Thomas Sankara: “We Want to Be the Heirs of All the Revolutions in the World”

F. David Arráez Y.Small M.V. editorial note: this article is published in this forum on December 26, 2014. We decided to republish it for two reasons: 1) so that we may not forget who he was and the legacy of Thomas Sankara, leader of the revolution in Burkina Faso in the 1980s, who died 33 years ago today; and 2) because the person who wrote this article on the “African Che Guevara” was a great friend of ours, an organic intellectual and comrade in the revolutionary struggle for decades in Venezuela, whose courage we still honor: David Arráez.

The present note is just a small tribute, of the many deserved, which can be given to both Sankara and David Arráez. May it serve, then, to remember them both with the honor they always gave. – Mison Verdad


Thomas Sankara was born on December 21, 1949 in the city of Yako, in the French colony of Upper Volta. Sankara chose a military career and formed, together with other comrades, a generation of young officers with a political culture superior to that of their superiors.

Holding the rank of captain, he rebelled on November 7, 1982 against the neocolonial regime of the West African country of Upper Volta, a rebellion that led to the presidency of Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo, with Sankara serving as prime minister until May 1983, when he was dismissed from the People’s Salvation Council on suspicion of subversive activities and clandestine relations with Libya, and placed under house arrest.

With the support of a company of paratroopers he assumed power on August 4, 1983, initiating in the Republic of Upper Volta a profound revolutionary process with the goal of converting the nation into an agriculturally self-sufficient country, with a public health system that privileged primary care – following the postulates of the Alma Ata Conference – dedicated to establishing the parameters of first level public care, an educational system that defeated the high degree of illiteracy, a frontal fight against corruption, the transformation of centuries-old traditions that reduced women to mere beasts of burden.

Thomas Sankara said:

“Our revolution is concerned with all the oppressed, with all the exploited in today’s society. It is concerned, therefore, with women . The revolution, by changing the social order that oppresses women, creates the conditions for their true emancipation.

“The women and men of our society are all victims of imperialist oppression and domination, so they fight the same battle. Revolution and women’s liberation go together. To speak of the emancipation of women is not an act of charity or an outburst of humanism; it is a fundamental requirement for the victory of the revolution. Women hold the other half of the sky”.

What clarity of thought, what lesson given to machismo and an outdated feminism that does not understand that the struggle is of the oppressed against the oppressor, of the exploited against the exploiter, the class struggle, since the task of emancipation is of women and men together.

Sankara said:

“It is necessary to have a just understanding of the problem of the emancipation of women. It does not mean acquiring habits proper to men such as drinking, smoking, wearing pants… that is not the emancipation of women… the true emancipation of women is that which confers responsibilities on them that link them to productive activities, to the different struggles that the people face… emancipation, like freedom, is not granted, it is conquered”.

Thomas Sankara wondered if it would be possible to liquidate the system of exploitation while maintaining the exploitation of women, who make up more than half of society. In relation to the armed forces, Sankara’s thinking was advanced:

“According to the doctrine of defense of Upper Volta Revolutionary, a conscious people will not cede the defense of their country to a group of men, however competent they may be. Conscious peoples assume themselves the defense of their country. In fact, our armed forces constitute only a detachment which is more specialized than the rest of the people for the tasks of internal and external security of Upper Volta . The revolution dictates three missions to our national armed forces:

To be ready to combat all internal and external enemies and to participate in the military training of the rest of the people.
To participate in national production. The new military must live and suffer in the midst of the people to which it belongs… it will be in the fields and will raise cows, sheep and birds. He will build schools and dispensaries.
He will develop each soldier as a revolutionary militant. The days when the army was supposed to be neutral and apolitical, while in reality it was a bulwark of reaction and a guardian of imperialist interests, are over… As an army at the service of the revolution, the National People’s Army will not give room to any military man who disdains, vilifies and mistreats his people. It will be an army of the people at the service of the people . The military officers will have to respect their men, love them and treat them fairly”.

Thomas Sankara promoted an independent, self-reliant and planned national economy, in the service of a democratic and popular society, for which it was required:

An agrarian reform
An administrative reform
An educational reform
A reform of the production and distribution structures
Make agriculture the fulcrum of industry development
Food self-sufficiency

Sankara had a keen perception of the vacillations of the petty bourgeoisie and stated:

“The middle bourgeoisie, this sector of the Volstaic bourgeoisie, although linked to imperialism, rivals it for control of the market. However, since it is economically weaker, it is marginalized by imperialism. Therefore, it has complaints against imperialism, but it fears the people and this fear can lead it to form a bloc with imperialism. However, since the imperialist domination of our country prevents it from playing its real role as the national bourgeoisie, some of its elements, under certain circumstances, could be in favor of the revolution, which would place them objectively in the camp of the people. Nevertheless, among the people a revolutionary distrust must be cultivated towards those elements that gravitate towards the revolution, because in order to cover themselves they will resort to opportunists of all stripes for the revolution”.

Sankara changed the name of the Republic of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (Land of the whole person).

