University Education Is not Everything in Leadership: Fundamental Lessons from Captain Isidore Thomas Sankara

Mamos Media

Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: From mockery to deception, denial to acceptance, falsehood to truth, blackmail to call for public sympathy. Wondering how this should have ever become an issue in the first place, boasting of credentialism and doubting and other Presidential candidates life accomplishment. Why dish out credentialism and mediocrity in the public arena in the name of politics? Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara was one of Africa’s youngest leaders without a university education at only 33 years old when he seized power in a popular coup. However, in four years, his contribution to African consciousness was enormous. Then, unfortunately, Sankara was assassinated at the age of 38. However, by then, he had lived like a man on borrowed time, and the impact of his life still reverberates throughout the world today.
Success can be overwhelming. It takes a steady hand to ride the waves without sinking into the depths of self-delusion. No matter how great the accomplishment, one must not get too attached to the noise it generates. Sooner or later, the hype will pass, and it is essential to remember the man you were before success came knocking. Unfortunately, too many men try to keep pace with peer expectations.
Fatoumatta: The value of our possessions defines manhood, and frugal living is associated with poverty. Our consumer culture has sanitized greed by creating a heightened sense of lack. This thinking motivates unchecked consumption for the better part of our lives as willing prisoners of addiction or envy, never knowing the peace of mind that contentment offers.
Fatoumatta: Where did all the genuine African revolutionaries go? They were either assassinated; Thomas Isidore Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Eduardo Mondlane, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Steve Biko, John Garang, Muammar Gadaffi or fell under siege from their legacies. However, then, Nelson Mandela was here, and today we have Paul Kagame here. In the case of Paul Kagame, who won the intellectual debate over democracy and economic development. 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 the Gambia to Egypt, Guineas Conakry, Mali to Senegal, 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.
Therefore, it is with deep nostalgia that I remember an iconic African revolutionary, a pragmatic visionary, and an upright man, Thomas Isidore Sankara, the former president of Burkina Faso. It is 34 years since his brutal assassination on October 15, 1987. As far as African leadership goes, Thomas Sankara was cut from a different piece of cloth. In his short life, the charismatic military leader set about creating an enduring legacy for conscious African citizens that is more relevant today than ever before. Progressive forces fighting economic domination and ideological slavery of Africa can draw inspiration from Sankara’s life journey.
Fatoumatta: This is an excerpt and synopsis of my thesis. “This study is about four interrelated key issues, namely, critique of Thomas Sankara as a political figure and erstwhile president of Burkina Faso; examination of Pan-Africanism as a movement, theory, ideology and uniting force for Africans and people of African descent globally; evaluation of leadership and governance lessons drawn from Burkina Faso’s August 1983 revolution, its successes, challenges, and shortcomings, and lastly; it draws socio-economic and developmental lessons from the Burkina Faso experience under Sankara’s administration during the brief period from 1983 until his untimely assassination on October 15, 1987.
Two inter-related theories were used as the basis and ‘compass’ of the study. They are Pan Africanism and Afrocentricity – because they together center and privilege the African people’s plight and agency and the urgent need for Africans to find solutions to their own problems in the same way Sankara emphasized the need for an independent endogenous development approach in Burkina Faso. Methodologically, a Mixed Methods Research (MMR) approach was employed.
The central argument is that that the nerve center of developmental efforts in Burkina Faso was a self-propelled, self-centered, and endogenous development model which placed the agency and responsibility, first and foremost, in the hands of Burkinabe people themselves using their own internal resources to improve their lives. Overall findings of the study indicate that the revolutionary cause and intervention in all critical sectors such as education, health, and the economy were prioritized. In addition, the pace at which these sectors were overhauled was crucial.
In addition, I found that what sets Sankara apart from many other revolutionaries and neo-colonial (mis)leaders was his unique and seemingly innate ability to link theory and practice in a contextually relevant and nuanced manner. Another notable finding which cannot be overemphasized is the role of foreign debt, aid in all its forms, and loans and their ability to undermine the sovereignty of African countries. These findings for development in Africa imply that development cannot be externally imported either through foreign direct investments or through a straight-jacket policy transfer where African countries often borrow European economic policies and try to implement them in drastically different contexts and historical epochs” ( AYJalllow,2007).
Fatoumatta: Sankara came to power on August 4, 1983, through a popular revolution at 33. In the four years that ensured, he embarked on a revolutionary paradigm shift, bringing real power down to the people, advocating for policies on African self-reliance, food security, gender parity, and the dismantling of the neo-colonial development structure that continues to render African states beholden to foreign masters for survival. His solidarity and sincere commitment to the plight of all suffering people, irrespective of their location in the world, is why Sankara is fondly referred to as Africa’s “Che Gueverra.” The Burkinabe revolution remains a relevant ideological model in Africa for raising mass consciousness and battling poverty. Inshallah, my thesis will be converting into a book soon.

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