Captain Thomas Sankara Lived and Died As A Poor Man! (Part one)

As promised, The Gambia Echo brings you the full exclusive conversation between the Honourable Fidèle Kientega, Captain Thomas Sankara’s Foreign Policy Adviser and journalist Bubacarr Sankanu, which took place in Cologne, Germany. Excerpts:

Sankanu: You took time off from your busy parliamentary schedule at the Burkinabé National Assembly to honour our invitation to grace our weeklong cinematographic commemoration of the 20 years since the assassination of President Thomas Sankara and 50 years since Ghana, the first Continental Black African State, gained its independence from Great British. Congratulations for your truly Pan-Africanist endeavours.

Hon. Kientega: Whenever you have a serious African project and you need my input, I will join you even if I am on crutches!

Sankanu: I am in tears of honour! Should we be formal or informal today?

Kientega: Let’s remain informal. You are my brother. When I saw you first, I knew you were from Burkina Faso. You look like one of us. You equally speak French and your name “Sankanu” is not that much different from “Sankara!”?

Sankanu: May be there were pronunciation errors along the migratory routes from the Ancient Ghanaian Empire to The Gambia and Burkina Faso (laughs).

Kientega: We are all the same people.

Sankanu: Since becoming cosmopolitan my African identity has superseded my Gambian Nationality. The Senegalese greet me in Wolof and other dialects without knowing my nationality. The Malians speak to me in Bambara while the Congolese greet me with Linguala and Kiswahili. I was dumbfounded when a lady spoke to me in Kinyarwanda. She said she thought I was a Rwandan as I have the same slim posture as President Paul Kagame, except that Kagame is taller! The Europeans often associate me with the African country they last heard about from the news.

Kientega: Your home country, The Gambia, is a small country.

Sankanu: Yes, we have only a territorial space of around 11,000 km². Our key ethnic composition includes the Mandinkas, who are cousins of the Bambaras, and the Wolofs who are found in Senegal as well. The current President Jammeh is Jola. They are among the aborigines of the south western Region of our country and the troubled Casamance region of Senegal. I am Sarahule known throughout West Africa as Soninke or Maraka. I have some Fula genes in me from the Imamate of Boundou in present day Tambacounda Region of Senegal. The Fulas, living between the Adamawa and the Futa Djalon, are also known as Peul, Fulbe or Fulani.

Kientega: We have Soninkes in Burkina Faso and as you may have known, the late Thomas Sankara was of Peul stock!

Sankanu: Wow! These are amazing leads for a genealogical research into a possible “Sankanu-Sankara” linkage (laughs). Will you kindly introduce yourself to the distinguished readers?

Kientega: Thank you. My full names are KIENTEGA, Meng-Néré Fidèle. I am an African man of 53 years of age. Due Africa’s balkanisation, I am specifically Burkinabé. I read International Law and Literature and served as Foreign Policy Adviser and Loyal Aide to President Captain Thomas Sankara until his assassination on the 15th October 1987. Presently, I am an Elected Member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Burkina Faso on the ticket of the UNIR/MS (Union pour la Renaissance/Mouvement Sankariste). I am the Party’s Secretary General for Information and International Cooperation and will remain a Sankara loyalist till my death. I am married and I have 6 children.

Sankanu: Congratulations!

Kientega: I am in the middle. Some of my colleagues have more children and others have fewer.

Sankanu: I am yet to experience how it feels to be a father.

Kientega: It is not too late. You are still very young.

Sankanu: You know our African society. If you attain a certain social status, be it economic, political or intellectual and you remain childless, people verbally torture you! It took some time before our President Yahya Jammeh became a father and people almost drove him mad with their rumours and gossip. One day he came out into the open by saying all those who insinuated that he was impotent should bring him their mothers (laughs). Jammeh is a bad boy who makes me laugh a lot!

Kientega: I met Yahya Jammeh in Senegal in 1986!

Sankanu: That’s interesting news!

Kientega: I was on a mission to Senegal and we met at the Hotel Terranga. He was in the company of Senegalese security personnel.

Sankanu: That was during the SeneGambian Confederation when our Gendarmerie was getting technical assistance from Senegal.

Kientega: He told me he wished to meet Captain Thomas Sankara. I told him he would be welcome in Burkina Faso.

Sankanu: Maybe he wanted mentoring for his own revolution 8 years later in The Gambia on Friday July 22nd 1994.

Kientega: How is his revolution working?

Sankanu: Well, I think he likes cement and bricks more than human beings, maybe because brick structures don’t complain like humans do. They just wear away in silence. I mean his Human Rights Records and approach to the Due Process of the Law are his Achilles’ heel. The serious Human Rights advocacy organizations are having tough time engaging him in a change of course. In all other areas, I am reluctant to make any conclusion because the stories I am getting are from second hand sources with extreme emotions, rumours and inconsistencies. Those who support Yahya Jammeh report on his revolution as if he has paved the streets of The Gambia with gold and silver. On the other hand, Jammeh haters explain things in a way that makes gullible people feel as if The Gambian State will implode within 24 hours. For a firsthand assessment of the successes and failures of Jammeh’s Rule, I intend to spend one of my project breaks in The Gambia and use the time to make a documentary. I will bring it along to the next convenient Pan-African Film and TV Festival in Ouagadougou (FESPACO). We can analyse it together and compare Jammeh’s revolution with that of Sankara…

Kientega: Is Dawda Jawara there?

