By Immanuel Lokwei, Long Mouth Social Forum
It is a week after the 62nd anniversary of the late Thomas Sankara’s birthday. Some of you do not know who this man is. Most of those who do, only know little of his visionary goals, of the redemptive power of his mind, and of the zeal of his hands that saw the first African country freed from the chains of pre-colonialism and the drag of free market ideology.
Burkina Faso was on a path to economic self-reliance when Sankara was its leader. During his short time in power, Sankara reformed the agricultural and industrial sectors in the country. Farmers and weavers were supported financially and they were educated on effective modern modes of production. Agriculture was the base for economic development. Local produce received national attention and priority and Sankara encouraged civil servants to dress in locally produced fabrics.
Two of Sankara’s works that exemplify his visionary character given the time these reforms were formulated and implemented were Women’s Empowerment and Disenchanting the Politicians.
Sankara did not speak of personal independence across genders the way most African leaders did who would use the issue for political conveniences while in reality cunningly refuse to combat gender unfairness and subordination. Sankara was different. He elected women to high offices in the government (mind you that this was in the 1980s when many governments were highly patriarchal), demanded that families indiscriminately send their children to schools, and legislated against female genital mutilation. It is sad that even in now, in the 21st century, many countries in Africa have not achieved these goals. But Sankara was always way ahead of the race!!
Taking Kenya as an example, illusions that political status and political networking are invincible stepping-stones toward individuals’ prominence and economic comfort have dominated the popular mentality. The political class has explicitly expressed these illusions through its actions. In recent times, salaries and allowances for politicians have increased at alarming rates (the indirect consequence of this political greed is reflected in multiple strikes among the proletariat). Professionalism alone does not guarantee independence in one’s work—the strength of one’s political network does. Professions are created and terminated depending on political favors and the mood of a given politician. (The case of Miguna Miguna can affirm this claim.)
Sankara attacked this kind of political illusion, as it was common in his country during his time. Everyone in the country had to live within his or her economical means. Sankara swapped ministers’ flashy cars for affordable but efficient ones. His countries’ politicians and diplomats had to travel in the economy class when on international missions. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on government extravagances (like the Kenyan government’s decision to spend Ksh. 200,000 on each chair in parliament), Sankara reduced salaries of politicians to a reasonable amount. Such acts, among many others, restored public trust and political careers assumed genuine titles as servants of the nation instead of as the bleeders of the people.
You might think that Burkina Faso is many steps ahead of most African countries in terms of development. Unfortunately, it is not, since Thomas Sankara was assassinated, courtesy of French underground efforts and imbeciles in the army, lead by Blaise Compaore (apparently Neo-colonialism is tastier). The video below will inform you more about this issue.
Sankara is one of the unsung “Messiahs” of African history. Yet despite his vast achievements, Kenyan youth in particular are not taught about his legacy of caring for social welfare, political service, and economic autonomy in high school history classes.