Thomas Sankara’s Brother on the 2014 Burkina Faso Revolution

The Real News published a fascinating interview with Paul Sankara—the brother of renowned Burkinabé pan-Africanist, marxist, feminist revolutionary Thomas Sankara—and Dr. Gnaka Lagoke, an expert in African politics and the founder of the Revival of Panafricanism Forum, on 17 November 2014. The topic of discussion: the 2014 Burkina Faso revolution, which Sankara refers to as the Third Burkina Faso Revolution.



The entire interview is quite good, yet I felt it important to draw attention to some excellent highlights (all emphases mine).

At 2:16, Sankara begins to to address the historical context in which this latest Burkina Faso revolution is situated. The Western media is wont to present revolutions ahistorically (when it even acknowledges their existence), as if they just magically appeared out of nowhere. Sankara notes that there was a long historical precedent developing and leading into the 2014 revolution.

In 1966, in a few details’ difference, grassroots, led by a trade union, mainly, first revolution, so to speak, happened in what we used to call the former Upper Volta.

So the third revolution, we should say, in Burkina Faso last October is not a sudden movement. It’s a summary of what the social, political fabric has been done decades and decades before, where it is students, trade unions, leftists, military officers, and the civil society combine it to the willing of Blaise Compaoré’s regime to change the Constitution, after seven years, to be a candidate in 2015.

On top of that, people were fed up also because of the really expensive level of living in Burkina Faso, except for quite a few people–Blaise Compaoré’s families and those who surround and–or a member of his regime.

So it’s the combination of all these factors that’s led the youth, mainly, joined by political organization, to say enough is enough to Blaise Compaoré’s regime. Now I guess nobody can claim that they really through their analysis saw the pace and the speed [at which the revolution] occurred. So we were really surprised in terms of how quick and how fast it happened. But, yes, at the same time, we knew that something will happen, because he reached the deadline the–really the way that people cannot accept it.

At 8:39, Dr. Lagoke explains that the third Burkinabé revolution was a truly intersectional one, but that the youth were the driving force—inspired, in fact, largely by music.

groups of people–political parties, unions, women, and farmers–all of them were part of the process of the protest against Blaise Compaoré.

But among that galaxy of protesters, we have to put emphasis on the youth movement. They called them the Children of the Revolution. Many of them were pioneers when Sankara was alive.

And some of them, they never knew Thomas Sankara. Through books or documentaries, they learn about him. And then they were educated by some people who have a political consciousness but who are singers. Smokey is one of them. He’s a rapper. Sams’k Le Jah–he’s a reggae singer. And many others. They made songs on Thomas Sankara and to promote his values and doing concerts. So it was a buildup. It did not happen like that overnight.

And last year, they created The Civic Broom movement–the broom, which is the symbol to sweep the nation from the corruption and from corrupt leaders. And then they were touring the country, going to different parts, and doing community organization and community engagement. And this is how the people of Burkina Faso, with the struggle of political parties and different people, they decided to react this time. And it happened in October, the very month in which Thomas Sankara was assassinated in 1987.

Pete Seeger once quipped, “I usually quote Plato, who said: It is very dangerous to allow the wrong kind of music in the republic.” Whether this is a real Plato quote, or whether it is apocryphal, I have not been able to discover, yet I find the quote’s sentiment to be powerful, regardless of its veracity—to which this particular historical example attests.

At 10:34, Sankara insists that the so-called “Arab Spring” (I say “so-called” because many Arabs have taken issue with this frankly orientialist term) had an enormous influence on the Burkinabè people, “without doubt.” “They have to add something on the numerous titles of these revolutions–Black Springs, the Children’s Revolutions, Sankara’s Children’s Revolutions, even where one–the Facebook Revolution, Facebook and Rastas Revolutions,” he states.

Lagoke points out, however, at 11:55, that the Burkina Faso revolution was more inspired by the 2011 “Y’en a Marre” dissident movement in Senegal than by the Arab Spring uprisings.

The youth movement in Burkina Faso, the rappers, they drew the movement from a similar movement that ended with Abdoulaye Wade, former president of Senegal, desire–or they’ll stop his desire to change the constitution to extend his time in power, and then to choose his son as a successor. And that movement in French, we call it “Y’en a Marre.” In English, it is “we are fed up”. So it’s similar things, and then the people of Burkina Faso, because of the connection they have with those people. So before the Arab Spring or beside the Arab Spring, they drew also from the similar movement in Senegal.

The scholar continues, noting, at 12:38, that the primary difference in the Burkinabé revolution is that it was indisputably inspired by Sankara, the pan-Africanist, marxist, feminist leader.

And the difference between their movement and that of the Arab Spring or that of Senegal is that they have an inspirational figure who is a hero to millions in Africa, who is the pan-Africanist and who was the leader of the revolution, Thomas Sankara. And then these values came as as a catalysis in order to bring different groups of people together.

