In my opinion, Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara was a man who should be remembered in African history as one of the most passionate and prolific leaders ever to grace the land. Serving for only a short 4 years (1983 to 1987) as president of Burkina Faso, a man of such charismatic nature and so beloved by many departed far too soon.
While under house arrest, a group of revolutionaries seized power on behalf of Sankara in a widely supported coup in 1983 at the age of 33 years. Once in office, he immediately began one of the most committed programs for social and economic change ever accomplished on the African continent. To symbolize this new autonomy and rebirth, he renamed the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Man”). One of Sankara ultimate goals was to eliminate corruption and demolish the superiority stronghold of French colonialism.
Not only was Sankara a military captain, pan-Africanist and a revolutionist, he also possessed the purest of intentions, that was very short lived. Sankara was determined to make an enormous impact and implement auspicious changes for the people of Burkina Faso. He accomplished this and much, much more.
Known Facts of a Great Man:
- He vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles within the first few weeks in office.
- He planted over 10,000,000 trees which allowed the doubling of wheat production by redistributing land from feudal landlords to the poorer people in the country.
- He removed all rural poll taxes and domestic rents, he created road and railway construction programs in order to connect the nation together without foreign aid.
- He promoted females to high governmental positions. He encouraged them to work, opened doors into the military and, even made it possible for women to take maternity leave during education.
- He initiated a nation-wide literacy campaign, increasing the literacy rate from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987.
- As a motorcycle driver himself, he formed an all-women motorcycle personal guard.
- He abolished female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy in support of Women’s Right.
- He sold all Mercedes government cars and replaced them with Renault 5 and made the Renault 5 the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that particular time.
- He gave all public servants a pay cut including himself and took away the privilege of government chauffeurs and class airline tickets.
- He refused foreign aid, saying that “he who feeds you, controls you.”
- He stopped using the air conditioning in his office because he felt such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes.
- He lowered his own wages to $450.00 a month and opted for a bike and drove in a car when it absolutely was necessary.
- He made it mandatory for all public servants to wear a traditional tunic, made from Burkinabe cotton and sewn by Burkinabe craftsmen.
- 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.”
- Gifted as a guitarist, he wrote the new national anthem himself.
- 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 spoke out 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 foreign nations.
An iconic figure of revolution, he was commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara” How could one man with such vision and foresight accomplish so much in such a short span?
Now, I will ask the question, if one man could accomplish so much why can’t the other leaders follow suit?