23 Years Since the Assassination of Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara was a bold revolutionary leader who gave Burkina Faso its name and attempted to wrestle it from the hands of imperialism.

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the murder by African revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara. He came to the leadership of the former French colony of Upper Volta through a coup, which he spent the next four years struggling to transform into a revolutionary project. In 1987 he was assassinated in a counter-coup by domestic neocolonial agents working for neighbouring neocolonial states and their imperialist masters.

For many people throughout the African continent Sankara has joined the ranks of Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba and others as martyrs of the struggle for Africa’s total liberation.

To commemorate his martyrdom, I am reposting this article from 2007 from Burning Spear, the news service of the Uhuru Movement, on the 20th occasion of this date.

By Ousainou Mbenga

This year, October 15, 2007 will mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Thomas Sankara, the short-lived president of the African country that became known as Burkina Faso, the “land of upright people.”

His assassination was a concerted effort of the surrounding “neocolonial States”, particularly Ivory Coast, Mali and the authoritative command of their imperialist masters who saw him as a threat to their easy access and control of the resources of Burkina Faso and Africa in general.

The assassination of African revolutionaries with impunity will continue to happen as long as we keep fighting in isolation; separated from each other by the imposed senseless borders that continue to suffocate Africa.

It’s been 20 years since that eventful day in 1987 when the traitorous Blaise Compaoré and his gang of thugs aborted the revolutionary new State of Burkina Faso and reinstated the neocolonial State of indignity.

The Compaoré regime first succeeded in overturning the revolution and continues to survive for 20 years without any meaningful resistance to defend the revolutionary achievements made under Sankara’s leadership. The mere fact that Compaoré survived this long reveals the weakness of our revolutionary movement for total liberation.

Within four short years, the Burkinabé people struggled to shake off the neocolonial fetters and created the program for local initiatives for cultural, political and economic advancement. These programs for local initiatives propelled women into the forefront of the struggle as a mighty force for the revolution.

There was truly a revolutionary process in motion as the masses began to discover their revolutionary potential in production to solve our problem through our own personal sacrifices.

Our revolutionary movement must be self-critical to understand what happened in Burkina Faso 20 years ago and the continuing existence of the Compaoré regime, which claimed victory over our movement.

How and why did Compaoré survive for 20 years? What lessons have we learned from the Burkinabé revolution?

Compaoré’s survival rested on two major factors: the incomplete development of the revolutionary forces within Burkina and their isolation from other revolutionary forces within the continent.

Secondly, the concerted efforts of its reactionary neighbors — the governments of Mali and Ivory Coast — and the imperialist onslaught from France weighed heavily on the Burkinabé revolutionaries’ ability to fight back.

A Coup is Not a Revolution

Thirdly, the most important lesson learn from the Burkinabé experience is that a coup doesn’t constitute a revolution. The Burkinabé coup was an unusual coup in that Sankara and his few comrades attempted to transformed the coup into its opposite — revolution.

Fundamentally, there is nothing inherently revolutionary about coup d’etats. Almost always, a coup is hatched by a group of soldiers that make up the army, the most vital organ of the State that suppresses the aspirations of the mass population.

Within the neocolonial armies are found the most treacherous gang of bandits who, while serving the elite in power, always aspire for the taste of power to enjoy the decadent privileges the neocolonial elite wallow in. It didn’t take Sankara long to understand the forces he was dealing with.

Upon attaining revolutionary political consciousness, a rare attribute to an African soldier, Sankara made a keen observation that led to his prophetic statement: “a soldier without political education is a virtual criminal”. This criminal behavior is not solely limited to African soldiers. In fact, it is best exemplified by the imperialist armies that train them in France, the USA and England.

Notwithstanding the internal contradictions in Burkina, the “undeclared war” against Sankara by Ivory Coast president Félix Houphouët-Boigny and Togo president Étienne Eyadéma, the instigated five-day war in December 1985 between Mali and Burkina and the vacillating pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric from president Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, the Burkinabé revolution mustered enough courage to jolt imperialism, particularly French imperialism from its comfort posture in Africa.

