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Afrikan Revolutionary Thomas Sankara's Example Lives On

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Afrikan Revolutionary Thomas Sankara's Example Lives On

Afrikan Revolutionary Thomas Sankara's Example Lives On

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  • 1. RBG Blakademics November. 2010 “Afrikan Revolutionary Thomas Sankaras Example Lives On” Scenes from Thomas Sankara: An Upright ManThomas Sankara rose to power in Burkina Faso in a popularly supported coup in 1983. To symbolize thisrebirth, he renamed his country from the French colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, Land of Upright Men"and launched the most ambitious program for social and economic change ever attempted 1 the African African revolutionary Thomas Sankaras example lives on Page oncontinent. http://www.newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0205
  • 2. RBG Blakademics November. 2010African revolutionary Thomas Sankarasexample lives onText written by Demba Moussa Dembéléhttp://links.org.au/node/722 Thomas Sankara was killed in the belief that it could extinguish the example he set for African youth and progressive forces across the continent. They could not have been more wrong. One week before his assassination on October 15, 1987, in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Ernesto ``Che Guevara, Thomas Sankara declared: ``Ideas cannot be killed, ideas never die.’ Indeed, the history of humanity is replete with martyrs and heroes whose ideas and actions have survived the passage time to inspire future generations. Their ideas, courage and sacrifice for the freedom and dignity of their people have made these martyrs larger than life. Thomas Isidore Sankara is one in a long lineage of African sons and daughters whose ideas and actions have left an indelible mark on the history of their continent. That is why 21 years after his death, Sankara continues to guide those who are struggling to end the domination of their continent and theenslavement of its peoples.Sankara’s great popularity is in part a reflection of Africans’ disillusionment with corruptleaders who are incapable of meeting the basic needs of their peoples and who taketheir marching orders from Western capital and institutions like the World Bank and theInternational Monetary Fund (IMF). Sankara’s popularity is also rooted in the profoundsincerity of his commitment to serving his people, his devotion to the cause of theemancipation of the Burkinabés and all African peoples. His charisma, honesty andintegrity made him a hero for the ``wretched of the Earth, to coin a phrase from FrantzFanon, who was greatly admired by Sankara.African revolutionary Thomas Sankaras example lives on Page 2
  • 3. RBG Blakademics November. 2010A great visionary Above all, however, Sankara’s ongoing popularity is due to the ideas and values he embodied during his brief time on the African and international stage. Indeed, if Sankara arouses as much fervour today as he did 21 years ago, it is because he embodied and defended causes that still resonate today among the oppressed in Africa and around the world. Sankara was a genuine revolutionary and a great visionary who had the courage to take on the most difficult challenges and who held great ambitions for his country and Africa. Most of the ideas or causes he defended two decades ago are still at the heart of the struggle for the economic, social and political emancipation of peoples around the world. He was an environmentalist ahead of his time in a so-called ``poor country that was supposed to have other more pressing priorities than the environment.Sankara was one of the first heads of state, perhaps the only one in his time, tocondemn female excision, a position that reflected his unwavering commitment to theemancipation of women and the struggle against all forms of discrimination againstwomen.He was a relentless advocate of gender equality and the recognition of the role ofwomen in all spheres of economic and social life. In his famous speech of October 2,1983, he stated: ``We cannot transform society while maintaining domination anddiscrimination against women who constitute over half of the population.His unrelenting struggle against corruption, long before the World Bank and the IMFpicked up on this issue, made Sankara an enemy of all corrupt presidents on thecontinent and of the international capitalist mafia for whom corruption is a tool forconquering markets and pillaging the resources of the global South.Sankara rejected the inevitability of ``poverty, and was one of the first proponents offood security. He achieved the spectacular feat of making his country food self-sufficientwithin four years, through sensible agricultural policy and, above all, the mobilisation ofthe Burkinabé peasantry. He understood that a country that could not feed itself ran therisk of losing its independence and sovereignty.In July 1987, Sankara, close on the heels of Fidel Castro two years earlier, called onAfrican countries to form a powerful front against their continent’s illegitimate andimmoral debt and to collectively refuse to pay it.African revolutionary Thomas Sankaras example lives on Page 3
  • 4. RBG Blakademics November. 2010Once again, he understood before others that the debt was a form of modernenslavement for Africa; a major cause of poverty and deep suffering for Africanpopulations. Sankara famously stated: ``If we do not pay the debt, our lenders will notdie. However, if we do pay it, we will die…On the international stage, Sankara was the first African head of state, to denounce theUN Security Council’s right of veto and to condemn the lack of democracy within theUnited Nations system as well as the hypocrisy that characterised internationalrelations. Today, all of these ideas have become self-evident truths and are at the heartof popular resistance movements, including the World Social Forum that has becomeone of the most powerful major rallying points. Children "pioneers" of the Revolution, donning starred berets like Che. The coat of arms of Burkina Faso under Sankara from 1984-87, featuring a crossed mattock and AK-47 (an allusion to the Hammer and Sickle) with the motto "La Patrie ou la Mort, nous vaincrons" (English: "Fatherland or death, we will win").African revolutionary Thomas Sankaras example lives on Page 4
