On Thomas Sankara’s birthday

Published on Pambazuka News, by Aziz Salmone Fall, December 22, 2011.

Burkina Faso’s first president was assassinated nearly 25 years ago but the identity of his killers remains unresolved. Marking the anniversary of his birth, campaigners draw attention to the continuing struggle for justice for Sankara. October 15 was the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s first president. His grave had been vandalised a few days earlier but no one was charged for the crime.  

Sankara’s comrades celebrate his birthday on December 21, knowing how useful his presence would have been for 21st century Africa if he were still alive. Nevertheless, his message and work remain relevant, both for our continent and the world.

homas Sankara embodied the hope for change that was based primarily on the efforts of the people of his country, his fellow citizens. Theirs was the last African revolution, interrupted by the bloodshed of 1987, just as it was starting to bear promising fruit. At 37, like Che Guevara, Sankara joined the pantheon of revolutionaries. The former Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso, is landlocked; its development is externally driven and dependent on international finance. It is a society in permanent quest for food self-suffiency; people of working age are obliged to emigrate, continuing the country’s vocation as a regional provider of cheap labour; and the elite maintains the status quo. In other words, a society with the characteristics of neo-colonial development.

Thomas Sankara, among other priorities, focused on agriculture and farmers to stimulate national revival. He sought to create an internal market for a variety of consumer goods accessible to the masses and meet the greatest number of basic needs. He promoted women’s emancipation and changes in men’s attitudes toward women. He took a patriotic approach to managing public funds, campaigning against debt and the impoverishment of Africa, and agitating for internationalism that challenged the subordination of Africa by the global economic system. In short, he took on many radical initiatives that confronted the norms of the global system. He quickly alienated himself from local, regional and international supporters, especially from within his own backyard in Francafrique.

Sankara’s assassination, along with ten of his comrades, and the wave of political crimes which followed, brought a bloody end to one of Africa’s last revolutionary experiences. The people of Burkina Faso, Africa and the international community are still waiting to find out how the assassination happened and who was responsible for it. It’s likely there was a joint international and local plot was behind the killing of Sankara and his ten comrades. His death certificate cites ‘natural causes’ – at the same time as 12 other people – no explanation for their deaths has ever been given and to this day no-one knows exactly where he is buried. Suspicion for the assassination falls on his best friend, Blaise Compaoré, backed by a network of external supporters. Minister of Justice at the time of Sankara’s death, Compaoré is now president of Burkina Faso.

It is in this context that the Sankara family and our group have taken a historic initiative. The impunity built into the system in Burkina Faso has been shaken by CIJS’s (International Justice for Sankara Campaign) 14-year international campaign, Justice for Sankara. Having exhausted all legal channels in Burkina Faso, our legal community brought the matter to the UN Human Rights Committee, which set a precedent in Africa and within the United Nations when is recognised the violations of the state: … (full long text).

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