Category Archives: Africa

Sankara The Play Review: Echoes of The Coup That Wasn’t in Zimbabwe


Over the weekend, I attended the play Sankara that was showing at The Cockpit Theatre in Marlyebone in London.

external shot of The Cockpit Theater in Marlyebone in London courtesy of thegatvolblogger

Sankara was written and directed by Ricky Dujany. Dujany claims the inspiration for the play, which is basically the rise and fall of an Africa hero, was Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar.

It is a timely reminder of the iconic African leader; his life, death, philosophy, principles and struggle against power, Western imperialism and international hypocrisy.

Sankara highlights the role of African leaders who come to power; do little to nothing to uplift their own people, protect Western interests at the expense of their own people and national interests;  their role in the continual subjugation and exploitation of their own nations and people.

external image of The Cockpit Theater in Marylebone in London showing posters of Thomas Sankara in the front window and at the entrance to the building

Sankara has all the hallmarks of a Shakespearean tragedy. However, the greatest tragedy is that this story is a real story inspired by actual events that are interwoven into the narrative by using dramatic devices such as audiovisual footage from the archives of history projected onto screens in the theatre to echoes of Sankara’s speeches from books like Thomas Sankara Speaks being recited by characters in the play.

Sankara is truly an African tragedy. It is the tragedy of Africa’s lost potential. It is the tragedy of Africa’s arrested development.

It is the tragedy of how those who have the genuine human, moral and political will to uplift the lives of Africans are murdered by the powers that be whose sole objective is to see Africa remain underdeveloped and subject to white interests.

From the outset of the play, we are reminded that Sankara came to power through a military coup – popular though it was – but a coup nevertheless.

a close up piccture of the poster of Sankara the play in the window of The Cockpit Theater in Marylebone in London advertising the play by Ricky Dujany. Picture taken by thegatvolblogger

It echoes recent developments in Zimbabwe in November 2017 that saw the ousting of Robert Mugabe through a coup that wasn’t a coup. It was a popular coup in the same way that The August Revolution was.

However, the similarities end there. The Zimbabwean coup lacks the moral backbone and the philosophical perspective of the Burkinabe Revolution. It was a reactionary move devoid of a sound political ideology.

Echoes of Sankara’s words in the play, “A soldier without any political or ideological training is a potential criminal”, resonates with developments in Zimbabwe and the actions or omissions of the miltary that seized power to consolidate it’s own interests, and create a mililtary state under the guise of preserving the legacy of the liberation struggle and entrenching democractic ideals.

In the play, the role of the military is a world away from the role of the military in Zimbabwe. Whereas, in The Burkinabe Revolution, the military was actively involved in working hand in hand with the people to build roads, the first international railway and other projects that developed the communities; the opposite is true in Zimbabwe.

The military has awarded itself all the positions of power in goverment and the public sector, and has limited involvement in helping to make the living conditions for the masses better in Zimbabwe.

In addition, they have made themselves king makers, the ultimate arbitrator of who has the right to lead Zimbabwe through the ballot or other means.

Reliving Sankara through the play reinforced the principles that he enshrined and lived by. His wit, charisma, humour and powers of mind were brilliantly captured in this three hour long production.

However, it is Sankara’s attitude towards debt that is truly at odds with the Zimbabwean leadership.

“Debt is aimed at subjugating the growth of Africa through foreign rules. Thus each one of us become a financial slave, which is to say a true slave.”

In the play, this quote above is brilliantly captured in the speech that Sankara made at the OAU meeting addressing the question of debt and creating a club of Addis Ababa for African leaders to address these pertinent questions that many African leaders are reluctant to address to this day.

It is ironic that it is also in this speech that Sankara reminds the seated leaders at this meeting that he might not be there next year because of his speech and that was eerily so.

In the play, as Sankara speaks, the footage at that meeting is projected on the screens making the scene eerily realistic.

When Sankara returns to Burkina Faso, he is asked how did things go. He responds that he expects the other African leaders to come out in support of him. However, the irony is that we know it is not going to happen and they are going to betray him.

Three months after that speech at the Organisation of African Unity headqurters on the 29th of July 1987, Thomas Sankara was assassinated.

One can sense the same betrayal happening to the masses in Zimbabwe who are waiting for the military that removed Mugabe to change things, but are in the process of making them financial slaves as they go globetrotting seeking loans and indebting the nation, and seeking re-entry or reengagement with the clubs that Sankara despised for their hypocrisy and robbing the people of the fruits of their hard labour.