  • 5. RBG Blakademics November. 2010Supporting popular struggles against oppressionAmong the great causes passionately championed by Thomas Sankara was hisunwavering support for all popular revolutionary struggles and resistance movementsagainst imperialist domination and colonial oppression. In his memorable speech beforethe UN General Assembly on October 4, 1984, Sankara stated: ``Our revolution inBurkina Faso is open to the suffering of all peoples. It also draws its inspiration from theexperiences of peoples since the dawn of humanity. We wish to be the heirs of all of therevolutions of the world, of all of the liberation struggles of the peoples of the ThirdWorld.These revolutions and struggles inspired Sankara in his vision and desire to profoundlytransform the economic and social structures in his country as well as the mentalitiesforged over centuries of foreign domination and oppression by dominant andexploitative classes internally and externally. This was the wellspring of his profoundsolidarity with the struggles of all oppressed peoples against the forces of domination.Sankara’s commitment to solidarity was exercised with determination in everyinternational body, from the UN to the former Organisation of African Unity (OAU) andthe Non-Aligned Movement. Sankara was one of the first heads of state to support thestruggle of the Saharawi people (of Western Sahara) against Morocco’s expansionistambitions. He expressed the solidarity of the Burkinabés with the struggle of the Kanakpeople (French-controlled Kanaky, or New Caledonia, in the South Pacific) againstFrench colonialism. During a trip to New York, he went to Harlem to express his supportfor the struggle of African-Americans against racism and discrimination.Above all, the Burkinabé Revolution under Sankara showed its unwavering support andsolidarity for all peoples resisting US policies of imperialist aggression. Before the UNGeneral Assembly — in the very belly of the beast — Sankara forcefully condemned theUnited States’ illegal blockade and permanent aggression against the Cuban people. Inthis same forum, he condemned Washingtons unconditional support for Zionist Israel’sstate policies of territorial annexation and extermination of the Palestinian people.Successes of the Burkinabé RevolutionWhile Sankara came to power in a military coup d’état on August 4, 1983, his revolutionwas nonetheless a profoundly popular one. For Sankara, taking political power was atool for liberating his country from foreign domination, and above all liberating his peoplefrom the multiple forms of economic, social, political and cultural domination.In his historic speech of October 2, 1983, he explained that these goals would beachieved through the destruction of the neocolonial state and the transformation of allsocioeconomic structures and institutions inherited from colonialism, including the army.And these transformations should lead to the transfer of power to the people for, as hestated: ``the goal of this revolution is to exercise power by the people. ThisAfrican revolutionary Thomas Sankaras example lives on Page 5
  • 6. RBG Blakademics November. 2010fundamental objective could only be accomplished by placing trust in the people andmobilising them to become conscious of the issues and sacrifices required.Sankara believed it was futile to speak on behalf of the people if they could not bemobilised to become an integral part of the struggle and develop an identity forged inthe fire of action. For Sankara: ``I think the most important thing is to bring the people toa point where they have self-confidence, and understand that they can, at last … be theauthors of their own wellbeing… And at the same time, have a sense of the price to bepaid for that wellbeing.’To a great extent, the Burkinabé Revolution was an original experiment in profoundsocial, economic, political and ideological transformation. It was a bold attempt atendogenous development through popular mobilisation.The pursuit of this objective required extraordinary efforts to emancipate mentalities,raise consciousness and mobilise the masses in the Committees for the Defence of theRevolution (CDR) and other revolutionary structures. Despite some of the excesses ofthe CDRs and the other revolutionary structures, there is no doubt that one of the majorobjectives of the revolution under Sankara was to create the possibility for the people tospeak and express themselves freely, and in so doing build their self-confidence. In thisthe revolution was profoundly democratic and popular. Sankara once stated:``Misfortune will befall those who silence their people. This warning reflected theimportance he placed on freedom of expression, an indispensable condition forencouraging Burkinabés at all levels of society to speak their mind.Weaknesses and mistakes of the revolutionAs in all human endeavours, the Burkinabé Revolution had its ups and downs. Despiteits incontestable achievements, the revolution also had its weaknesses, weaknessesthat ultimately undermined the cohesion of the leadership and even stoked oppositionamong certain segments of the population that initially supported it, such as theintellectual petty bourgeoisie.One of the weaknesses of the revolution was related to the fact that the social forcesthat had a stake in its success — peasants and workers (both manual and intellectual)— may not have had the ideological tools that would have enabled them to betterunderstand and support the pace of revolutionary change.Another weakness lay in the difficulty of building a solid and durable coalition betweenSankara and his comrades on the one hand, and the political parties representing theintellectual petty bourgeoisie on the other. This undoubtedly explains some of themistakes made by the revolution’s leadership that contributed to alienating portions ofthe population and exacerbating the contradictions within the leadership whendifficulties started to accumulate.African revolutionary Thomas Sankaras example lives on Page 6