Sankanu: Yes, he reconciled with Jammeh, and returned home. Hon. Kientega, on the 15th October 1987, the world was shocked by the news of the assassination of Captain Thomas Sankara in a Palace Coup d’État. Where were you on this sad day?

Kientega: I am able to talk to you now because, on this day, Thomas Sankara sent me on a mission to the north of Burkina Faso. When I returned to the capital, Ouagadougou, I was taken to the Gendarmerie where I was detained. My office and house were ransacked and all-important state files that were in my possession were taken away. Later Blaise Campaore sent me his current Interior Minister with a job offer but I rejected it. I said he had betrayed Thomas Sankara and my conscience would not allow me to work with a traitor!

Sankanu: How did he react to your rejection and what reasons did they give for betraying Thomas Sankara?

Kientega: Life became very hard for me. I lost my source of income. I was using a bicycle to move around and I was continuously threatened with torture and death. They gave no convincing reasons. They killed Sankara and buried him overnight fearing public reaction. When they could not explain the cause of his death as demanded by the public, they lied and said that he died of natural causes.

Sankanu: I saw the odd certificate of death with the inscription “causes naturelles” (natural causes).

Kientega: The public did not accept it and demanded more clarification. Instead of meeting the people’s demand, they launched a campaign to destroy Thomas Sankara’s memory. They held mass rallies telling the people that they had liberated them from Thomas’s tyranny. To their disappointment, the people went, crying and loudly mourning, to the place where they had buried Thomas. They did not stop there. They spent a lot of resources in trying to smear Sankara’s image. They called him a womaniser who snatched or slept with the wives of his subordinates, a right-wing politician who was fooling the Burkina Faso people, and a thief. They used all sort of tricks that can demolish support and respect for any public figure. They destroyed important evidence that showed the true nature of Sankara. The material on Thomas Sankara you showed in your film festival are from libraries and archives outside Burkina Faso. Everyday, the police control local video sellers for material about Sankara. When they find any, they confiscate and destroy it.

Sankanu: Have they succeeded in their “destroy-Thomas-Sankara” campaign?

Kientega: How could they? They could not even prove a single allegation. All investigations proved that Thomas Sankara died the way he lived, as a poor and upright man. He did not build a big house for himself or amass wealth when in power.

Sankanu: I saw his house. It is a simple cube built with mud bricks. I am sure that even civil servants earning just US$50 a month will feel too important to live in the kind of house Thomas Sankara called home, not to mention the types of Heads of State we now have in Africa.

Kientega: Thomas set the pace for modesty and simplicity in leadership. He renamed our country “Burkina Faso” which means, “Land of the Upright People”. He himself lived and died by an upright example.

Sankanu: Let us come back to you. How did you manage to live under Blaise Campaore knowing he did not forgive you for rejecting him?

Kientega: Life was very rough for me, my family and all the remaining loyalists of Thomas Sankara who refused to be bought by Campaore. Some were killed in unexplained circumstances and others fled into exile. A businessman wanted to take me out of the country in his private jet but I declined. I refused to go into exile. I chose to stay.

Sankanu: You read International Law and gained experience in Public Administration. You are marketable at least within the United Nations (UN) System and can live comfortably outside Burkina Faso. Why did you choose to stay and suffer?

Kientega: With the killing of Thomas Sankara, I lost my fear of death! Sankara died at the age of thirty eight (38) without betraying his cause. I could have been among those 12 people who were summarily executed with him. I believe God kept me alive to help to continue the work of Thomas Sankara. As you know Burkina Faso is a country of modest natural resources. Material poverty is, for us, a natural thing. We Sankarists (followers of Thomas Sankara) would rather live in our mud houses with our bicycles and be beasts of burden as free men than stay in golden palaces under subjugation. Besides, there is no better place than home, even with all the suffering.

Sankanu: Exile has been preoccupying me a lot. During the discussion a young man from the audience raised it too. There is often a rift between those who went into exile and those who stayed at home and suffered. For example President Thabo Mbeki and his equals spent the anti-Apartheid struggle abroad while the sacked Vice President, Jacob Zuma, and his team faced the full wrath of the white minority government. Now they are involved in serious fistfights…. In The Gambia, the opposition parties, for the first time since the July coup, formed a promising alliance in the run up to the last Presidential Elections in 2006. They got massive support from Gambian exiles mostly in the United States. Sadly, differences between the politicians broke up the alliance and the voters punished them by assuring Jammeh a comfortable majority. He now passes whatever Law he dreams of through the National Assembly and he is having fun consolidating his power base. Why are there often disconnects and conflicts of interests between exiles and locals?

Kientega: This is a very important matter. Whenever the local political climate becomes inhospitable, it is normal and necessary for people to go into exile. Not everyone can leave the country and not everyone should stay at home. But those who do stay should lay the foundation for the common cause and the exiles should bring in their international exposure. The exiles and their home-based comrades should complement each other. Of course, there are bound to be personal differences, pettiness and interests but they should not automatically lead to the failure of the alternative ideal.

Sankanu: This is the challenge. People find it difficult to resist the temptation of the “Me, First” mentality. What is your opinion on this?

Kientega: We Africans should stop fighting over trivial matters and unite our efforts towards a common goal if we are to stop begging and lagging behind.

Sankanu: As the young man at the cinema hall asked: how can it work when we cannot even unite and organise a naming ceremony without asking the cook for ingredients from Europe, America or China?

