The Upright Man: Thomas Sankara

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The African Che Guevera was a nickname used often to describe the passions and actions of Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara. What many do not know is that this military captain, at the age of 33, led a coup d’état to reclaim what was the French colony Upper Volta. As president, he renamed the country Burkina Faso which translates into “the upright men.” As a self proclaimed revolutionary, Sankara was influenced by Marx, Guevara, and Castro. Many of his programs were created to support and maintain a self sustaining country. He once said, “…asking for food aid is counterproductive when your country is able to provide more than enough,” and his aim was to disassociate completely from the corruption and dominance of the country’s former French colonizers. Sankara transformed the country completely: those working in public service were required to wear garments created by local seamstresses and the government’s fleets of Mercedes cars were downgraded to something more practical. Sankara was one of the first African leaders to speak publicly about women’s rights and implement programs to support their development and role in society. France was not the fondest of his regime, employing Sankara’s right hand man Blaise Compaoré to assassinate him. Unfortunately France had a greater hold on Compaoré and he succumbed to their demands. Was Sankara’s reform that radical? Many of his ideas of self reliance and women’s rights are current efforts of African countries today. Maybe his ideas were just before his time.

By LaKeisha Jefferson

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