Sinister Drive to Smear an African Legend's Name

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Koni Benson

TODAY marks 20 years since the assassination of President Thomas Sankara. Just like asking what Steve Biko would say of South Africa today, or Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, or Samora Machel of Mozambique, it is important to reflect on what the revolutionary leader Sankara would make of Burkina Faso.

Those seeking justice for his death and for ways to continue the struggles he spearheaded, are being threatened with murder and the "elimination" of their families today. Clearly, Sankara's vision is not dead, and neither are the violent responses to contemporary proponents of such visions.

Aziz Fall, the co-ordinator of the International Justice Campaign for Sankara (IJCS) and Burkinabe journalist Sam Kah have both been receiving anonymous death threats for more than a year since they were invited to participate in the Commemoration Conference for Sankara in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, this week.

Kah is featured in a film documenting Sankara's legacy, and Fall has been co-ordinating 22 lawyers from France, Senegal Canada, Togo and beyond, dedicated to using legal means to find the truth behind Sankara's assassination.

After the 1983 popular uprising in what was still called the Upper Volta, Sankara, a pilot in the air force, was appointed president of the new revolutionary government by his close friend, Blaise Compaore.

When the revolution succeeded, Sankara renamed the country Burkina Faso - meaning "land of upright people" - and embarked on a revolution inspired by Ghana and Cuba. He fought to liberate Africa from ongoing colonialism in the form of international financial institutions, deepening poverty, war and the pillage of our resources.

As president of Burkina Faso from 1983 until he was killed in 1987, he led one of the most creative and radical post-colonial revolutions.

He is known for his strong stand against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), rejection of inherited colonial and neo-colonial debts, a vision of Pan-African self-sufficiency, environmental reforestation initiatives to slow the desertification of the Sahara and to solve famine, land reform, vast improvements in health and education, and women's liberation.

Sankara was clear about the need to emancipate women from sexism and patriarchy. Justice cannot exist when half the population lives in fear at home and in public. Sankara argued that when regressive aspects of our cultures, such as sexism or female circumcision, interfered with the cause for freedom, they had to be eradicated.

As president, Sankara was committed to fighting corruption, serving as a modest example, refusing to live a life of luxury and reining in any tendencies by those in his government toward ostentatious consumption. He rejected air conditioning and luxury cars, rode his bike to work, and sent men to the markets and tourists to plant trees.

When asked why he did not want his portrait hung in public places, as is the norm for other African leaders, Sankara said: "There are seven million Thomas Sankaras."

While there were contradictions due to the weakness of his alliances, in practice, Sankara's policies and programmes indisputably focused on alternatives to improve the lives of the majority.

He was shot with about 12 of his colleagues in 1987. His successor, as in the case of other assassinated revolutionary presidents on the continent, is an emblem of retrogressive politics. Compaore has, for the past 20 years, publicly applauded Sankara, while actively betraying what he stood for. Under Compaore, a handful have become richer and the majority poorer.

The 1980s saw salaries of civil servants, which were reduced under Sankara, increased and the special tax that forced them to contribute to health and education projects scrapped.

In the 1990s, a structural adjustment package was signed with the IMF, which included privatisation and market liberalisation. …