Kientega: In my response I said that no nation is an Island. Europe did not develop on its own. It borrowed or stole from other civilizations, including the African ones. We need international cooperation and solidarity. Technology, be it from Europe or any other place, is a universal asset. We Africans have the right to benefit from technology transfer and appropriately adapt the elements that are suitable to our needs and values. We need to exchange with the West and the rest of the world as partners in mutual respect. The biggest hurdle remains the attitude of the political leadership in Africa.

Sankanu: It is not surprising that former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, recently lamented the lack of attractiveness in politics for young people in Africa. They complain about the political leadership in their respective countries but are hesitant to be politically active.

Kientega: Sankara made political education and participation part of his revolution. He created the Young Pioneers groups in all schools and communities to change the old feudalistic patron-client political discourse. Young people were trained to practice democracy in decision making in terms of issues that affected them. They were asked to come up with proposals that were then formed into policies and were delegated with the mandate of implementing these same polices they helped to form. Sankara was building grass roots democracy.

Sankanu: There are many dishonest, hypocritical, ungrateful and insincere people out there. I would love to die young just to become great like Thomas Sankara!

Kientega: You should remain steadfast and respect your principles in every adverse condition.

Sankanu: Now, in terms of leadership, the 1980s were difficult times for African leaders. As Thomas Sankara’s friend, JJ Rawlings of Ghana, said, the survival of an African Head of State did not depend upon multiparty democracy or good governance but on being either pro USA or pro USSR in the cold war. Being non-aligned or maintaining “Africaness” was practically impossible. During this difficult period you served as Thomas Sankara’s Foreign Policy Chief. What type of Foreign Policy did you design for Sankara that served the best national interest of Burkina Faso?

Kientega: Our Foreign Policy was politically offensive to neo-colonialism. Like other Third World countries Burkina Faso was formally independent, but was still effectively dependent on the former colonial powers. Sankara supported liberation movements around Africa and the globe. We included Thabo Mbeki in our official delegations to the OAU (now African Union), the UN and other international meetings to help to expose him. We had no huge cash handouts but we sent a symbolic briefcase with weapons to the ANC. When Sankara changed our passport he issued the first copy to Nelson Mandela who was then in prison. We fought for the recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) occupied by Morocco. We supported Sam Nujoma of Namibia and the Canaks of New Caledonia. We spoke against the embargo on Cuba. We supported the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. Our Foreign policy was meant to support all people fighting to free themselves from the yoke of imperialism. African Integration was also a cardinal element of our foreign commitment.

Sankanu: How did the United States (U.S.) react to your role in Nicaragua, which lies on their “exclusive” playground?

Kientega: The U.S. President at the time, Reagan, sent his Ambassador to Thomas Sankara saying that Sankara’s support for the Nicaraguan Sandinistas was not about Burkina Faso but the ex-Soviet Union. Sankara told the Ambassador that if Reagan could not recognize that a poor country like Burkina Faso could have its own foreign policy and interests, then he, Reagan, was not a great leader!

Sankanu: Very courageous. What about France, the former colonial power?

Kientega: Our economy was dependant on France and Sankara wanted to change that. He said that if France was serious with its policy of association with its former colonies, it should respect their right to economic independence. The CFA common currency we use is still pegged to the French Franc (now the Euro). France fixes the price for our cotton and other farm produce. Our gold mines were in the hands of the French and Sankara wanted to address this economic injustice. He threatened to stay out of the Francophone Summit if France refused to listen to him.

Sankanu: How did France respond?

Kientega: France’s reaction was not immediate and official but rather automatic and indirect. It embarked on a campaign to isolate Burkina Faso. It provoked a border war between Burkina and Mali in 1985. Sankara tried to prevent this war but, as Commander-In-Chief, when your soldiers are attacked, you have to respond. France maintained a full service intelligence office in the Ivory Coast with a network of listening posts in Francophone Africa. The Abidjan-Ouagadougou railway was taken out of operation to hurt the Burkinabé import-export trade.

Sankanu: Were there cases of direct interference?

Kientega: When Thomas Sankara was Prime Minister in the government of his predecessor Ouedraogo, France flew in its Presidential Adviser to order the arrest and detention of Thomas on the same day the man landed in Ouagadougou! Public outcry freed Sankara from detention. He served less than a year as Prime Minister.

Sankanu: How did Thomas become Prime Minister?

Kientega: Sankara had earlier initiated a programme of Military-Civilian Dialogue. You remember his widely quoted saying, “a soldier without political education is a virtual criminal”. Through this principle Captain Sankara advanced peaceful dialogue with civilians in all strata of life, including the government constitution, to see the country out of the perennial governance crises. He was then appointed Prime Minister in the government of civilian Jean Baptiste Ouedraogo. Sankara initiated it in the early 1980s without foreign support or pressure.

Sankanu: This shows that Sankara was a Man of Vision. I saw reports that the people of Burkina Faso were tired of Sankara’s “unproductive” revolution, but I also heard the UN Rapporteur on Food Security said that, within four years, Sankara made Burkina Faso self-sufficient in food production. This is a record for a Sahel country. It is clear that an international scientific UN report cannot be the propaganda product of a local political movement. I sense some contradictions here. Were the people really tired of Sankara, as some of the media outlets want us to believe?

