15 October marks the 25th anniversary of the assassination of an African liberation hero. We need to remember him, to challenge the dominant view of Africa’s helplessness and to fight our own debt crisis in Europe.
On 15 October 1987 a revolution was brought to an abrupt and bloody end by the murder of Thomas Sankara, President of the newly named state of Burkina Faso. In the years following Sankara’s assassination, by his once trusted friend Blaise Compaoré who runs Burkina Faso to this day, his revolution was overturned and the country became just another African fiefdom of the International Monetary Fund. But for a brief period of 4 years, Burkina Faso shone brightly, a stunning example of what can be achieved even in one of the world’s most impoverished countries.
Sankara was a junior officer in the army of Upper Volta, a former French colony which was run as a source of cheap labour for neighbouring Corte ‘d’Ivoire to benefit a tiny ruling class and their patrons in Paris. As a student in Madagascar, Sankara had been radicalised by waves of demonstrations and strikes taking place. In 1981, he was appointed to the military government in Upper Volta, but his outspoken support for the liberation of ordinary people in his country and outside eventually led to his arrest. In August 1983, a successful coup led by his friend Blaise Compaoré, brought him to power at the age of only 33.