He immediately launched one of the most ambitious programmes for social, ecological, gender and economic change ever attempted on the African continent. To symbolise this new autonomy and rebirth, he renamed the country from the French colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Man”).
Sankara’s foreign policies were centred on anti-imperialism, with his government refusing all foreign aid, pushing for debt reduction, nationalising all land and mineral wealth and limiting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Domestically, Sankara was 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.
His revolutionary programs for African self-reliance made him an icon to many of Africa’s poor.
Thomas Sankara And The Back To Africa Movement
In addition to his focus on Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara was a true Pan-Africanist, absorbing ideas from the diaspora, particularly those coming out of Black America.
This culminated in a visit to Harlem which Sankara dubbed the ‘Black Washington’ due to its association with phenomenal African-American culture and figures from the days of Langston Hughes with the Harlem Renaissance, all the way to the era of Black Militants like Malcolm X.
Harlem before the crack epidemic of the 80s was indeed the ‘Mecca’ of Black America, and Sankara duly performed his ‘pilgrimage’ during his lifetime.
Sankara emphasised the unity of Africans everywhere including those in the diaspora echoing the sentiments of Marcus Garvey’s ‘Back To Africa’ Movement.
The Sankara Assassination& Legacy
Over time, Thomas Sankara became more authoritarian in what he viewed as a necessary means of achieving his Revolutionary objectives resulting in the banning of Unions and a Free Press.
Nevertheless, Sankara maintained popularity with the majority of Citizens despite the fact that his policies were against the vested interests of groups such as Burkina Faso’s middle class and Tribal leaders.
The result was that on 15 October 1987, Sankara was allegedly assassinated by troops led by Blaise Compaoré, who took Sankara’s office shortly after.
Some 30 Years after his death the Burkinabe authorities have pledged to rehabilitate Thomas Sankara as a national hero, an honour which is way overdue.
Peep the video of Sankara’s historic Harlem visit.