Last week Thursday I got a Whatsapp message from a friend in Ghana. It said “Mayhem in Burkina Faso. So what’s wrong with our African leaders”. I had no clue what my friend was ranting about.
Hours later when I got home, I learnt that there had been unrest in the Burkina Faso. Civilians had stormed parliament in protest against Blaise Compaoré’s attempt to prolong his 27-year-long rule by changing the constitution to permit him to stand in elections next year.
I realised then that I knew little about Burkina Faso, Ghana’s neighbour to the north, aside from it’s former name, Upper Volta, it’s capital Ouagadougou, and the term for it’s people, Burkinabè.
As I read about Compaoré, I came across the name of Thomas Sankara. I recalled an incident maybe a decade ago when I had been embarrassed to not know his name nor image. I was still in the Beantown then. Still very heady in several African student union events. A friend had created a line of T-shirts featuring the image and quotes of several African leaders. I had chosen Winnie Mandela – “The road to total liberation will be led by women”, but I could not identify the image of Thomas Sankara nor Steven Biko.
So now Compaoré, good friend of Sankara, and most likely the one responsible for his death, has been run out of Burkina Faso. I read more about Thomas Sankara, the Ché Guevera of Africa, who had renamed the colonial Upper Volta as Burkina Faso, the Land of Upright Men. I was impressed by his anti-imperialism and anti-corruption stance, his calls for self-sufficiency, his advocacy of women’s rights, foreign debt reduction, and nation-wide literacy, public health and reforestation programs. But then I wondered. Sankara, a Marxist revolutionary, had come into power through a 1983 military coup. He was very good friends with Ghana’s Rawlings with whom he shared some of his ideologies. Had he not been killed, would he had lived up to his democratic populist/socialist ideologies or would he have fallen victim to the totalitarian capitalism and fattened his own body at the expense of his people?
We would never know. I would like to learn more about Sankara though. No, I don’t think he was an angel. But it would be nice for African leaders such as him to be talked about and celebrated rather than the Joseph Kony’s that took over the rhethoric of Western media a couple years ago and the Mugabe’s that continue to be the face of African leadership.