Alagi Yorro Jallow
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Thomas Sankara, our African Che. The first article I wrote on this blog was on Thomas Sankara, Thomas Sankara, The African Che. To me, Thomas Sankara is one of the most charismatic, selfless, dedicated, and beautiful African leaders of all time.
Where did all the genuine African revolutionaries go? They were either assassinated; Patrice Lumumba, Eduardo Mondlane, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Steve Biko, John Garang (Julius Nyerere, Leopold Sedar Senghor, died naturally), Frank Fanon, Muammar Gadaffi or fell under siege from their legacies. It has been decades since we saw a visionary leader who inspired the Pan African idealism of the revolutionary 60s.
Look around. Africa is facing a leadership crisis. From South Africa to Egypt, the Gambia to Madagascar, there is a clear sense of ‘we deserve better. As African men, stifling under the stereotype of rogue males in power, there are not many examples around to deliver a much-needed inspirational leadership wake-up call. The only standard for leadership presently is wealth and influence. Simple men with solid characters, sincere intentions, and grand visions are consigned to the pages of African history.
Thomas Sankara: A man with a mission ahead of his time and without a college education. He was a brilliant, gifted revolutionary. A man who changed Burkina Faso. The man who gave the Burkinabe a sense of pride. The French could not handle him.
Thomas Sankara, a man without a college degree, was more prominent than Che Guevara. His intellect and wit challenged the “officialdom” in which speeches were written and delivered. His wit stunned his peers at the UN and OAU. However, many African leaders blessed with several distinguished degrees and honors did not understand him.
His ideas, sometimes considered Marxist, were out of touch with the global elite but resonated well in villages in Burkina Faso. He re-baptized his country. The name “Upper Volta” had no meaning. It was a colonial tag. He called his country Burkina Faso – the land of incorruptible people.
At only 33 then with secondary school education, this man was more significant than most of the African leaders combined at the African Union. No African politician living or dead, can match the intellectual vibrancy of Captain Sankara. He still speaks to his people even in death. Read his speeches, and you will appreciate why.
He was a military man. He came to power through a coup. However, he was different. He was no Yahya Jammeh, Idi Amin, Yoweri Museveni or Mobutu Seseseko. He loved his country and his people with passion. After work, he traveled in cheap cars, encouraged people to work, and played handball with his fellow civil servants.
He was not obsessed with Presidential toys – limousines, outriders, and jets. Sankara was a simple man who wanted to transform his country. He was proud. For his people, for his country. He believed in Intra African trade. During one of the OAU summits, he told other Presidents to encourage production and trading in Africa.
He wore cotton cloth entirely woven and stitched in Burkina Faso using Burkinabe cotton. He could afford a suit from Saville Row in London, but he believed in the creativity of the Burkinabe. He was not an abstract compatriot, as many African Presidents were then and even now. He was a true embodiment of a real fellow countryman. He was in touch with people and his country’s reality—a true son of the soil.
He was not the typical African President who betrayed the pride of Africans. He was a proud African. Even Francoise Mitterrand was confused. He once described him as “bright but not flexible.” France arranged for his best friend to murder him and bury him in a rudimentary grave. The murderer was Blaise Campaore.
He made himself President without a college degree. Blaise Campaore sold Burkinabe minerals to the French. Twenty-three years later, a popular revolution primarily driven by the ideas of the late Sankara went Campaore into exile. The revolution, often referred to as the “barefoot” revolution, was driven by poor youths and music. The musicians even had a concert in the burnt-down house of Parliament to celebrate.
France, a country whose interests Campaore served with passion, could not protect him. Thomas Sankara was an African who lived ahead of his time. He would be an example of selfless commitment to Africa if only Africans believed in those possibilities. His spirit lives on…… He embodies that which is possible if we escape mental slavery. Long live the Sankarist movement in Francophone Africa!
Alagi Yorro Jallow