Kientega: This is part of the propaganda to deconstruct Sankara’s legacy. The imperialists and their puppies control most of the concerned media systems and can create and unmake heroes according to their agenda. Blaise Campaore destroyed most of the local information that documented Sankara’s work. He refuses to open the archives or declassify certain information. Food security apart, Sankara has, within his 4-year rule, improved the lot of women at a time when women’s empowerment did not get the attention it draws today. He appointed women to his Cabinet. He stopped the practice of sending impregnated female students/pupils out of school. He initiated an adolescence-counselling scheme to control teenage pregnancy, unsafe sex and sexually transmitted diseases. He banned female circumcision and other harmful traditional practices. Women who enlisted into the army had an equal chance of promotion through merit and were fully trained in all military skills. During the International Women’s Day on the 8th March, women stayed at home and their husbands went to the market to do the shopping.

Sankanu: I saw women talking about how much fun they had that day laughing at their husbands who returned home with the food baskets looking shy and embarrassed. One man bought fish and started running! I have also seen how ordinary Burkinabé used their bare hands to build roads and lay rail tracks with very little construction equipment.

Kientega: We had no money but we had our healthy hands. Sankara did not dictate to people or force them to work. He told them about the mechanisms of getting loans from the Bretton Woods Institutions and France. He said that they could relax at home and ask him to borrow money from the neo-colonialists, but that they would have to bear in mind that they and their children would have to pay back the loans with interests. Consequently, his government would find it difficult to provide universal education and health care because he would have to spend a greater chunk of the meagre tax revenues in servicing the debt. They could also beg for aid but then they would remain beggars forever. The people got the message and were motivated into working harder. Sankara led the people into taking their destiny into their own hands by being open and honest with them. Our country, Burkina Faso, has only a few world-class raw materials. As a poor country, Thomas Sankara wanted to turn the poverty into an asset by encouraging people to value those immaterial things money cannot buy. If you allow materialism and greed to dominate in society, you invite social injustice with fatal competition for the few resources. Sankara was building a just, upright and self-sufficient nation. The greatest resource of any nation is its people and Sankara tried to use this human resource to develop the country. Sankara was also the first African leader to openly call for debt cancellation in the 1980s!

Sankanu: What about mistakes?

Kientega: Of course mistakes were made. Sankara was a results-oriented leader. At the end of every year, we made reports on the state of the revolution and he openly said “we were right here…we were wrong there and now will do this…. and that… in another way…” He was a leader who openly admitted mistakes and listened to the people. A leader like Sankara who openly admitted errors and worked towards avoiding repetition did not serve the interests of those who benefit from Africa’s failure. Burkina Faso is a landlocked country surrounded by Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin, Togo and Niger. The citizens of these countries were very receptive to Sankara’s idea of the “African Way”. The puppets of neo-colonialism like Houphouet Boigny feared an overspill effect in these countries and worked against Sankara.

Sankanu: How was the working relationship between Houphouet Boigny and Thomas Sankara as neighbours?

Kientega: It was not an easy one. When Sankara visited Houphouet Boigny, I was there. He told Sankara: I understand that you are young and full of energy. Our young people like you and they see you as source of inspiration for change. We don’t want change. It is not good for us! Change your programme! Sankara told him: I respect your wisdom but it is fair to give the young people the chance to lead change towards self-determination and fulfilment.

Sankanu: Some commentators call Thomas Sankara, the Che Guevara of Africa. What is your take on this comparison?

Kientega: Ernesto Che Guevara was Minister of Industry in the Cabinet of Fidel Castro in Cuba. He resigned his office to support the international liberation movement. He went to the Congo to support Kabila and the loyalists of Patrice Lumumba. He went to Bolivia to support the freedom fighters there. Sankara was Head of State and acted in that capacity to support the international liberation cause. Both Sankara and Che never valued material wealth. They both died in penury without betraying their ideals.

Sankanu: What about Thomas Sankara as a normal human being?

Kientega: Sankara was a very cheerful person. He had the charisma of convincing and winning people over without pressure. If you come to him angry, you would leave smiling. He was jovial. He was extrovert, simple and very upright. He played the guitar. At international conferences, he liked playing the junior brother. This gave him the freedom to say things that other Heads of States were afraid of saying.

Sankanu: And Blaise Campaore?

Kientega: Blaise has what we call a “wet stomach”. He is very much into life and very difficult to deal with. From the beginning of the revolution we knew that the difference in character between Sankara and Campaore would affect the revolution. We never expected it to lead to such a betrayal with foreign manipulation. France and the Ivory Coast knew this and found it very easy to win Campaore over.

Sankanu: How?

Kientega: We have three (3) million Burkinabé living in the Ivory Coast. Before Thomas Sankara came to power, the Ivorians looked down upon the Burkinabé who are never afraid of doing menial jobs. When Sankara came to power, the Burkinabé there gained their pride and openly displayed their national identity cards. France and Houphouet Boigny had always considered Burkina Faso as their source of cheap labour and wanted it to remain that way. They felt that the migrants from Burkina Faso could influence the Ivorians for a revolution. Campaore’s love of money and power made it easier for them to use him in achieving their goal of eliminating Sankara. Blaise, as the Number 2 Man, represented Sankara at international events he was not able to attend. When Blaise travelled to the Ivory Coast, Houphouet introduced him to his current wife, Chantal. Sankara understood the political game being played but he could not impose a wife on his friend. He accepted the marriage of convenience of Blaise Campaore into the pro-France Houphouet Boigny clan knowing the side effects on the revolution. During the week of Sankara’s assassination, Chantal was sent to France to wait for news of post coup stability before assuming her new role as First Lady.