It is also ironic how in one scene Sankara receives an official from the IMF who is seeking to get contracts signed off that will undermine the interests of the people and Sankara refuses on points of principle.

This official from the IMF appears in the play in different guises as different characters. He is like a recurring motif that reminds you of the many facets imperialisms manifests itself like a pest that leeches off its host.

However, in the Zimbabwe situation, the new president declared Zimbabwe is open for business, and is actively seeking to engage investors who may not have the interests of the people at heart but their own.

What is eerily unnerving is that the president has no known stance on imperialism as Sankara did. His political philosophy is opaque. He lacks the political and moral gravitas of Sankara.

And it is this stance above, that partially made Sankara the African hero transcend his continental limitations to become a global icon, embraced across the world for speaking to power not only on behalf of his own people but all oppressed people all over the world. Women included. Sankara’s feminist stance is well known and also well entrenched in the play and some of his revolutionary comrades react to it in quite humourous ways.

sankara actors gova media

From right to left: Yonka Awoni in green beret [Henry Zongo], Ike Chuks in red beret [Thomas Sankara], Chris Machari in blue beret [Blaise Compaore], Clovis Kasanda [Jean Lingani/ Charles Taylor]. Image belongs to Gova Media [https://www.govamedia.com/2018/04/04/theater-the-rise-fall-of-an-african-hero-play-written-directed-rickydujany/]

It is apparent that the Zimbabwe situation is devoid of a young, charismatic leader like Sankara who had the political will to carry out fundamental change as echoed in the play, “You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness”.

The late Thomas Sankara was instrumental in changing the mentality of his country, promoting work for everyone to build the nation’s first internatinal railway, refusing aid and debt, and coining the famous slogan “he who feeds you controls you”.

There are scenes that are brilliantly captured in the play that show there was an urgency in the way Sankara implemeted reforms such as nationalisation of land, empowerment of women, building houses, addressing hunger and solving the environmental crisis, education and vaccination programmes.

This urgency is absent in the Zimbabwean situation. That lack of urgency reinforces that Zimbabwe is most likely than not headed for gloom.

There will be no revolutionary programmes coming from the encumbent government because it is a government of reactionaries and a privileged elite who are similar to the ones Sankara and others unseated in the hope of liberating Burkina Faso.

It is this urgency above that allowed Sankara to make Burkina Faso self reliant within four years while other nations have failed to achieve a fraction of what he did in over three and a half decades plus more.

The greatest question many will have is does the play teach us anything new about Thomas Sankara. The answer is in the affirmative.

I will not spoil that by revealing all, but I can say that I have read a lot of books on Thomas Sankara, watched numerous documentaries and written a fair bit about him and still learnt something new that I did not know from the above.

Sankara also raises questions about the agency of Captain Blaise Compaoré. I am not sure if it is a question of Ricky Dujany employing poetic licence or he is aware of something that a lot of people are ignorant of. It is a strong possibility considering that he did his research for writing the play.

However, whether the wife of Captain Blaise Compaoré really did influence him to assassinate Sankara or not is questionable, but in my opinion it doesn’t absolve him from the ultimate act of betrayal as it appears to do in the play or undermine his own agency.

In conclusion, Sankara is a timely and honourable production. It is honest, brutal, well executed and sensitively handled. The players rose to the occassion and did such a historical narrative justice, bringing the play to a new audience who may not have known or heard anything about Sankara.

I was happy to see some parents bringing their children to watch this play because it is important that our children grow up knowing our history, and where we are coming from, and those Africans who gave their lives to liberating the continent.

I was not impressed by the accents in the play. There were times when you could hardly hear what the actors were saying because of the funny and inconsistent accents. They were not necessary especially when you have actors using English when we know that the real life characters communicated in French and local languages in Burkina Faso.

That is a minor criticism of the play. My disappointment is mainly reserved for those who did not turn out to support.

I watched over the past weeks as Black Panther trended on social media and it appeared like every black person went out to watch the movie yet those same people who became honorary Wakandaians were nowhere in sight.

It appears that our people are more in love with the hype of Hollywood and fictious heroes and seductive white naaratives about Africa than they are about the real thing, and they remain ignorant and oblivious of African history and embracing our own African heroes and narratives.

The ultimate question though is how will the Zimbabwean coup that wasn’t a coup end. Sankara reminds us that coups rarely end well. As a Zimbabwean, I wish that we are an exception to the rule though this may go against what I know or have observed through our history. There are exceptions to the rule. And maybe our coup that wasn’t might not end up in the same way as Sankara and be one of the most notable exceptions.

