Waiting for A Visionary “Sankara”

By Immanuel Lokwei,

It is quite obvious that economic inequality stems not necessarily from lack of resources but from a weakness and supposedly a bias that permeates the leadership organ that governs distribution of these resources. In the wake of oil discoveries in Turkana County, another even more essential resource has been discovered: the aquifer beneath Turkana desert. With such blessedness, should this not be the time to hope for our own Thomas Sankara if we sincerely hope to avert the curse and inequities that come with such abundant riches? Who is Commandant Thomas Sankara, you ask.  

Some of you do not know Thomas Sankara. Most of those who do, only have heard through the grapevine of his visionary goals, of the redemptive power of his mind, and of the craft of his hands that saw the first African country he led freed from the chains of pre-colonialism and the drag of free market ideology.

Burkina Faso, a West African country, was not yet on a path to economic freedom when the late Sankara ascended to power. During his short time in the office though, Sankara reformed agricultural and industrial sectors in the country. Farmers and weavers were supported financially and technically; they were educated on effective modern modes of production. Agriculture, as he impelled the minds of his countrymen over and over again, was the base for economic development. Local produce received national attention and priority and Sankara encouraged civil servants to dress in locally produced fabrics. Sankara legacy does not stop there; two of his other works that exemplify his visionary character given the time these reforms were formulated and implemented were Women’s Empowerment and Disenchanting the Politicians.

Sankara didn’t speak of autonomy across genders the way most African leaders practice rhetoric for political conveniences while in reality hesitant to combat these unfairness and subordination. He elected women to high offices in the government (mind you 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. How sad that even now in the 21st century many countries in Africa in particular are yet to attain these goals. But Sankara was always way ahead of his time!

You might think that Burkina Faso is now leading African countries in terms of development. Unfortunately, Thomas Sankara was assassinated prematurely (sources claim courtesy of French underground efforts and imbeciles in the army, lead by Blaise Compaore) and Burkina Faso shortly afterwards plunged back into stagnation just like a typical Third World country. Though Sankara is definitely one of the unsung visionary of African history as his track record attests, very few people are familiar with his legacy of care for social welfare and political service in schools. Well, so much for Sankara!

Now, can we say the governor of Turkana County, Honorable Josphat Nanok is the next “Sankara?” Or can we at least hope that the top leadership of Jubilee government might emulate precedents set in motion by Sankara’s short-lived government and by so doing safe us, especially people of Turkana, the doom endured in ethnically torn yet oil rich parts of Nigeria? And who will be the likes of Blaise Compaore and the French underground – people who will betray equitable and peaceful distribution of our resources? Will time tell? Shall we leave everything to fate or do we have powers within ourselves to stir the course of our future and even create or disable the inaction of the likes of Sankara? And finally, what will be my “inconsequential” contribution to the history of Turkana, the history of the people of Turkana, the history of these resources?

One thought on “Waiting for A Visionary “Sankara”

  1. Well stated, Manucho! Thomas Sankara’s leadership redefined one’s love for their country, and it’s unfortunate that despite all he accomplished for the Burkinabe out of a sort of fatherly love, ungrateful dissidents like Blaise Compaore triumphed at the end of the day. Economic inequality is, in my opinion, Africa’s greatest challenge. It encompasses poverty, disease, lack of access to quality education and dependency on foreign assistance– challenges that many post-independence African leaders, including our very own Jomo Kenyatta sought to stamp out. Under the present world economic order in which many African nations pride themselves to be firmly integrated in, where all we’re obsessed about at the end of every year is GDP growth, it’s very easy to forget that this growth does not translate to an improvement in the quality of lives led by a majority. Trickle down economic effects, at least in Kenya’s context, only look promising on paper. Only a deep love for one’s country will inspire a leader to make personal sacrifices, through effective distributive policy making and implementation. A love so deep that it overpowers the incredible resistance from close family, fellow political connects and most importantly foreign interests, who stand to somewhat lose for the sake of Kenyans living on the wrong end of the economic spectrum. Unfortunately, the concept of nationhood, a rather recent development in the long history of African societies that defines me as a Kenyan and not as a member of tribe X or Y, is not powerful enough to foster this deep love for a fellow Kenyan from different tribe in marginalized parts of the country. Water and oil reserves, arguably two of the most important resources of our time make Turkana wealthier beyond our imagination. But unfortunately, profit maximizing multinational firms that are moving in to the region to extract these precious resources are arm-bending the government into agreeing to little protection of the local communities therefore the benefits of having these resources are flying out of the region as quickly as the foreign multinationals flew in. All in the name of economic growth of the country.
    I might just be another cynic, or maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate, but that aside, I salute Thomas Sankara for his undying love for his country that unfortunately took him to his grave. Within 4 short years, he demonstrated what great leadership can accomplish within an African context and it gives me hope that somewhere in the future, there will be another Sankara somewhere on the African continent. Until that day, let’s celebrate the original Sankara for the indelible mark he left on a continent starved of such spectacular leadership. Sankara 2.0 might be you Lokwei haha. Thanks.

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