But a mild jolt at imperialism only makes it more monstrous; what imperialism requires from us Africans is a massively explosive jolt that it can never recover from. Only a “One Africa, One Nation! Touch One Touch All!” is capable of delivering this fatal blow to imperialism.

Again Sankara came to terms with the fact that petty bourgeois radicalism such as Thabo Mbeki’s timid challenge against the “AIDS industry” won’t pose any threat to imperialism, let alone make it tremble.

Mbeki backed down from his challenge when the corporate predators such as the pharmaceutical drug dealing industry expressed their disappointment at Mbeki’s “misguided actions” to help Africans afflicted by AIDS and privately gave him a stern warning not to act on his threats.

Sankara’s Commemoration Must Be About Revolution’s Completion

In one interview, Sankara was asked what were the greatest problems and difficulties facing the revolution. He answered in this order: “the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie and the biggest being imperialism.” He went on to say, “as a revolutionary I understood what imperialism is in theoretical terms. But once in power I discovered other aspects of imperialism that I had not known. I think there are still other aspects to discover.

“There is quite a difference between theory and practice. I have seen in practice that imperialism is a monster — with claws, horns and fangs that bite — that has venom and is merciless. No. It’s determined. Imperialism has no conscience. It has no heart.

“Fortunately, the more that we have discovered how dangerous an enemy imperialism is, the more determined we have become to fight and beat it. And each time we find fresh forces ready to stand up to it.”

It is from this correct line of thought that fresh forces such as the Africanist Movement in West Africa are emerging from every corner of the African world to stand up to this monster, imperialism. Therefore, all our efforts to commemorate the assassination of one of Africa’s upright sons, Thomas Sankara, must be about completing the African revolution by bringing African people back into political life.

The exemplary character of such martyrs as Sankara led to the founding of the International Committee of African Martyrs (ICAM), a mass organization charged with the task of upholding the legacy of our African martyrs.

Blaise Compaoré remains reactionary

In contrast to Sankara, Blaise Compaoré remains a stooge to imperialism by returning Burkina Faso back into neocolonial bondage. In addition, Compaoré has been a key player in further destabilizing the neocolonial States in West Africa through actions such as his criminal dealings with another gangster name Charles Taylor as well as the buffoonery of the crises in Ivory Coast.

In his desperate efforts to pacify and distract the Burkinabé people from his crimes against Africa, the Compaoré regime lavishly spent millions of dollars to build an “upscale” neighborhood for the impotent Burkina elite in Ouagadougou and inaugurated it as WAGA 2000 (Waga deux mille) while the vast majority of Burkinabé are homeless or live in horrible housing.

But the Burkinabé people who had a taste of what the revolution did to resolve the housing crises under comrade Sankara coined an appropriate word for this neighborhood — “WAGA DA,” which in More (the language of the Mossi) means thieves.

The African revolution must be completed!

The Burkinabé people, and indeed Africa, suffered a temporary setback following the coup d’etat by Compaoré and French imperialism, but the taste for revolution is still in our hearts. Our people in Burkina Faso saw the potential the revolution had in changing their wretched existence.

As African Internationalists, we have internalized the lessons learned from the Burkina experience with Comrade Thomas Sankara, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea Bissau, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Samora Machel in Mozambique, the Black Liberation Movement in the USA and in many other fronts of the African revolution.

We strongly believe that the theoretical question has been settled. The missing ingredient in the struggle for our total liberation is practice.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Comrade Thomas Sankara, we will hold a demonstration at the Burkina Faso embassy in Washington, D.C. on October 15, 2007 from 10:00am- 12:00pm and November 17, 2007.

One Africa! One Nation!

Touch One! Touch All!


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Posted on October 15, 2010, in Imperialism & Colonialism, Radical History, Socialism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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