Thomas Sankara Speaks

Most news about Africa reiterate the theme of the “white man’s burden”—save children in Darfur, save women from being genitally mutilated, save child soldiers in Uganda, Kony 2012, Invisible Children and what not. Little do we focus on the history of honest social leaders who appeared in Africa’s history to fight for the exploited continent come out of its misery and West-imposed dependency. One such case is Thomas Sankara, the “Che of Africa” from Burkina Faso, who was assassinated [by France] in 1987, only after approximately five years of serving the presidential office.
During Sankara’s time as a president, “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution mobilized the population for massive immunization campaigns; irrigation projects; defense; school and road building; and literacy drives in the three main indigenous languages. Organizations of youth, women and elders were initiated… Land was nationalized.” Predictably, this upset the capitalist-consumerist sectors at home and abroad. Sankara’s political work, just like anyone else’s who wants to strengthen the unpeople of non-Western descent, was not appreciated. Yet, the brave man stood his ground and said, “You see, imperialism is wrong. But imperialism is a bad student. Even though it’s been defeated, though it’s been sent out of the classroom, it comes back again. It’s a bad student. Imperialism never draws lessons from its failures. It’s down in South Africa cutting African throats – just because Africans there are thinking about freedom, as you are today. Imperialism is down there crushing the Arab peoples – that’s Zionism. Imperialism is everywhere, making us think like it, submit to it, and go along with its maneuvers by spreading its culture far and wide with the help of misinformation.”
There is a simplicity and straightforwardness in Sankara that’s charming and intelligent. For example, when I was a child, I once remember asking my mother why the Bangladeshi army was not employed in farms, factories and building jobs so that they could serve the people, instead of lying around in their barracks during peace times and murdering when there is any unrest. It was the simple-minded child in me that saw things in such an easy manner and articulated it in a puzzled tone.
As I have grown up, my outlook on things such as this remain the same—simple and straightforward. Similarly Sankara eloquently states, “The national armed forces… [will] participate in national production. In effect, the new soldier must live and suffer among the people to which it belongs. An army that simply eats up the budget is a thing of the past. From now on, besides handling arms, the army will work in the fields and raise cattle, sheep, and poultry. It will build schools and health clinics and ensure their functioning. It will maintain roads and transport mail, the sick, and agricultural products…”
Speaking of women’s emancipation, Sankara said,

“We need a correct understanding of the question of women’s emancipation. It does not signify a mechanical equality between men and women. It does not mean acquiring habits similar to those [stereotypically attributed to] men, such as drinking, smoking, and wearing trousers. Nor will acquiring diplomas make women equal to men or more emancipated… The genuine emancipation of women is that which entrusts responsibilities to them and involves them in productive activity and in the different struggles the people face. Women’s genuine emancipation is one that exacts men’s respect and consideration. Emancipation, like freedom, is not granted but conquered. It is for women themselves to put forward their demands and mobilize to win them.”

If we read Sankara closely, we can see that he is not really “defining” women’s emancipation but rather “defining” his own boundaries. He is freeing himself and urging his fellow Burkina Faso revolutionaries to free themselves from the ideas of women’s emancipation that have been popularized through Western imperialism. Having freed himself as such, he leaves the rest on women as he says, “It is for women themselves to put forward their demands and mobilize to win them.”
This understanding of women’s emancipation is specially important to all societies where women’s rights struggle is tied to labels of carbonated drinks and colors of lingerie lines, where consumerism provides a sedative to feminist struggles. Only after shearing oneself away from vague feminist theories produced in the empire’s classroom, away from the toiling fields of women’s rights, one can see women as Sankara sees them: “This human being, this vast and complex combination of pain and joy; solitary and forsaken, yet creator of all humanity; suffering, frustrated, and humiliated, and yet endless source of happiness for each one of us; this source of affection beyond compare, inspiring the most unexpected courage; this being called weak, but possessing untold ability to inspire us to take the road of honor; this being of flesh and blood and of spiritual conviction—this being, women, is you.”
In Sankara, one discovers an insightful critic of Marxist tradition. He calls the Third World, “a world invented at the time of formal independence in order to better perpetuate foreign control of our intellectual, cultural, economic and political life.” He argues, reasonably, that “the foreign aid should not be repaid” as the debt and the expenditures were heaped on Burkina Faso and other “Third World” nations from outside through World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other such imperial structures. Sankara brilliantly points out that NGOs “reflect the failure of state-to-state relations, so that people are obliged to find other channels for contact and dialogue.”
There are three gems strewn around in Sankara’s speeches. In a world dominated by “superpowers”, the first gem goes to all nations that are not superpowers: “We have the duty to fight for a more just and more peaceful world, regardless of the fact that we have neither large industrial cartels nor nuclear weapons.”
Today when democracy is a threat that is extinguished at the first mention as if it were a plague of insanity, the second gem goes to individuals: “You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. Besides, it took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen… We must dare to invent the future.”
The third and final gem goes to all those who understand, all those who dare to push the boundaries: “As revolutionaries, we don’t have the right to say that we’re tired of explaining. We must never stop explaining. We also know that when the people understand, they cannot but follow us.”
Source: Diasporic Roots||
This article originally appeared on Diasporic Roots. Read the original article here.

1 comment

  1. An inspiring article, enjoyed reading tremendously, can you imagine if men and woman like this were not assassined, AFRICA FOR AFRICANS only then the world will know peace

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