Sankanu: One of Sankara’s bodyguards said he detected Blaise Campaore’s plot and asked Thomas Sankara for the permission to arrest Blaise but Sankara declined. He said he would not betray friendship and that, if Blaise wanted to betray him, he could go ahead. What super human qualities prevented Sankara from stopping his killer, Campaore?

Kientega: Thomas Sankara was not a power hungry leader who would kill people in order to enjoy and monopolise power. He saw himself as a Servant of the Burkinabé and was prepared to die serving his people. One day we were working until very late at night and I called my family to advise them that I would be late. Sankara heard me and took the handset when my mother was on the line. He said “Mama, some of us have to sacrifice so much time for the next generation. Many people lost their lives in plane crashes before the aeroplane became a convenient form of mass transport for other people. Many people died in shipwrecks before the ship became a worldwide means of transportation for humanity”. Sankara knew that he would be killed. The Ghanaian secret service also detected the plot to kill Sankara and JJ Rawlings offered his help. Sankara named our National Slogan “La Patrie Ou La Mort, Nous Vaincrons” (Fatherland or death, we will vanquish). Death was an option Sankara preferred to failure!

Sankanu: How did Campaore treat the rest of the Sankara’s family members?

Kientega: At first he did not allow Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, to travel. It was when some Heads of States pleaded on her behalf that she was allowed to leave Burkina Faso. She now lives in France with Sankara’s two sons. Sankara’s other siblings are living in Burkina Faso and the United States. Their fate keeps them together despite their geographical separation. Sankara’s mother, Margaret Sankara, died on the 8th March 2004. His father, Joseph Sankara, died on the 4th August 2006. Before his death, he told Blaise Campaore to go to him and ask for forgiveness. To be continued

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Source :

Captain Thomas Sankara’s Children Were Pedalled to School On Bicycle (Part two)

We continue the conversation between Thomas Sankara’s Foreign Policy Adviser, Fidèle Kientega, MP, and Bubacarr Sankanu:

Sankanu: You said that Thomas Sankara’s father, Joseph, asked Blaise Campaore to go to him and seek forgiveness. Did Campaore honour this selfless expression of compassion?

Kientega: Campaore did not and this shows that he is not a great man. If it were me, I would have gone to the old man and knelt before him in repentance. Every human being needs to forgive and be forgiven. We all seek forgiveness from God.

Sankanu: What held Campaore back? Was it a guilty conscience, pride or cowardice?

Kientega: I believe it was a guilty conscience and everything that goes with it. Campaore betrayed friendship and holy trust. He lost his father at a very young age and it was Sankara’s father who raised him. He and Sankara were like identical twins but Campaore put power and money above humanity. Power exposes the true nature of a person because it gives him/her leverage over his/her fellow human beings. The way in which he/she uses this power over his/her fellow humans reveals his/her true character. Sankara had power but lived as a modest, poor and extrovert person of authority thus showing his true colours of humility. Campaore grabbed power and made fortunes with the blood of people but he is still not a happy man.

Sankanu: How rich is Campaore and how did he create his wealth?

Kientega: It is difficult to say how much he is worth. He is one of the richest African Presidents alive today. He allowed himself to be used and made lot of money in that process. Houphouet Boigny and France funded him massively. He got cash from Libya. He traded weapons and blood diamonds in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola. He had business deals with Jonas Savimbi and lifted oil in Angola’s name. The list is very long and dark. I read that, of the 36,000 pages of the UN Blood Diamond report indicting Charles Taylor, 9000 pages deal with Blaise Campaore’s shady activities both inside and out of Africa.

Sankanu: Is he still killing people to cling on to power?

Kientega: At the cinema hall, a Burkina Faso fan noted that the killing of Journalist Norbert Zongo in 1998 made Campaore realise that he cannot go on killing the same way as he had in the past. The public protests and anger that followed Zongo’s killing shook the roots of his government. He will continue to kill because he has already killed. Once a person kills a human being, he has already committed an irreparable crime. It does not matter how many people he kills afterwards and he will kill for the silliest of reasons. Campaore will go on killing but will not shoot people directly as before. He will use other means. For example, a grenade was thrown at a leading opposition politician, Clement Umaru Ouedraogo, when his car stopped at a traffic light.

Sankanu: Why?

Kientega: He was one of Campaore’s accomplices in the assassination of Sankara. He later discovered that Campaore had lied to him about Sankara, so he left his government for the opposition. Campaore saw him as a serious threat and wanted him out of the picture. Originally, there were four military leaders of the revolution and Campaore killed all of them to monopolise power.

Sankanu: Why is Campaore not willing to retire from office?

Kientega: He has killed so many people and has taken part in so many civil wars in Africa that he has no safe haven to go to after leaving office. He is afraid of joining Charles Taylor. He wants to die in power. He has transformed the village of his birth into a modern city and the unofficial capital of the country. He runs the government from there. He does not feel secure in the official capital, Ouagadougou.

