we have or can acquire, or what kind of title is behind our name.

Sometimes, I see people wearing expensive watches for the wrong reason. I know it’s for the wrong reason because they always make sure that everyone around can see what they are wearing. I know one guy like that who took a six-month’s salary to buy a luxury watch. At least that’s what he told me. That made me wonder a lot.

I mean, why would someone feel the need to buy and wear an extremely expensive watch? Will it make you more productive? No! Will it improve the quality of your daily hours? No! Will it provide you with extra hours in addition to the 24 hours we all have in a day? No! I mean, what is the point of wearing a luxury watch when you can simply glance at the cell phone that never leaves you?

None, except for the fact that we have bought into the erroneous belief that wearing one makes us more valuable, more respectable. They make us look like somebody. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, because I myself used to buy into that nonsense. But I know I’m not alone. The world is packed with highly educated people who have been brainwashed by marketers into believing that what they wear is who they are.

The truth, as I’ve learned, is that your value doesn’t come from what you wear or possess, it comes from who you area child of the Almighty God in whose image and likeness you’ve been created. In other words, you should never look at material things or riches as the reason to feel good about yourself. Why? Because these are things that can be acquired or lost, bought or sold. And as such, their values will also change over time.

That’s right! What you see as fashionable today will be outdated a few years from now. The new house you have now will go down in value a few years from now. From a financial perspective, the car you dream of buying will depreciate rapidly in value the moment you drive it off the dealer’s lot. Even the title behind your name is not an indication of your worth as a human beingPope John Paul II understood this perfectly when, deflating all the ecclesiastical titles connected to the functions of the Pope, he said: “Expressions such as ‘Supreme Pontiff,’ ‘Your Holiness,’ and ‘Holy Father’ are of little importance.”

Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not against beautiful things. I’m not allergic to driving a nice car, living in a nicer house, wearing designer shoes, or having an influential title behind my name. There certainly is nothing wrong with wanting or having such things. But what I’m suggesting is that we should never derive our sense of value from such things. In other words, we shouldn’t look at those things as the reason to feel good about ourselves. Why? Because these are things that can be acquired or lost, bought or sold. And as such, their values will also change over time.

A title or tenure, a performance, a car or a house may reflect or even increase your net-worth, but not your self-worth. Our self-worth is the intrinsic value that the Creator gave to us at birth. It is immutable. Every one of us has been created in the image and likeness of God.

And when you accept the fact that you’ve been created in the image of God; when you accept the fact that you’ve been blessed with the same energy that runs through everybody else, and that with the right thoughts and attitude you can shape your own perceptions and make things work for you, then you will understand that your self-worth or intrinsic value does not depend on anything else. Not your title or occupation; not your income or material possessions; not your gender or skin color; not your birthplace or nationality; not even the circumstances of your life.

None of these can make you any more or less valuable as a human being. Whether you were born in Buckingham Palace like King Charles III or in a dirty manger like Jesus Christ, you are as valuable as anyone who has been given the gift of life.

I heard the story about a well-known speaker who started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the room of 200 people, he asked, “Who would like this $20 bill?” Hands started going up. He said, “I am going to give this $20 to one of you – but first, let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple up the 20 dollar note. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” Again, hands were up in the air.

“Well,” continued the speaker, “what if I do this?” He dropped the crumpled note on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. It was now crumpled and dirty. He picked it up and asked, “Now, who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air. The valuable point that the speaker was trying to make is clear: No matter what he did to this 20-dollar bill, the audience still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20.

Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless; but just like this 20-dollar bill, no matter what happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless in the eyes of the One that breathed life into you.” No one understood and put this principle into operation better than Jesus Christ did.

Jesus, as the Biblical story goes, was once led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days without eating anything. The Devil found this a golden opportunity to tempt him. First, he said to Jesus, “If you’re the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.” Jesus simply refused, saying, “Man doesn’t live by bread alone.”

As someone who was clear about his own value, Jesus just didn’t see the need to do anything to prove who he was. His attitude was, “I know who I am. I know what my intrinsic value is, and I know it’s not defined by what I do or perform. I just feel good about myself the way I am.”

After his first failed attempt, the Devil took Jesus to a high place, showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and said to him in essence: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Again, Jesus refused to budge, saying he wouldn’t bow to anyone else but God. By refusing to obey the Devil’s proposal, I believe Jesus was saying in effect, “I know who I am. I am not lacking anything. And I don’t need to have or possess what you think is important in order to feel good about myself.”

The Devil tried one last trick. This time, he took Jesus to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem. There was a big crowd below them. The Devil saw this as an opportunity to try Jesus with the popularity bait by getting him to show off, for with the big crowd below them as witnesses, he would gain instant popularity.

So once at the parapet of the temple, he said to Jesus, “If you’re the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. Your angels will protect you and stop you from dashing your foot against a stone.” Jesus, again, would not relent. His reply to the Devil was clear: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” But in fact, all he was saying was, “I know who I am. And who I am is not determined by how famous or popular you think I am.”

In the same way, you must understand that your value is not based on what you do, what you have or how popular you are. Why? Because all these factors are always subject to change. When you base your value on your ability to perform and produce, then you will lose your value the moment you are no longer able to perform as before.

Sad to say, but the failure to recognize our intrinsic value as human beings has often led to what Martin Luther King, Jr. has called “the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man’s inhumanity to man.” Indeed, a lot of the gender, racial or age discrimination in many countries today grows out of our distorted understanding of our intrinsic value as human beings.

For centuries, even the greatest philosophers and thinkers like Aristotle have considered women to be inferior beings. Slavery and colonization flourished because some people were convinced that their skin color ordained them to feel superior. And victims of this faulted belief had accepted it as an undeniable fact.

Today, old people in Europe and Asia are looked down on as valueless because …


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