Remembering a great son of the soil : Thomas Sankara was assassinated 33 years ago today

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (21 December 1949 – 15 October 1987) was a Burkinabé military captain, Marxist revolutionary, pan-Africanist pragmatist, and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, he is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”

After being appointed Prime Minister in 1983, disputes with the sitting government led to Sankara’s eventual imprisonment. While he was under house arrest, a group of revolutionaries seized power on his behalf in a popularly-supported coup later that year. Aged 33, Sankara became the President of the Republic of Upper Volta. 

He renamed the country to Burkina Faso(Land of honest men) and achieved many great feats which makes him worth celebrating.

Here’s Thomas Sankara’s accomplishments, ONLY 4 YEARS in power (1983-87).

He vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles in a matter of weeks.

He initiated a nation-wide literacy campaign, increasing the literacy rate from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987.

He planted over 10 million trees to prevent desertification

He built roads and a railway to tie the nation together, without foreign aid

He appointed females to high governmental positions, encouraged them to work, recruited them into the military, and granted pregnancy leave during education.

He outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy in support of Women’s rights.

He sold off the government fleet of Mercedes cars and made the Renault 5 (the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time) the official service car of the ministers.

He reduced the salaries of all public servants, including his own, and forbade the use of government chauffeurs and 1st class airline tickets.

He redistributed land from the feudal landlords and gave it directly to the peasants. Wheat production rose in three years from 1700 kg per hectare to 3800 kg per hectare, making the country food self-sufficient.
He opposed foreign aid, saying that “he who feeds you, controls you.”

He spoke in forums like the Organization of African Unity against continued neo-colonialist penetration of Africa through Western trade and finance.

He called for a united front of African nations to repudiate their foreign debt. He argued that the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay money to the rich and exploiting

In Ouagadougou, Sankara converted the army’s provisioning store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone (the first supermarket in the country).

• He forced civil servants to pay one month’s salary to public projects.

He refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes.

As President, he lowered his salary to $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer. He lived in a small house and had only $350 when he died.

A motorcyclist himself, he formed an all-women motorcycle personal guard.

He required public servants to wear a traditional tunic, woven from Burkinabe cotton and sewn by Burkinabe craftsmen. (The reason being to rely upon local industry and identity rather than foreign industry and identity)

When asked why he didn’t want his portrait hung in public places, as was the norm for other African leaders, Sankara replied “There are seven million Thomas Sankaras.”
An accomplished guitarist, he wrote the new national anthem himself. He was only 37 years at the time of his death.

Thomas Sankara was warned by the military, police, intelligence service and his security that his best friend, Blaise Compaore had plans to plot a coup against him. Sankara refused to believe that he would do such a thing.

When Sankara decided to act on this, it was too late.

On 15 October 1987, Sankara was killed by an armed group with twelve other officials in a Coup detat organized by his former colleague Blaise
Campaore. When accounting for his overthrow, Compaoré stated that Sankara jeopardized foreign relations with former colonial power France and neighbouring Ivory Coast, and accused his former comrade of plotting to assassinate opponents.

Rest in peace son of the soil.

1 thought on “Remembering a great son of the soil : Thomas Sankara was assassinated 33 years ago today

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