Thomas Sankara

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Captain Thomas Sankara

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara was the liberal 5th president of [Upper Volta and 1st president of Burkina Faso. He was world renowned as an outspoken radical leader and was responsible for the development of an alternative to Westernisation. He promoted women's rights in Burkina Faso and fought hard against the country's rampant corruption. In 1987, he was overthrown and murdered in a coup led by one of his closest friends, Blaise Compaoré.

He was a Roman Catholic.


In 1983, Sankara took power in Burkina Faso (then known as the colonial Upper Volta) in a coup, overthrowing the president, Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo. However, Sankara did not have Ouédraogo killed, and Ouédraogo continues to run a medical facility on the outskirts of Ouagadougou.

When in power, he promoted the "Democratic and Popular Revolution" (Révolution démocratique et populaire, or RDP). Sankara highlighted himself as an anti-imperialist. In addition, he promoted women's rights, healthcare and vaccinations, and fought corruption.

Promotion of Social EqualityEdit

Sankara, pushing his radical agenda, stripped the aristocrats of Burkinabé society of their privileges. He also decreased the rights of tribal chiefs in rural areas to create their own laws and own slaves though unfortunately slavery is still a problem in Burkina Faso, see Slavery in Burkina Faso and Mali. Although this is due to the actions of Compaoré and due to a long standing tradition of slavery.

Other actions that made Sankara popular included selling most of the government fleet of Mercedes cars and making the Renault 5 (the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time) the official service car of the ministers, forming an all-women motorcycle personal guard and in Ouagadougou, Sankara converted the army's provisioning store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone (the first supermarket in the country).

Burkina Faso during SankaraEdit

A major anti-corruption drive began in 1987. The tribunal showed Captain Thomas Sankara to have a salary of only $450 a month and his most valuable possessions to be a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer. He was the world’s poorest president.

Sankara refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabés.

When asked why he had let it be known that he did not want his portrait hung in public places, as is the norm for other African leaders (and as Blaise Compaoré does now), Sankara said ‘There are seven million Thomas Sankaras’.

Sankara Government TimelineEdit

Feb 1984 Tribute payments to and obligatory labour for the traditional village chiefs are outlawed.

4 Aug 1984 All land and mineral wealth are nationalized. The country’s name is changed from the colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, words from two different local languages meaning ‘Land of the Incorruptible’.

22 Sept 1984 A day of solidarity: men are encouraged to go to market and prepare meals to experience for themselves the conditions faced by women.

Oct 1984 The rural poll tax is abolished.

Nov 1984 ‘Vaccination Commando’. In 15 days 2.5 million children are immunized against meningitis, yellow fever and measles.

3 Dec 1984 Top civil servants and military officers are required to give one month’s pay and other civil servants to give half a month to help fund social development projects.

31 Dec 1984 All domestic rents are suspended for 1985 and a massive public housing construction program begins.

1 Jan 1985 Launch of a campaign to plant 10 million trees to slow the Sahara’s advance.

4 Aug 1985 An all-women parade marks the anniversary of the Revolution.

10 Sep 1985 The mounting hostility of the region’s conservative regimes is revealed at a meeting in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.

Feb-Apr 1986 ‘Alpha Commando’. A literacy campaign in nine indigenous languages involves 35,000 people.

End of 1986 A UN-assisted program brings river blindness under control.

15 Oct 1987 Sankara is assassinated in a coup d’état along with 12 aides. His body is unceremoniously dumped in a makeshift grave which quickly becomes a shrine as for days thousands of people file past it to pay their respects. Popular feeling forces the new regime to give Sankara a decent grave.

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