They killed him. The official death report said natural causes but in a recent exhumation, his young body was riddled with bullet holes.
Thomas Sankara was a folk hero. He championed the people over the powerful. He encouraged newspapers to tell the truth and – in an act of solidarity during his presidency – sold off the government’s fleet of Mercedes and made all ministers ride in the Renault 5, the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time. They called him the African Che Guevara.
At 33-years-old, Sankara became the President of the Republic of Upper Volta. As a powerful first action, he changed the country’s colonial name – which was The Republic of Upper Volta – to an indigenous name – – Burkina Faso which means “Land of Incorruptible People”.
And incorruptible was his goal. He refused foreign aid. “He who feeds you, controls you.” He pushed African nations to collectively reject illegitimate debt from their colonizers. He nationalized land and mineral wealth (which made the IMF and World Bank go bananas). And led a national campaign for self-sufficiency which included a literacy crusade, vaccinations of 2.5 million children, reforestation of the Sahal by planting 10 million trees, redistribution of land from feudal and tribal chiefs, community-built hospitals and schools, and women’s rights (outlawing female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy). The country thrived. (Burkina Faso is the 4th richest gold producer in Africa).
When he was asked why he didn’t want his presidential portrait posted across Burkina Faso like other African leaders. He said. “There are seven million Thomas Sankaras.”
Let’s walk, talk, and learn more about Sankara, an icon of revolution, as we meditate on our own blueprint for liberation and social justice. What do we really need? What’s on our agenda in 2020. And what can we learn from Burkina Faso today? 30 years later, they are in a state of crisis. 100,000 people are internally displaced by extreme poverty, climate change, and terrorism. How did that happen? Is there a way to organize without centering a charismatic leader?
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Fela Kuti – Zombie:
Bob Marley and the Wailers – War / No More Trouble