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April 10, 2018 · 5:49 pm

The poetry writing African President: Agostinho Neto


What does writing poetry and African presidency have in common? None. Unless you are Agostinho Neto. He was an acclaimed poet and the first African President of Angola.

I knew a bit about Neto and his role in the decolonisation of Africa. He was quite an exceptional leader in many ways. Not only did he become the first president of Angola in 1975, but he was also a medical doctor who specialised in gynaecology.

I only discovered it a few years ago that he was an acclaimed and published poet after stumbling on one of his few translated poems in the anthology The Heritage of African Poetry: An Anthology of Oral and Written Poetry edited by Isidore Okpewho.

obra_poetica_completa_agostinho_neto-300x300

It is no ordinary anthology because it features some household names and the greatest African poets to grace the African continent. This includes heavyweights like Wole Soyinka, Kofi Awoonor, Christopher Okgibo, Leopold Sedar Senghor to mention a few.

To be published among such names speaks volumes about the nature of one’s work and the quality of it. You don’t get published among legends like that unless you are made of the same stuff.

It is probably little known that Neto was a poet because his work was not so easily accessible to those of us who cannot read or write Portuguese. But it is also not so well known that Neto, to this day, is one of Angola’s most acclaimed poet and writer. That is no easy feat.

Agostinho Neto was born in 1922 at Icola e Bengo in Angola. He studied medicine in Lisbon and Coimbra in Portugal and returned to practice in Angola.

neto and machel

He joined a movement for the discovery of indigenous Angolan culture. In 1960, was elected president of the MPLA [Movimento Popular da Libertação de Angola – People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola] which was a militant anti-colonial organisation. That year he was arrested and taken to jail in Portugal but escaped two years later.

After a protracted guerrilla struggle, he helped to establish the independence of Angola. He became it’s first president but died in 1980.

He published poetry in several Portuguese and Angolan publications and a volume entitled A Sagrada Esperanca (Sacred Hope).

neto and castro

There was little in Neto’s earlier life that indicated the direction of his later life. He was born in a Methodist family. His father was a Methodist pastor. We can interpret through the trajectories of what is known about him that his conception of serving his people was strongly influenced by his father and his exposure to the teachings of Christianity.

It was only when he was in Lisbon [Portugal] that his political activism became marked. He became friends with other future political and iconic figures such as Amilcar Cabral who I have written about and would leave a lasting legacy in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. This also included Marcelino dos Santos from Mozambique.

Dos Santos and Neto seemed to have more than politics in common. Dos Santos was also a poet and a revolutionary. After Neto was arrested and his friend Eduardo Mondlane also from Mozambique and a fellow comrade from FRELIMO moved to the United States, dos Santos moved to Paris where lived with other artists and writers and became associated with the literary magazine Présence Africaine.

Their friendship seemed to be destiny because they had so much in common and as leading intellectuals of their time, it was inevitable. What we don’t know is what role they had in each other’s poetry and if they read and critiqued each other’s work.

Somehow, Neto managed to juggle both his academic life and covert political activities. However, he was soon to learn that mixing politics and medicine had its consequences.

Agostinho-Neto dr

That came in 1960 when he was arrested for campaigning against the colonial administration of Portugal in Angola. When his family, friends, patients, supporters and empathisers and others marched to protest his arrest, the police fired at them. Consequently, thirty people were killed and about two hundred others were injured.

He was later exiled to Cape Verde where he wrote his second poetry publication. It is not clear if he was able to link up with the likes of Cabral in Cape Verde. It is always a possibility and it is also possible that he learned firsthand about their struggle and used it to forward his own political development.

Like Lumumba and Cabral, he sought assistance from the Americans but as usual, the Americans let him down and he enlisted the help of the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Unfortunately, Neto’s rule was not marked by peace. It was riddled by a civil war that was sponsored by foreign agents that were sponsoring sectarian violence and trying to destabilise the country.

neto and castro 2

His country was flanked by hostile territories. On one side was the FNLA supported by the dictator, Belgian and American puppet Mobutu Sese Seko who got into power through assassinating Patrice Lumumba and given free reign to terrorise his own people.

On the other side was Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA movement which was supported by the racist Apartheid government of South Africa that had no wish in seeing a thriving majority ruled African country because this would make the Africans at home want the same.

