Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It has been 26 Years since the Murder of Thomas Sankara

On 15 October 1987, a French backed military coup overthrew the government of Burkina Faso and murdered 13 people including President Thomas Sankara. Not since Kwame Nkurmah had Africa seen such a visionary leader as Sankara. Only in power for four years before the coup which replaced him with the current ruler of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, President Sankara had a substantial string of accomplishments. These included setting an example of living modestly. Sankara gave himself a salary of only $450 a month, drove a beat up Renault, and possessed beyond this only four bikes, three guitars, a refrigerator, and a broken freezer. He refused to use air conditioning, a luxury unavailable to most people in Burkina Faso. As the poorest head of state in the world, Sankara set a very different example from that of most African leaders. The pay and privileges of government officials were curtailed. He banned the use of first class airline tickets and chauffeurs by government officials. In particular he sought to improve the lot of the poor peasant majority of the country. Among other thing he abolished tribute and obligatory labor to local chiefs, eliminated the rural poll tax, redistributed land to the poorest peasants, vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever, and measles, instigated a tree planting program to combat desertification, and launched a campaign against illiteracy. He also took an active role in trying to bring social equality to women in Burkina Faso. On 22 September 1984, he declared a day of solidarity with women in which men were urged to take over the domestic labor of their households from their wives for a day. Although most of his programs focused on the poor rural majority of  Burkina Faso he also attempted to ease problems for the urban poor by suspending rents on 31 December 1984 and building public housing. Since his overthrow almost all of these programs have been discontinued in favor of increasing the salaries of government officials, eliminating funding for health and education, and restructuring the economy along the neo-liberal lines dictated by the World Bank and IMF. For a comparison of Sankara's accomplishments versus the corrupt regime of Compaore see this post.

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