Thomas Sankara and the new Africa renaissance
As Africa celebrates 50 years of the founding of the Organization of African Unity, and now the Africa Union, we must thank Pambazuka for daring to promote African renaissance and our unity, in spite of our diverse cultures. But more than that, we must also celebrate African heroes (‘sheroes’). Thomas Sankara was one of the leading ideologues of the 1980s West Africa, when military regimes were the order of the day, and when the youth sought relevance in the midst of forced neo-colonial identities.
Educational institutions were closing down rapidly, youth unemployment was at its highest, social centres for youth advancement did not exist, and maternal mortality was at its highest. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed Structural Adjustment programmes, which led to the collapse of African economies, loss of employment and social upheavals. In London and Paris and other western capitals, old colonial fogies were dusting their safari suits to return and recolonise Africa. The United States was preparing its fleets of death and destruction to intervene in African ‘conflicts’. The debate about the re-colonisation of Africa by western opinion leaders and politicians was open, fierce and aggressive.
Dynamic African leaders such as Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings of Ghana, Yoweri Musevini of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Isaias Aferworki of Eritrea and several others, followed in the footsteps of Africa’s founding fathers, and sought to reverse the decline of the continent and build progressive nations in which people’s rights are respected, in which different ethnic groups lived together in peace and harmony and a world in which Africans were respected on equal terms with others. ‘Developmentalism’ became the new ideology of the day. Future generations will judge them but for now, let us celebrate their good intentions.
Thomas Sankara is remembered for what he sought to achieve in his youthful and short life as a leader of the Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso. What made Thomas Sankara the hero of Africa youth? Sankara was committed to the independence of Africa, understood the global context in which the world viewed Africa, and how Africa should respond. He was forthright, honest, and brutal in his assessment of African-European relations. He did not put profit and personal interest before the honour and dignity of his people. He spoke truth to power. He was fiercely patriotic, loved human beings, and would not abuse them. Sankara was able to connect the diaspora youth with African youth, and appeal to both as if they lived in the same village. To a large extent, Thomas Sankara had a progressive and positive view of the future of Burkina Faso and Africa, believed in the ability of Africans to solve their own problems, and did not go seeking solutions to the problems of Bukina Faso in Paris, Washington and London. Like Patrice Lumumba, he did not live to see his view bear fruits.
It should be noted that Burkina Faso and its capital Ouagadougou is one of the most historic places in West Africa. It was the scene to intellectual and cultural renaissance before colonialism desecrated this land. Like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and several others, Sankara sought to restore dignity and honour to his country, to imbue the youth with the ideals of pan-African solidarity, dignity and honour. He was fiercely pro-people, peoples’ development and believed that poverty was unnecessary; that he could transform the deserts of his country into rich agricultural land. He believed in eradicating poverty. He believed in the power of the people, in their honour and dignity. Sankara pontificated at length about self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and the ability of Africans to overcome adversity in the midst of colonial and neo-colonial marginalisation and abuse. He also rejected neocolonial cultural mindsets.
Cultural renaissance has always been highlighted by the likes of Frantz Fanon Aimee Ceasare and other Africa diasporan authors. Sankara took this to another level, to engage with the youth. Sankara believed in the mental liberation of Africans since colonialism had led to a mindset sometimes bordering on self-hate. Sankara was the first apostle of the African Renaissance, taken over and perfected by former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.
Today, Africa lives in renewed optimism about the future. Wealth is being generated internally. African economies are on the rise as European and Western economies tumble like a pack of cards. The West is bound to fight back through destabilisation, sabotage and cultural re-colonialisation. It is bound to seek resources elsewhere as they did in the pre-colonial days. Africa is in their sights. However, Africa today is far from the Africa of 1884, when colonial racists carved Africa like a piece of poorly baked cake. Africa today is fiercely patriotic, fully conscious of the new world environment, and willing to engage in trade and support each other. The youth of today, are fiercely pan African and patriotic will fight back.
What would Thomas Sankara have made of today’s Africa? Like Rawlings of Ghana, Musevini of Uganda, Kagame of Rwanda, and many other African leaders, he would have rejected the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a neocolonial dispensation engaged in the “race hunting” of Africans as in the days of slavery. Sankara would have used his patriotism to support Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance, and called for the total liberation of Africa from Western donors and their brand of ‘poverty alleviation’. Sankara would have supported Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s new economic direction of intra-African trade and investment and his laptop project for Kenyan children. The continuing crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), insurgencies in Ethiopia, trial of African leaders at the western sponsored, western-led court in The Hague and the implied disrespect for Africans would have troubled Sankra immensely.
But more than that, Sankara would have remained a true ambassador of the interest of African youth, women and children. He was charismatic, honest, and direct, spoke his mind, and did not balk under pressure from Western leaders. These are the attributes of the new generation of Africans. Like Steve Biko, Sankara lived and spoke truth to power.
Africa in 2063 will not be the same Africa that we see today. It will be a rich, independent continent full of optimistic people, united, and ready to defend its resources. That is the Africa that Thomas Sankara dreamt of. It is the Africa that we must strive for. We must celebrate this amazing African, but more than that, the youth of today should embody the aspirations, ideological orientation, truthfulness and be the Africans that Sankara believed in.