One of Neto’s lasting legacies to Angola was his invitation to westerners to invest in the oil industry. To this day, it happens to be one of Angola’s largest export and brings in the largest revenues. However, as in most African countries, the proceeds or these great repositories of wealth rarely filter to the people. They are monopolised by the leadership who enjoy the wealth and treat it as their own.

I guess you can do more research and fill the holes in the life of this remarkable leader. I set out to share this little bit of knowledge about him and his accomplishments.

I will leave you with a poem he wrote in 1954 and entitled Bamako. You can interpret it for yourself, not that it needs it.

neto 1

Bamako

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           Where the truth dropping on the leaf’s sheen                                                                         unites with the freshness of men                                                                                               like strong roots under the warm surface of the soil                                                             and where grow love and future                                                                                               fertilised in the generosity of the Niger                                                                                     shaded by the immensity of the Congo                                                                                       to the shim of the African breeze of hearts

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           there life is born                                                                                                                             and grows                                                                                                                                       and develops in us important fires of goodness

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           there are our arms                                                                                                                         there sound our voices                                                                                                                   there the shining hope in our eyes                                                                                             transformed into an irreproachable force                                                                               of friendship                                                                                                                                     dry the tears shed over the centuries                                                                                         in the slave Africa of other days                                                                                                 vivified the nourishing juice of fruit                                                                                           the aroma of the earth                                                                                                                   of which the sun discovers gigantic kilimanjaros                                                                   under the blue sky of peace.

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           living fruit of the Africa                                                                                                                 of the future germinating in the living arteries of Africa                                                       There hope has become tree                                                                                                         and river and beast and land                                                                                                       there hope wins friendship                                                                                                           in the elegance of the palm and the black skin of men

Bamalko! there we vanquish death                                                                                     and the future grows – grows in us                                                                                           in the irresistible force of nature and life                                                                           with us alive in Bamako.

 

 

 

 

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July 4, 2017 · 4:32 pm

Thoughts about my motherland


Sometimes I wonder when I see the fat cats looting the coffers of our nations to line up their greasy pockets, using their struggle credentials to monopolise and misappropriate national resources for their bloodlines, what is the future  for my motherland.

Sometimes I wonder when I see the future of Africa drowning in the ocean off the coasts of Europe, fleeing the motherland to lands unknown, in search of a better life far from the dehumanising poverty many have been reduced to, what is the future  for my motherland.

It strikes me then that some animals, not in the Animal Farm sense, but literally that some animals in Africa enjoy better living standards than human beings. They have better access to health. They have better access to housing. They have better access to water and sanitation.

They have better access to security and protection. They have passports and don’t have to walk thousands of miles across arid deserts, risking their lives crossing treacherous oceans in search of greener pastures.

How is it that an animal can have more rights and protection than man? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe animals shouldn’t be protected or have some rights, but I don’t believe they should enjoy better privileges than human beings.

Sometimes I wonder when I see the violence and terrorism unleashed on my people by those with their twisted holy wars, crusades and xenophobic impulses snuff out fruitful lives casually like a man putting out a candle flame between his fingers, what is the future for my motherland.

Image of Patrice Lumumba with the quote which reads “The colonialists care nothing for Africa for her own sake. They are attracted by African riches and their actions are guided by the desire to preserve their interests in Africa against the wishes of the African people. For the colonialists all means are good if they help them to possess these riches.”

Sometimes I wonder, I dream, about what heights Africa would have risen to if Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe, Herbert Chitepo, Dr. Samuel Parirenyatwa, and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere were steering this mighty vessel, The Motherland, towards The Promised Land – the United States of Africa.

It’s at times like this I realise that there is a dearth of leadership. Everytime we talk about African leaders, we don’t talk about the living because we cannot find one leader living today worth talking about or looking up to.

We keep turning back to the past and talking about leaders who are no longer present, and died decades ago, but whose influence is sorely missed today.

In the absence of great leaders, I conclude, it is up to us, the small people, to unite and fight for what is rightfully ours. That is our future, an equal slice of the economic cake, prosperity and a better life.

This cannot become a reality while the hawks of imperialism and neocolonialism are circling the continent in search for rich and easy pickings, robbing us from the food right from our mouths.

Image of Steve Biko taken from his book I Write What I Like. The accompanying quote reads, African unity is not a concept that should remain a dream but it should become a reality because that is where our salvation lies. We cannot do it alone as individuals but as a collective.

Therefore, we, Africans, have nothing to lose but our colonial and neocolonial shackles. We have a motherland overflowing with diamonds, cobalt, gold, uranium, milk, honey and every thing else a people could ever need. