Thomas Sankara

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Thomas Sankara
1st President of Burkina Faso
In office
4 August 1983 – 15 October 1987
Preceded byJean-Baptiste Ouédraogo
Succeeded byBlaise Compaoré (coup d'état)
5th Prime Minister of Upper Volta
In office
10 January 1983 – 17 May 1983
PresidentJean-Baptiste Ouédraogo
Preceded bySaye Zerbo
Succeeded byPost abolished
Secretary of State for Information
In office
9 September 1981 – 21 April 1982
Personal details
Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara

(1949-12-21)21 December 1949
Yako, Upper Volta
Died15 October 1987(1987-10-15) (aged 37)
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Cause of deathGunshot wounds
Spouse(s)Mariam Sankara
Military service
Battles/warsAgacher Strip War

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (French pronunciation: ​[tɔma sɑ̃kaʁa]; born 21 December 1949 – 15 October 1987) was a Burkinabé revolutionary. He was President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. He was a Marxist and pan-Africanist. His supporters viewed him as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution. For this reason, he is sometimes called "Africa's Che Guevara".[1][2][3][4]

Career[change | change source]

There was a coup in 1983, supported by the people. A number of revolutionaries seized power for Sankara, who was under house arrest at the time. Aged 33, Sankara became the President of the Republic of Upper Volta.

He immediately launched programmes for social, ecological and economic change and renamed the country from the French colonial name Upper Volta to Burkina Faso ("Land of Incorruptible People"), with its people being called Burkinabé ("upright people").[5][6] His foreign policies were centred on anti-imperialism, with his government refusing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalising all land and mineral wealth and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritising education with a nationwide literacy campaign and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles.[7]

His national agenda also included planting over 10 million trees to combat the growing desertification of the Sahel, redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents and establishing a road and railway construction programme.[8] On the local level, Sankara called on every village to build a medical dispensary and had over 350 communities build schools with their own labour.

Moreover, he made female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy illegal. He appointed women to high governmental positions and encouraged them to work outside the home and stay in school, even if pregnant.[8] Sankara encouraged the prosecution of officials accused of corruption, counter-revolutionaries and "lazy workers" in Popular Revolutionary Tribunals.[8] As an admirer of the Cuban Revolution, Sankara set up Cuban-style Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.[1]

His revolutionary programmes for African self-reliance made him an icon to many of Africa's poor.[8] Sankara remained popular with most of his country's citizens.

However, his policies alienated and antagonised several groups, which included the small but powerful Burkinabé middle class; the tribal leaders who were stripped of their long-held traditional privileges of forced labour and tribute payments; and the governments of France and its ally the Ivory Coast.[1][9]

Death[change | change source]

On 15 October 1987, Sankara was gunned down by troops led by Blaise Compaoré, who assumed leadership of the state shortly after having Sankara killed. A week before his assassination, Sankara declared: "While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas".[1]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Burkina Faso Salutes "Africa's Che" Thomas Sankara by Mathieu Bonkoungou, Reuters, 17 October 2007.
  2. Thomas Sankara Speaks: the Burkina Faso Revolution: 1983–87, by Thomas Sankara, edited by Michel Prairie; Pathfinder, 2007, pg 11
  3. "Thomas Sankara, Africa's Che Guevara" by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 15 October 2007.
  4. "Africa's Che Guevara" by Sarah in Burkina Faso.
  5. Hubert, Jules Deschamps. "Burkina Faso". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on 2019-04-09. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  6. Molly, John. "What Do the Colors and Symbols of the Flag of Burkina Faso Mean?". World Atlas. Archived from the original on 2019-05-17. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  7. "Commemorating Thomas Sankara" by Farid Omar, Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA), 28 November 2007.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man" by California Newsreel.
  9. "BBC NEWS – Africa – Burkina commemorates slain leader". 15 October 2007. Retrieved 15 October 2014.