Vincent Ouattara, a Burkinabé intellectual, in a book of his own says:

“The revolution established a model of development driven fundamentally from within. It was above all a question of teaching the population to be masters of their own destiny, to appreciate their values, to develop their capacity for reflection and creation, to leave aside the mentality of frustration that leads to laziness, conformism, which makes men consumers of models and theories of development that have not been taken up, that are improper… It is necessary to emphasize that with the revolution, Thomas Sankara and his companions restored confidence to desperate populations, forgotten by the national elites… In short, they established three types of confidence: confidence in the management of the public good, confidence in the leaders and confidence in themselves and in their ability to achieve the objectives linked to national emancipation Sankara said that living as Africans is the only way to live freely and with dignity. His political programme was based on this maxim”.

Internationally, Sankara stood out for his respect for the self-determination of peoples and the profound sense of solidarity, moral support, and if necessary even material support, for peoples fighting for their emancipation. He supported the struggle of the Saharawi people, of the Palestinian people, of the people of Namibia.

Its principles in international relations were the mutual respect of independence, territorial integrity, national sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, trade with all countries based on equality.

Thomas Sankara always remembered that the Burkinabe revolutionary model is un-exportable, that all peoples must undertake their own revolution, thinking globally and acting locally.

His speech at the opening of the exhibition in honor of Che Guevara ended with the following words:

“Every time we think of Ché let us try to be like him and to revive the man, the combatant, and above all, every time we have the idea of acting like him let us think of abnegation, rejecting the bourgeois goods that try to alienate us, rejecting also comforts; let us not forget education and the rigorous discipline of revolutionary ethics: every time we try to act like this we will serve the ideas of Ché better, we will spread them better”.

In his statements, Thomas Sankara assumed the legacy of the world’s revolutions:

“Our revolution in Burkina Faso is inspired by all the experiences of men, from the first breath of humanity. We want to be the heirs of all the world’s revolutions, of all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World. We drew lessons from the American Revolution, the French Revolution taught us the rights of man, the great October Revolution allowed the victory of the proletariat and made possible the dreams of the Paris Commune”.

On October 15, 1987, Sankara was assassinated by henchmen of his former friend and comrade Blaise Compaoré, who took over the presidency and reversed the conquests achieved in the four years of Tom Sank’s administration, as his people called him. Compaoré has been since then a faithful ally of France and has followed the recipes of the IMF and the World Bank.

A week before his assassination Sankara had said:

“Revolutionaries, as individuals, can be killed, but ideas cannot be killed”.

Thomas Sankara has become a symbol for millions of African workers, peasants and youth, and sooner rather than later, we believe, the Burkinabe people will revolt and take up the path of that profound African revolutionary martyr who only wished, in his own words, “that the image of a man who has led a useful life for everyone be preserved from me.

Honor and glory to that revolutionary whose example will live forever in the peoples of Africa and the world.

On October 30, 2014, a popular rebellion took place in Burkina Faso. The felon Compaoré, in desperation, delegated the government to General Honoré Traoré, who imposed a night curfew that was defied by the people in rebellion concentrated in the “Revolution Square” or Nation Square.

The people continued to mobilize and popular pressure forced Compaoré to resign and take refuge in the city of Yamusukro, capital of the Ivory Coast. Faced with this fact, the rebellious people went out to celebrate their triumph; however Traoré – a close collaborator of the overthrown felon – continued to lead the government, which apparently provoked a confrontation for power between him and the head of the presidential guard, General Zida, but the truth was that the popular mobilizations also drove Traoré out.

After Zida proclaimed himself head of government, the people took to the streets to protest against the military chiefs. In response, the presidential guard opened fire on the rally. The parties and groups of society that opposed the military regime met and declared that the transition should be civil and democratic and not hijacked by the military chiefs.

The following Sunday, thousands of people occupied the streets to protest the military takeover of the popular revolution, chanting slogans such as ” Zida is Judas”! However, the mobilization was losing strength and this, in our opinion, had one cause: the lack of a homogeneous and solidly united political leadership with a clear purpose.

The most radical group spearheading this popular rebellion is Le Balai Citoyen (The Citizens’ Broom) led by the rapper Smokey and a reggae musician, Sams’K Le Jah. Also in these protests, reactionary groups like “People for Progress” consisting of members of the party of the traitor-asylum seeker, snuck in.

When the protests in the streets diminished, the group Le Balai Citoyen announced its support for General Zida, which demoralized the people. Here the powers that be come in to play that see Africa as a territory that belongs to them. France and the US intervene through their diplomatic channels and their power of blackmail to convince the military to appoint a civilian government.

The State Department declares and condemns the military takeover and calls it a coup d’état. The African Union seconds this statement, as expected.

That is the way things stand. For now, a lackey “civilian government” led by the diplomat Michel Kafando has imposed itself and will call presidential elections within a year, but there is a people from the Levant who demonstrated their power in five days, but who, for lack of cohesive and clear political leadership, were unable to impose their just aspirations and claim the legacy of the great Thomas Sankara.

We all admire the sobriety and humility with which our Pepe Mujica lives. We also remember that Tom Sank decided to use a Renault 5 as his presidential vehicle, the most economical model in Burkina Faso. When he died, he left as his property only a humble house with a mortgage not yet paid off; he did not accept the president’s salary, but rather continued his salary as an army captain.