Be it through the red beret, worn by firebrand South African politician Julius Malema, or the household brooms being wielded at street demonstrations in Burkina Faso, there are signs that his legacy is enjoying a revival.
– Alex Duval Smith: ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’: Thomas Sankara’s legacy (BBC News)
Thomas Sankara, often called the African Che Guevara, was president of Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in Africa, until his assassination during the military coup that brought down his government. Although his tenure in office was relatively short, Sankara left an indelible mark on his country’s history and development. An avowed Marxist, he outspokenly asserted his country’s independence from France and other Western powers while at the same time seeking to build a genuine pan-African unity.
Ernest Harsch traces Sankara’s life from his student days to his recruitment into the military, early political awakening, and increasing dismay with his country’s extreme poverty and political corruption. As he rose to higher leadership positions, he used those offices to mobilise people for change and to counter the influence of the old, corrupt elites. Sankara and his colleagues initiated economic and social policies that shifted away from dependence on foreign aid and toward a greater use of the country’s own resources to build schools, health clinics and public works. Although Sankara’s sweeping vision and practical reforms won him admirers both in Burkina Faso and across Africa, a combination of domestic opposition groups and factions within his own government and the army finally led to his assassination in 1987.
However brief Sankara’s passage, his life is worth examining. This short account looks at the influences that helped shaped him, the ideas and visions of a self-professed dreamer, and the concrete achievements, ambitious projects, and unfinished work of his presidency.
In the process it may help provide some small understanding of why so many youths across the continent continue to see Sankara, decades after his death, as an embodiment of their hopes and dreams.
About the Author
Ernest Harsch is a research scholar at the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University. He worked on African issues at the United Nations for more than twenty years and is the author of South Africa: White Rule, Black Revolt.
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|Colour:||Black and White|
|Publication Date:||November 2014|