On this day in 1987 Thomas Sankara, revered revolutionary socialist and Pan-africanist president of Burkina Faso known as the “African Che Guevara,” was murdered by the agents of US and French imperialism determined to maintain a neocolonial control of resource-rich West Africa.
Born in 1949 in what was then still a French colony known as Upper Volta, Sankara grew up amid the independence struggles sweeping across Africa. He attended a military academy at 19 in order to access an education and it was through the military that he both witnessed a revolt in Madagascar that toppled a neo-colonialist regime, and, ironically, was first exposed to Marxist ideas. It was also in the military that he developed a close friendship with Blaise Compaoré who became his comrade-in-arms in toppling the corrupt government and assumption of power in 1983, and, four years later, his assassin.
Sankara was hugely popular among the people and when briefly imprisoned prior to taking power for his principled stands against corruption and poverty, the support of the masses compelled a left-leaning group of junior officers to liberate him from prison and, that same year, propel him to power. Upon assuming power, President Sankara began instituting a broad array of revolutionary changes to counter the poverty and maldevelopment from nearly a century of bloody colonial pillage & enslavement.
He renamed the country Burkina Faso, “the land of the upright people.” And his actions spoke even louder than his words, as he attacked endemic corruption and ended inflated salaries and luxury lifestyle of public officials including himself. He mobilized the people to achieve true independence from the colonizers, nationalizing the rich Burkinian resources, channeling their wealth into building housing, infrastructure and industry, increasing literacy, expanding access to healthcare, and instituting a national vaccination program to eradicate multiple diseases the colonists allowed to flourish.
Declaring: ‘He who feeds you, controls you,’ he opposed foreign aid and strove for food sovereignty, instituting land reform and import substitution. He repudiated the debt and the structural adjustment austerity it entailed, and moved to end dependence on the French franc by moving toward a new currency in economic partnership with Ghana.
All this was too much for the Western imperialists. “Too forthright,” “a troublesome man,” “a radical” with “a Marxist vocabulary,” they complained, furious about his consistent ”siding with Cuba, the Soviets, and with Nicaragua” and friendship with Qhaddafi. Secretly US and French intelligence plotted. And they found their Burkinian traitor and frontman in Blaise Compaoré, who with other traitor henchmen pumped 12 bullets into Sankara, ending the people’s revolution.
In 1984, Sankara, in a speech at the UN, had stated, “I come here from a country whose seven million children, women, and men refuse to die from ignorance, hunger, and thirst any longer.”
Compaoré, however, refused to let imperialism die, ensuring instead the desperate poverty and illiteracy of the people for years to follow. While 35 years later Compaore was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for Thomas Sankara’s murder, he continues to live in luxury under the protection of the French in their neocolonial state of Côte d'Ivoire. The imperialist criminals, of course, were never charged.
Image credit: Wikipedia