For this week’s Breaking the Chains’ article I want to post a short 50min documentary about a nation and person that most of humanity have never heard of, Burkina Faso and Thomas Sankara. In 1983 Sankara and his allies came to power in a coup in Upper Volta. Changing the name to Burkina Faso which means “Land of Upright Men”, they achieved feats of social and political development unheard of before or since in African and world history. Some of this will be covered in the documentary but here are a few feats they achieved between 1983 and 1987:
- He sold off the government fleet of Mercedes cars and made the Renault 5 (the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time) the official service car of the ministers.
- He reduced the salaries of all public servants, including his own, and forbade the use of government chauffeurs and 1st class airline tickets.
- He redistributed land from the feudal landlords and gave it directly to the peasants. Wheat production rose in three years from 1700 kg per hectare to 3800 kg per hectare, making the country food self-sufficient.
- He opposed foreign aid, saying that “he who feeds you, controls you.”
- He spoke in forums like the Organization of African Unity against continued neo-colonialist penetration of Africa through Western trade and finance.
- He called for a united front of African nations to repudiate their foreign debt. He argued that the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay money to the rich and exploiting.
- In Ouagadougou, Sankara converted the army’s provisioning store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone (the first supermarket in the country).
- He forced civil servants to pay one month’s salary to public projects.
- He refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes.
- As President, he lowered his salary to $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer.
- A motorcyclist himself, he formed an all-women motorcycle personal guard.
- He required public servants to wear a traditional tunic, woven from Burkinabe cotton and sewn by Burkinabe craftsmen.
- He was known for jogging unaccompanied through Ouagadougou in his track suit and posing in his tailored military fatigues, with hismother-of-pearl pistol.
- When asked why he didn’t want his portrait hung in public places, as was the norm for other African leaders, Sankara replied “There are seven million Thomas Sankaras.”
- An accomplished guitarist, he wrote the new national anthem himself.
“The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.”
Sankara’s government also instituted measures to make women truly equal participants in Burkinabe society. They outlawed female genital mutilation (this was the 80′s remember), created a personal guard of all women, allowed women to serve in the military without restriction or difference from men, outlawed school dismissals for pregnant girls, and even created a holiday where men were required to do everything women were otherwise required or expected to do. Burkina Faso is one of the few nations on the planet who took such strides to rectify gender inequality.
Watch this video and think this was an isolated, desert nation of a few million people who did things that we today in the richest nation on Earth see as impossible. Next time you want to say revolution or a new society is not possible think about the Burkinabe and feel like crap.
“Breaking the Chains” is a weekly column that focuses on the history and tough questions concerning the struggles of the African People and their movement for liberation. “Breaking the Chains” is usually published every Monday morning on RedSociology.com