Thomas Sankara

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Thomas Sankara
Name Thomas Sankara
Rank Head of State
Service Politics
DOD 15, October 1987

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara was born on December 21, 1949 in Yako, French Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). His father was a gendarme (a paramilitary police officer).

He attended a primary school at Bobo-Dioulasso. He continued his education at Lycée Ouezzin Coulibaly in Bobo-Dioulasso. He was admitted at the age of 17, into the military academy of Kadiogo in Ouagadougou. He was one of the academy’s first batch of 1966 and that was where he witnessed the first military coup d’état, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sangoulé Lamizana in January 3, 1966, in Upper Volta.

As a young man, he played the guitar and joined a band called “Tout-à-Coup Jazz” and he also loved motorcycles. His military career started fully at the age of 19 and at the age of 20, he was sent for officer training in Antsirabé, Madagascar, where he witnessed an uprising of students and workers that successfully toppled Philibert Tsiranana’s (president) government in Madagascar, 1971 and 1972. He was inspired by the works of Marx and Lenin including some exposure to left-wing political ideologies.

In 1974 he earned much public attention for his heroic performance in the border war between Upper Volta and Mali, though years later, he described the war as “useless and unjust,” a result of his increasing political consciousness.

In 1976, he became Head of 31st Infantry Regiment Commando Po (a Commando Training Centre). In the same year, during the presidency of Colonel Saye Zerbo, he met Blaise Compaoré in Morocco and together they founded the Coalition of Communist officers known as Communist Officers’ Group. In 1981, he was appointed into the military government as Secretary of State for Information, but resigned on 21st of April, 1982 when he saw as the regime’s anti-labour policies.

In January 1983, Sankara was made the Prime Minister of the newly formed Council for the Salvation of the People (CSP) headed by Jean Baptiste Ouédraogo. As the Prime Minister, he gained the entry into international politics and was presented with the chance to meet with leaders of independent movement; the likes of Samora Machel (Mozambique), Fidel Castro (Cuba) and Maurice Bishop (Grenada).

On May 17, 1983, he was dismissed from his office as the Prime Minister and also placed under house arrest after a visit by the son of the President of France and African affairs adviser Jean-Christophe Mitterrand. His colleagues, Henri Zongo and Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingani were also arrested together with him because of his anti-imperialist stance and grassroots popularity. This increasingly put him at odds with conservative elements within the CSP, including President, Ouédraogo. Sankara and his friends’ arrest caused an uprising and prompted, Blaise Compaoré, Sankara’s close friend and fellow army colleague, to lead a coup d’état, and free Sankara on August 4, 1983.

After the coup, Sankara was made the President of the country and a new ruling party was formed named the National Council of the Revolution (Conseil National de la Révolution). The coup d’état was supported by Libya which was, at the time, on the verge of war with France in Chad.

His presidency brought about major reforms; massive investments in health, education, agriculture, gender equality and an agricultural revolution. It expressed that African countries can be independent without the help of the colonial nations. The nation became self reliant under his watch because the importation of food was banned and the people produced what they ate.

On the first anniversary of the coup that had brought him to power, he renamed the country to Burkina Faso, which roughly means “land of upright people” in Mossi and Dyula, the two major languages of the country. He also provided a new flag and wrote a new national anthem Une Seule Nuit.

His administration paved the way for many other nations in Africa that wanted to be self reliant. He was a prudent man and as the President, he lowered his salary and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer.

That administration was cut short on October 15, 1987, as Sankara and twelve other people were assassinated in a coup led by Blaise Compaoré, his former colleague and two others. Blaise said the coup was motivated by Sankara’s policies which were endangering of foreign relations with former colonial power, France and neighbouring country, Ivory Coast. Sankara’s body was dismembered and he was quickly buried in an unmarked grave.

In October 2015, one of the lawyers for Sankara’s widow, Mariam, reported that the autopsy had revealed that Sankara’s body was punctured with more than a dozen bullets. He is well respected in Africa as on of the greatest leaders to come from the continent. His assassination was a set back for Africa because of the enormous influence that he was wielding at the time.


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