Sankanu: I see a very dangerous trend in Africa through which democracy is being misused to impose quasi-monarchy on African voters. In D.R. Congo, Kabila’s son was made his successor. Fauré Gnassimbe succeeded his father Eyadema in Togo. Husni Mubarak of Egypt is grooming his son, Gamal. Ghadaffi of Libya is coaching his son, Saif. In Senegal Abdoulaye Wade is favouring his son, Karim. He created a Senate for what analysts see as a ploy to buy the support of influential Senegalese for his father-to-son succession plan. I understand that the children of Heads of State have the right to occupy public office if they are qualified just like every other citizen’s children, but enjoying an unfair advantage over other children makes democracy a farce. Are we seeing the same trend in Burkina for Campaore to handover to his son or, at least, to someone who will not prosecute him?

Kientega: African leaders who mismanage their national economies and commit crimes against humanity will fight to die in power or hand their countries to someone who can guarantee their safety when they lose it. All those who practise good governance would be willing to leave power without arm-twisting. For example, Alfa Omar Konare of Mali and Abdou Diouf of Senegal respected the rules of democracy and their hands were not dipped in blood or serious corruption. As for Campaore, his children are not old enough to succeed him any time soon. He is, however, grooming his younger brother, François Campaore, to be his anointed successor.

Sankanu: Well, JJ Rawlings of Ghana also killed so many people during his 20-year rule but he was indemnified to open the way for democracy. Today Ghanaian democracy is one of the healthiest in the developing world. Is Campaore not considering the option of immunity for democratic change?

Kientega: If he is willing to hand over power or accept election defeat in exchange for immunity, we will consider it. It is Burkina Faso that matters. We want justice but no vengeance or bloodshed. We Sankarists want development based on enlightenment. We are not brandishing knives and forcing people to change. We want change through education and informed decisions.

Sankanu: Speaking of education, Africa is suffering from a brain drain, which is blamed on the socio-political push factors and the education system. Our schools are only good at producing unemployed people who are finding it hard to apply their knowledge in Africa. Their skills, though urgently needed in Africa, seem to have more value in Europe, North America and other Industrialized Economies. Like the nurses, the medical doctors, the IT specialists, media practitioners, engineers, financial service personnel, etc. This shows that Africa is spending its money training its own people to be employed by other countries.

Kientega: This is the result of the colonial curriculum we inherited. The colonial education policy was geared towards producing bureaucrats for the colonial administration. Empowering the aborigines was not on the agenda. Since independence, some African countries have tried to reform the system and others are simply watching their children go to school to learn how to become jobless or illegal immigrants.

Sankanu: You served as Education Minister in the Government of Blaise Campaore from 2000 to 2002. What measures have you undertaken for Burkina Faso?

Kientega: Burkina Faso also inherited the colonial education system, which produces people for white-collar jobs. Most of our daily technicians like welders, masons, mechanics, electricians, etc, are Ghanaians. Ghana has reformed its education system. Going to a polytechnic or skills centre in Ghana is not seen as being inferior to a university education. The students of technical colleges emerge with the will to be self-employed entrepreneurs. They do not automatically queue for the few office jobs. They first apply their skills directly in the domestic economy and only when they see no future do they travel abroad. I wanted a similar reform for Burkina Faso. We have many nomadic pastoralist citizens who do not like leaving their children to acquire a Western education. For them I planned mobile literary schools and veterinary clinics for their children to take a break from cattle herding and at least, to learn how to read and write. For the rest of the population, I wanted an education system that produced self-reliant and skilled school leavers as started by Sankara. However, Campaore was not serious about this and so we left his government.

Sankanu: In 1987 Campaore offered you a job and you rejected it. How come you accepted to serve as Education Minister in his government 13 years later in 2000?

Kientega: Respect, dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation are part of the Sankaraism Doctrine. Since independence from France in 1960, Burkina Faso had not had a functioning government. Incompetence, coups, countercoups, corruption and civil dissatisfaction made it impossible for the people to feel a true sense of independence from colonialism. On the 25th November 1980 Colonel Saye Zerbo took power and nine months later on September 9, 1981 he offered Thomas Sankara the post of Information Minister. Sankara rejected the offer, but people prevailed on him to use his know-how, energy and experience in dialogue to help speed up the transition to civilian rule. Sankara then accepted to serve, but resigned in 1982 in protest of the emergency powers of Colonel Zerbo that banned freedom of association. Sankara was detained. Colonel Somé Yoryan removed Colonel Zerbo in a Palace Coup. A civilian President, Jean-Baptise Ouedraogo, was named President and Commander-In-Chief. On the 10th January 1983 Sankara was freed from jail and named Prime Minister. On the 16th May (five months later) Sankara was arrested and detained at the instigation of French President Mitterrand’s Adviser on African Affairs Guy Penne.

The people were infuriated by this direct interference into the internal affairs of our country and Sankara was freed. On the 4th August 1983 Sankara, together with Blaise Campaore and 250 men, marched on the capital, Ouagadougou. They sacked the government of Jean Baptise Ouedraogo who was like a provincial Governor of France. National Revolutionary Council was formed with Thomas Sankara as Head of State and Commander-In-Chief. Campaore became his Deputy.

Sankara did not just walk out of the barracks to take over the reigns of government. Two factors made his coup necessary: the lack of a functioning government since independence from France in 1960 and the Peoples’ Power. Without the people’s open call for change and clarity Sankara would not have staged a coup. He was arrested and detained many times before without seeking vengeance. He only risked the coup when the people said they had enough of governance crises.

