Thomas Sankara, President of the country formerly knows as Upper Volta would have been 67 years old today. After he seized power in a popularly supported coup at the young age of 33, the Pan-Africanist theorist renamed the country Burkina Faso, meaning “The land of upright people.”
Onec in office, he immediately began eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. “Imperialism is a system of exploitation that occurs not only in the brutal form of those who come with guns to conquer territory.
Imperialism often occurs in more subtle forms, a loan, food aid, blackmail. We are fighting this system that allows a handful of men on earth to rule all of humanity.”
Sankara cut the salaries of overpaid government officials and banned them from using the luxury vehicles they had become accustomed to. He rode a bike before he was urged to upgrade to a Renault 5, one of the cheapest cars available in Burkina Faso at the time.
Central to Sankara’s economic strategy to break the country from the domination of the West was increasing the use of locally produced food.“He who feeds you, controls you.”
As a result, Burkino Faso became self sufficient within four years. In order to strengthen the local economy, he insisted that government workers wear a traditional attire made by Burkinabe craftsmen. “We must learn to live the African way. It’s the only way to live in freedom and with dignity.”
His government was also pro women’s rights. He banned female circumcision, condemned polygamy, and appointed women to high governmental and military positions. He even had an all woman security team.
“We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph.”
His administration gradually lost popular support, and internal conflict within his government grew. On October 15, 1987 Sankara was killed in a coup organized by his former colleague and friend, Blaise Compaoré .
“While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.” – Thomas Sankara