  • 7. RBG Blakademics November. 2010Perhaps, to some extent, activism took the place of the more patient work that wasrequired to educate the masses so that the social and ideological obstacles to popularmobilisation could be overcome. Lastly, sabotage by enemies working in the shadowsand the country’s relative isolation in the sub-region, in a similar vein to what occurred inGhana and Guinea, put the final nail in the coffin.Lessons of the Burkinabé RevolutionThe Burkinabé Revolution was the last major effort toward the popular and democraticemancipation on the African continent. Neither the end of apartheid in South Africa, norSWAPO’s victory in Namibia brought the same kind of profound and significanteconomic and social transformation. The Burkinabé Revolution was an unprecedentedexperiment in profound economic, social and political change.The revolution was a bold experiment in endogenous development with the constructionof infrastructure (dams, railways, schools, roads, etc.) through the intense mobilisationof the masses powered by the principle of self-reliance.Indeed, the principle of self-reliance was the basis of Sankara’s denunciation of so-called foreign ``aid which he argued ``produced nothing more than disorganisation andenslavement …’ He refused to listen to the ``charlatans trying to sell developmentmodels that have all failed. Of course, he was alluding to the so-called experts from theWorld Bank and the IMF who took control of economic policy in many African countriesto disastrous effect.Sankara’s position was in stark contrast to that of several African leaders who literallybecame beggars who no longer dared raise their voices against the injunctions andinterference of their ``development partners. Sankara showed that ``poverty did nothave to translate into a loss of dignity and an abdication of sovereignty.The Burkinabé Revolution can also teach us some negative lessons that meritreflection. One of the lessons is the difficulty of building a sustainable and victoriousrelationship between the army and progressive intellectuals. Another lesson relates tothe destiny of military coups: can a coup d’état truly serve as the basis for sustainablerevolutionary change or is it condemned to be a flash in the pan? This question surelybegs others. The point is that African revolutionary forces must study the lessons thatcan be learned from this experience in order to better pursue current and futurestruggles.The ideas and principles that guided the Burkinabé Revolution did not vanish withSankara’s assassination. They will continue to guide African popular struggles andresistance movements until foreign domination has been vanquished and Africans haverecovered their sovereignty. The best way to honour the memory of Thomas Sankara isto continue his fight and promote the values he embodied.African revolutionary Thomas Sankaras example lives on Page 7
  • 8. RBG Blakademics November. 2010In truth, African revolutionaries have a duty not only to remember the BurkinabéRevolution, but all the African revolutions that inspired it. We forget that Sankara was anardent pan-Africanist who did not hide his ideological and political debt to KwameNkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and Amílcar Cabral, among others. It is our duty to studythe thinking and works of Sankara and other African revolutionary leaders and thinkersin order to be able to teach the younger generations. By preserving and developing thefundamental values and ideas of the Sankarist revolution and other African revolutions,we will forge the ideological and political tools we need to deconstruct the values andconcepts of the dominant system and build anew from our own concepts based on ourvision of the world and our realities.Just as Che’s blood has fed the sacred ground of the Americas where worthysuccessors of the legendary Argentinean revolutionary are now taking root and pursuingthe dreams of Simón Bolívar and other South American heroes, the sacrifice of Sankaraand his illustrious predecessors will produce other Sankaras who will one day realisethe dreams of Nkrumah and the other heroes and martyrs of the African revolution: tobuild an independent, united and prosperous Africa that is the master of its own destiny.[Demba Moussa Dembele is the director of the African Forum on Alternatives based inDakar. This article which first appeared in the French Pambazuka last year to rememberSankaras assassination. The English translation, which first appeared in PambazukaNews http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/51193, was translated byGwendolyn Schulman, a writer and broadcaster for Amandla, an alternative views andnews show on Africa, on CKUT 90.3 FM.]Learn more about Sankarahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_SankaraVideo  Video Trailer for Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man  Short Tribute Video with Images from Youtube  Speech on the United Front Against Debt by Thomas Sankara (Part 1) --- Part 2 at the OAU Summit, July 29, 1987Articles  How Imperialist Aid Blocks Development in Africa by Thomas Sankara, The Militant  Interview With Aziz Fall On the Assassination of Thomas Sankara October 17 2007  A Grisly Assassination That Will Not Stay Buried by Howard French, The New York Times, March 10 1997African revolutionary Thomas Sankaras example lives on Page 8