With this lesson from Thomas Sankara, when Blaise Campaore invited us into Government of National Unity (GNU), we thought he was serious about national reconciliation, but it turned out that he only wanted to weaken us. He wanted to corrupt we Sankarists and stain our rapport with the voters. The results of the last general elections reflect the growing public desire for change and for Sankarism. We named our Party “Union for the Renaissance/Sankarists Movement” as we sensed strong demand by the masses for the revival of Sankara’s ideas. Today the Sankarists movement is the strongest political bloc in Burkina Faso out of power. Campaore wanted to benefit from it with his GNU trick. We left his GNU without selling our dignity for money.

In 1987 my principles stopped me from joining Campaore and, in 2000 it was the unanimous decision of our political party, which follows the reconciliatory principles of Thomas Sankara.

Sankanu: I am impressed to see opposition politicians who speak with one voice. In my country with exception of the Socialist PDOIS and the United Democratic Party top cadre, some the other opposition politicians behave like political prostitutes. One of the leading opposition figures in Dawda Jawara’s time, Sherrif Dibba, cheaply jumped aboard Jammeh’s ship. He was used as the Speaker of Parliament and was disgraced. His comrade, Gibou Jagne, has just accepted the job of local suburban administrator. Another leading opposition figure, Lamin Waa Juwara, who was fondly called “lion”, stooped low by accepting one of the lowest state jobs close to that of a village chief. The sad thing is that, when they are fighting the government of the day, they intensively lobby the support of their political parties and militants but when they are cross carpeting, they do it without even consulting their party loyalists.

Kientega: This is connected to the problems of leadership. Our African political elites moved into the residential quarters of the departing colonialists and became the colonisers of their own people. They care more about their fabulous lifestyles than the welfare of the people. See in the Ivory Coast how Rebel Leader Guillaume Soro and President Laurent Gbabo are behaving. Peace is good but their conduct is making people suspicious. Some of our political leaders do not speak well of politics. They disappoint the young people that once saw them as role models.

Sankanu: Some of our intellectuals are the worst. If they do not prostitute themselves to the politicians for a few dimes, they either behave arrogantly or perambulate around the town as cowards preaching fantasies. Tell me what you stand for as an Intellectual Sankarist?

Kientega: I stand for what the Baobab of Africa, Thomas Sankara and our Party, UNIR/MS, represent. This is liberation and prosperity through quality and appropriate education, respect for human dignity, working towards the unification of Africa, dialogue, reconciliation and freedom. Peace is good but one cannot enjoy peace without freedom. They are interdependent. The Algerians suspended peace and fought a bitter war with France in order to regain their freedom. Our African fight for independence was motivated by our desire to regain freedom, which was not available under the “colonial peace.” As a patriot, I must add that I do not believe in building a nation out of hatred. Hate begets hate and one cannot build a society on hatred. We want a country in which every compatriot is free to pursue his or her endeavours without let and hindrance. We want a revolution that will involve the people without blood spillage as Thomas Sankara taught us. You cannot keep changing a country just for the sake of change.

Sankanu: Please, tell me about the legal battle of Thomas Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, before the UN Human Rights Council?

Kientega: We Sankarists, together with a collective of twenty- two (22) Burkinabé and international lawyers from Senegal, France, Canada and Togo and some human rights groups under the patronage of Mariam Sankara, filed a case against President Blaise Campaore before the UN Human Rights Council to compel him to explain the betrayal and assassination of Sankara. The UN body indicted him when it ruled in Madame Sankara’s favour by asking him (Campaore) to explain the cold-blooded murder and to arrange the opening of the archives in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and France but he is afraid to cooperate. Instead he offered Mariam Sankara tens of millions of CFA, I do not know the exact figures, for her to forget the case. She rejected the bribe, saying that not everyone lives for money.

Sankanu: Blaise Campaore is refusing to cooperate. As Head of State he enjoys immunity and would like to die in power to escape worldly justice. Do you think the UN indictment will bring justice to the Sankara family and loyalists?

Kientega: The UN judgement might remain symbolic as long as Campaore enjoys immunity from prosecution as President. But the verdict carried so much weight that Campaore cannot defeat it with all his money and power. We have the “International Campaign for Justice for Sankara (ICJS) coordinated by Aziz Fall and supported by the Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA), which is keeping up the momentum. Aziz Fall and some activists have received death threats that are now under investigation by the Canadian police and secret service, CSIS. Our efforts are geared towards mobilising and maintaining an international civil rights campaign on behalf of Thomas Sankara, his family and loyalists. We will follow Blaise Campaore to every international event to make him feel uncomfortable. We want him to have sleepless nights by keeping the Sankara case in the public eye. He might end up cooperating or some of his associates-in-crime might bow to pressure by coming forward with valuable information and evidence about the events surrounding the 15th October 1987. The UN verdict is a precedent against executive impunity and greed in Africa! Those who want to kill people to grab power will think twice.

Sankanu: I understand that Campaore tried to sabotage the 20th commemoration of Thomas Sankara’s death. However, international commemoration has been taking place throughout the year in Mali, USA, Canada, Switzerland, France, UK, here in Germany and many other countries. How was the commemoration proper in Burkina Faso?

Kientega: It was similar to the day they killed Sankara. Campaore organised rallies to celebrate his 20-year rule. He wanted to keep the public away from our memorial events for Sankara. He hired buses and offered young people 2000 CFA (five U.S. Dollars) each as pocket money to attend his programmes. He offered free fuel to motorbike owners to attend his rallies. What happened was the young people took the money, the fuel and the buses and ran to our commemoration of Thomas Sankara’s death!

