We Come This Far by Faith

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Tributes - Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara (French pronunciation: [tɔma sɑ̃kaʁa]; 21 December 1949 – 15 October 1987) was a Burkinabé pro-people revolutionary, Marxist, pan-Africanist and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, he is sometimes referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”.[1][2][3][4]
A group of revolutionaries seized power on behalf of Sankara (who was under house arrest at the time) in a popularly-supported coup in 1983. Aged just 33, Sankara became the President of the country that still retained its colonial name, Upper Volta, with the goal of promoting the wellbeing of the poorest people in the country by eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power among other things.[1][5][6] He immediately launched one of the most ambitious programmes for social, ecological, gender and economic change ever attempted on the African continent.[5] To symbolise this new autonomy and rebirth, he renamed the country from the French colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Man”).[5] His foreign policies were centred on anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalising all land and mineral wealth and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritising education with a nationwide literacy campaign and promoting public health by vaccinating 2,500,000 children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles.[7]
Other components of his national agenda included planting over 10,000,000 trees to halt the growing desertification of the Sahel, doubling wheat production by redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents and establishing an ambitious road and railway construction programme to “tie the nation together”.[5] On the localised level, Sankara also called on every village to build a medical dispensary, and had over 350 communities build schools with their own labour. Moreover, his commitment to women’s rights led him to outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy while appointing women to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school, even if pregnant.[5]
In order to achieve this radical transformation of society, Sankara increasingly exerted authoritarian control over the nation. He eventually banned unions and a free press, which he believed could stand in the way of his plans.[5] To counter his opposition in towns and workplaces around the country, he also prosecuted corrupt officials, alleged counter-revolutionaries and “lazy workers” in Popular Revolutionary Tribunals.[5] Additionally, as an admirer of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, Sankara set up Cuban-style Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.[1]
His revolutionary programs for African self-reliance made him an icon to many of Africa’s poor.[5] Sankara remained popular with most of his country’s citizens. However, his policies alienated and antagonised the vested interests of several groups, which included the small, but powerful Burkinabé middle class, the tribal leaders whom he stripped of the long-held traditional right to forced labour and tribute payments as well as France and its ally Ivory Coast.[1][8] On 15 October 1987, Sankara was assassinated by troops led by Blaise Compaoré, who took Sankara’s office shortly after. A week before his assassination, he declared: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”.

Thomas Sankara was born Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara[9] on 21 December 1949 in Yako, French Upper Volta as the third of ten children to Joseph and Marguerite Sankara. His father, Joseph Sankara, a gendarme,[10][11] was of mixed Mossi–Fulani (Silmi–Moaga) heritage while his mother, Marguerite Kinda, was of direct Mossi descent.[12] He spent his early years in Gaoua, a town in the humid southwest to which his father was transferred as an auxiliary gendarme. As the son of one of the few African functionaries then employed by the colonial state, he enjoyed a relatively privileged position. The family lived in a brick house with the families of other gendarmes at the top of a hill overlooking the rest of Gaoua.[9]
Sankara attended primary school at Bobo-Dioulasso. He applied himself seriously to his schoolwork and excelled in mathematics and French. He went to church often, and impressed with his energy and eagerness to learn, some of the priests encouraged Thomas to go on to seminary school once he finished primary school. Despite initially agreeing, he took the exam required for entry to the sixth grade in the secular educational system and passed. Thomas’s decision to continue his education at the nearest lycée Ouezzin Coulibaly (named after a preindependence nationalist) proved to be a turning point. This step got him out of his father’s household since the lycée was in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s commercial centre. At the lycée, Sankara made close friends, including Fidèle Too, whom he later named a minister in his government; and Soumane Touré, who was in a more advanced class.[9]
His Roman Catholic parents wanted him to become a priest, but he chose to enter the military. The military was popular at the time, having just ousted a despised president. It was also seen by young intellectuals as a potentially national institution that might help discipline the inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy, counterbalance the inordinate influence of traditional chiefs and generally help modernize the country. Besides, acceptance into the military academy would come with a scholarship; Sankara could not easily afford the costs of further education otherwise. He took the entrance exam and passed.[9][13]
He entered the military academy of Kadiogo in Ouagadougou with the academy’s first intake of 1966 at the age of 17.[9] While there he witnessed the first military coup d’état in Upper Volta led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sangoulé Lamizana (3 January 1966). The trainee officers were taught by civilian professors in the social sciences. Adama Touré, who taught history and geography and was known for having progressive ideas, even though he did not publicly share them, was the academic director at the time. He invited a few of his brightest and more political students, among them Sankara, to join informal discussions about imperialism, neocolonialism, socialism and communism, the Soviet and Chinese revolutions, the liberation movements in Africa and similar topics outside of the classroom. This was the first time Sankara was systematically exposed to a revolutionary perspective on Upper Volta and the world. Aside from his academic and extracurricular political activities, Sankara also pursued his passion for music and played the guitar.[9]
In 1970, 20 years old Sankara went on for further military studies at the military academy of Antsirabe (Madagascar), from which he graduated as a junior officer in 1973. At the Antsirabe academy, the range of instruction went beyond standard military subjects, which allowed Sankara to study agriculture, including how to raise crop yields and better the lives of farmers—themes he later took up in his own administration and country.[9] During that period, he read profusely on history and military strategy, thus acquiring the concepts and analytical tools that he would later use in his reinterpretation of Burkinabe political history.[14]
Military career[edit]
After basic military training in secondary school in 1966, Sankara began his military career at the age of 19 and a year later was sent to Madagascar for officer training at Antsirabewhere he witnessed popular uprisings in 1971 and 1972 against the government of Philibert Tsiranana and first read the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, profoundly influencing his political views for the rest of his life.[15]
Returning to Upper Volta in 1972, he fought in a border war between Upper Volta and Mali by 1974. He earned fame for his heroic performance in the border war with Mali, but years later would renounce the war as “useless and unjust”, a reflection of his growing political consciousness.[16] He also became a popular figure in the capital of Ouagadougou. Sankara was a decent guitarist. He played in a band named “Tout-à-Coup Jazz” and rode a motorcycle.[citation needed]
In 1976 he became commander of the Commando Training Centre in Pô. In the same year he met Blaise Compaoré in Morocco. During the presidency of Colonel Saye Zerbo, a group of young officers formed a secret organisation called the “Communist Officers’ Group” (Regroupement des officiers communistes, or ROC), the best-known members being Henri Zongo, Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingani, Blaise Compaoré and Sankara.[citation needed]

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Sankara

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