And that’s why that revolution has a particular echo, and also because Blaise Compaoré was the puppet of the imperial system, and because of the weight he had in the region. And being demoted or being ousted was a very important thing. That’s why there is so much buzz about Blaise Compaoré.

Sankara’s brother speaks next, addressing the social ills responsible for popular disenchantment with the neoliberal Compaoré regime. He emphasizes the importance of social justice in the 2014 uprising.

Paul Sankara subsequently proceeds to again stress the critical role played by the Citizen’s Broom movement, the youth, and musicians:

the real organization that had been few years contact at least with the youth and the rest of the people, that’s The Broom of the Citizen (Le balai citoyen, in French), through their talent, as singers … through their talent, they talk to people with their songs and went to Thomas’ quote-unquote grave, because, by the way, nobody didn’t see the body, Sankara’s family; neither his wife nor the rest of the family saw the body of Thomas. So we don’t know who is in the grave. So they went there and did some video and have young people. And recently they went to a hospital, clinic, clean it up, and gave to a couple of women who gave birth some basic gifts. Those women belong to really low-income families. It showed what kind of action, political action, The Broom of the Citizens done before Blaise Compaoré fall.

Both men are optimistic about the future of Burkina Faso. At 19:22, Paul Sankara beautifully concludes with an homage to his brother.

Thomas Sankara doesn’t belong anymore to just the biological family. He’s the one who first said that you can assassinate me, but–you can kill me, but more than 1,000 Sankaras will reborn. I understood that at that time that it was Sankaras in spirit and by heart. And indeed, today we have more and more Sankaras.

Che’s supposed final words, “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man,” come to mind.

The Legacy of Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara was truly a legendary figure in the fight for justice and liberation. Not only was he a marxist and pan-Africanist, working to free Africa from both the structural inequalities, injustices, and oppression of capitalism and the blood-stained talons of Western imperialism, Sankara was an outspoken feminist, insisting that

The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph.

Sankara fought to free his country from the crippling odious IMF debt amassed by previous neoliberal, imperial puppet regimes. “If we do not pay the capitalists, they will not die; if we pay, we will die,” he famously declared.

The 2014 Burkina Faso revolution is a truly momentous development. The Burkinabé people have bravely liberated themselves from a neoliberal dictator who has been oppressing them for 27 years. The Western media, however, has been almost completely silent.

We shouldn’t be surprised, of course; this is its modus operandi.

Perhaps most inspiring about this revolution is the role Sankara has played at its very core. Throughout the uprising, citizens took to the streets chanting “Blaise dégage! Sankara vit!” (ie, “Sankara lives!”).

We have seen a sea of popular uprisings in recent years, around the world. Few, unfortunately, nonetheless, have taken an explicitly leftist bent. The uprising in Burkina Faso is one of these few.

Sankara’s Tenure: Four Years of Remarkable Progress

After a 1983 coup, Sankara directed his country rapidly toward tremendous development and social and economic progress.  He emphasized the importance of national self-sufficiency (reactionaries claim a monopoly on the notion of “self-sufficiency” (reactionaries love monopolies); as with most things, they are wrong) and rejected all foreign aid. Sankara nationalized all land and mineral resources, using the natural wealth to benefit the whole population, not a small capitalist elite.

Sankara helped to prevent famine (what had been a prevalent issue) through land reform and agrarian self-sufficiency, doubling wheat productions and planting over ten million trees to halt the continued desertification of the Sahel. He pushed a national literacy campaign, teaching millions to read, and encouraged 350 communities to build their own schools. He drastically improved public health infrastructure, asking that every village build a medical facility, and vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever, and measles. To “tie the nation together,” Sankara also advanced a massive road and rail construction program.

Women’s rights and the battle against structural misogyny and patriarchy were additionally of the utmost importance to Sankara. His government outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and polygamy, stressed the importance that women also become empowered, self-sufficient workers, and allowed women access to powerful political positions that had traditionally been out of reach.

Sankara’s socialist regime accomplished all of this in just four years, from August 1983 to October 1987. It is impossible to fathom the further progress Burkina Faso would have made toward social, economic, and environmental justice, had his guidance continued.

Unfortunately, in October 1987, in a France-backed coup (widely believed to be backed by the US as well, among other Western powers), Blaise Compaoré took control of the state. After killing Sankara (and grotesquely dismembering his body), Compaoré implemented extreme neoliberal reforms, ingratiating himself with the imperialist system and becoming an obedient Western ally. He concentrated power, eliminated opposition, and, in his “rectification” campaign, systematically reversed the economic progress Sankara and the Burkinabé people had made.

This is a picture of the brutal, 27-year-long dictator, next to a smiling President Obama. There is clearly no need to comment any further.