Sankanu: Campaore wanted to steal the show but ended up paying people to remember Sankara (laughs).

Kientega: Exactly. Even after 20 years of killing Sankara he cannot defeat him. The most interesting lesson is most of the young people were not born at the time of Sankara’s revolution and death. They heard about Sankara from their parents and elders. If Sankara’s revolution of 1983-1987 were a failure and a brutal dictatorship, the recollections of their parents would not have motivated them into immortalizing him.

Sankanu: During the film screening, there was a white lady who was reporting her experience in Burkina Faso. She said she undertook a long journey across Africa. In all the countries she visited, she was received with the colonial cliché of the white person coming to solve Africa’s problems. Children ran after her for gifts. Unemployed youths troubled her with all kinds of proposals, from city guide to marriage and sex. She said when she visited Burkina Faso, she experienced no such things. She was neither treated like a better human being nor was she dejected. She was treated as a normal person. Can you explain this?

Kientega: It is the result of Thomas Sankara’s fight for racial equality and harmony. I told you about his support for the Apartheid struggle. I related how Sankara helped the Burkinabé in the Ivory Coast to challenge the superiority complex of the Ivorians. He set up an Institut de Peuple Noir (Institute of the Black People) to help reverse the colonial teaching that the white race is superior to all other races. He fought against class difference in society. His children were pedalled to school on the back seat of bicycles. We raised concerns about their safety but Sankara said he wanted his children to grow up modestly like every normal Burkinabé child. Can you imagine the children of an African President on bikes to school? That was Thomas Sankara!

Sankanu: I must confess that I am uniquely impressed by your modesty. You respectfully turned down your hotel accommodation, you kindly returned the VIP protocol package arranged for you in your status as a Member of Parliament and you chose to stay with a simple family without extra requests. I have been receiving celebrities and VIPs since 2003 and I must honestly admit you are the first top-notch visitor with such impressive down to earth common man comportment.

Kientega: We thank God and Thomas Sankara for the inspiration.

Sankanu: I can say Sankara’s prophecy that “if you kill one Sankara, millions more Thomas Sankaras will keep up the fight” has come true. I am very proud to acquaint myself with one such Sankara in the person of the Honourable Fidèle Kientega.

Kientega: I am equally honoured to be with an enterprising young man of your valour.

Sankanu: Sankara dies Sankara lives. Vive Sankara!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Source :


  1. Thomas Sankara’s Legacy, Exclusive Interview With Hon. Fidel Kientega
    Africa has come of age. Reading through this interview between Sankanu and Hon. Fidel Kientega. I have come to understand that,’ true values of Africa and for Africa are inevitable’. it is unfortunate that present day Africans are far from reaching such values of modesty, humility, openness, generosity and uprightness of Thomas Sankara. The present day revolution of young Egyptians in Egypt against the dictorial leadership of Husni Mubarak is an indication of those ‘far reaching values come alife’.

    Democratic power must resonate among the people and for the people. It is time when Africa dictators must leave office and hand in power to the people. Africa is decaying fast economically, politically and socially due to bad governances and links to imperialism. It is time to harness what we have got : intellectual power of Africans, resourcefulness of most Africans in Diaspora and at home, and talents of most children of Africa. As a poet, I try to lament on the need for Africa to take responsibilty for it’s own. Time has past when we continue to accuse Colonial rule and imperialism as the major problems of Africa. As Barack Obama said, Yes we can! Africa- Yes we can! change from where we are today to where we need to be tommorrow.

    I am impressed by the modesty, intellectual capacity of Hon Kientega and all Sakarist. I am a Canadian and a Nigerian as well. I am eager to lead such legacies for the betterment of Africa and beyond.

    S. ABARA
    York Alumni, Canada
    B.A Hons(Bilingual Majors in Political Science and International Relations)

  2. Thomas Sankara’s Legacy, Exclusive Interview With Hon. Fidel Kientega

  3. Thomas Sankara’s Legacy, Exclusive Interview With Hon. Fidel Kientega
    I enjoyed reading through.
    I am originally from Liberia residing within the U.S. I followed the indictment against Charles Taylor for crimes committed in Sierra Leone. I also followed Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Committee with focus on Prince Y. Johnson. Prince Johnson first hand confession revealed that Blaise Compaoré used mostly foreigner aka them to assassinate Thomas Sankara. The reason Blaise gave for the coup d’état was that Thomas Sankara refused to use Burkina Faso as a base to wage war on the continent aka Liberia. JJ Rowling of Ghana felt the same and later detained Charles Taylor for using Ghana as a base to wage war. Blaise assured Charles Taylor, the only way he could help Taylor wage war in Liberia was for Charles Taylor, Prince Johnson among others to help him Blaise assassinate Thomas Sankara.
    Blaise Compaore, Charles Taylor, Prince Johnson were all linked in Libya via President Kaddafi. The group mostly foreigners dominantly Liberians fired at and killed Thomas Sankara and left immediately according to the report. Hence, Blaise wife Chantal was first the wife of Liberia President’s son, A.B. Tolbert. A.B Tolbert and his dad were murdered by Samuel Doe, the one Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson weere to dispose from Liberia Presidency.

    Emmanuel Blimie
    What’s In Me Comes Alive!


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