Thomas Sankara was a pan-African revolutionary, a staunch idealist who lived and ultimately died for his belief in the African continent. A solider who shunned violence, but was prepared to fight the neo-colonial establishment, to build a strong, self-sufficient and independent Africa. Sankara became the president of Burkina Faso in 1983, coming to power through a bloodless coup with massive support from the people. At the time, Burkina Faso was one of the poorest countries in the world, dependent on aid to feed, house and clothe its population.
Sankara argued fiercely for a self-sufficient Africa and within the four years of his presidency empowered the agricultural sector to make Burkina Faso food and clothing independent. He provided housing, education and healthcare for the people, successfully immunizing 2.5million people in one week alone. He challenged traditional misogyny by making his government one of the first in the world to promote women's rights: he outlawed Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriages, while simultaneously appointing women to high level positions in government. He mobilized and inspired the Burkinabe to actively take part in the construction of roads and railways to connect the remotest areas of the country. He was the first African president to launch a campaign against desertification, and during his tenure he planted millions of trees in drought-prone areas.
A visionary and the true embodiment of an African leader, the list of Sankara’s achievements goes on, but, the real question remains why should it matter and whatever happened to his legacy?
The sad reality is what happened to Sankara was not unique but followed a similar trend of assassinations against African revolutionaries. Patrice Lumumba of Congo was murdered because his ideas and policies threatened the interests of foreign powers and greedy officials. These are just two illustrations of exemplary African leaders, who have been profoundly under-represented in our history books and are therefore tragically unknown to many African youth today.
What do we learn from Sankara’s leadership?
He was neither a perfect president nor the solution to all of Africa’s problems, but he understood that leadership is fundamentally service to the people. It seems like it is often overlooked that the mandate of a civil servant is to serve; to meet the needs of the people who have bestowed on you the honor and great responsibility.
Additionally, a leader ought to be visionary: someone with a strong political ideology based on concrete ideas about what the society ought to strive for. We have so many different political parties on the continent, but what do they really stand for, besides ethnic grouping and regional prejudice? Africa needs leaders with an actual plan and not just a party.
There is currently a fascinating global trend in which the most marginalized social groups are pushing back hardest to defy the odds. As of 2015, black women in America were the most educated social group in the country, and similarly African immigrants were outperforming all other immigrant groups in the US. I truly believe that the African continent has the potential to follow this trend, to lead the world with an evolved social, political and economic consciousness.
I believe that as an African collective, we already hold the answers to our problems. Ignorance will kill and has killed us, but the days of childish division are over. We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the rhetoric of hate, propagated by people who take advantage of the most desperate. We need people with strong principles to stand against the small-minded tribalism, sexism, corruption, hate and anger. Citizens who understand that our future is as one nation and one continent. We have the resources, the people and the tools; the time for pan-African revolution is now. We, Africans, must learn from our history in order to build a future we believe in.
Note: This is a guest post by KENDI M’MBIJJEWE, and was first published in Pendaroma. The images used were downloaded from Google, image credits to the owners.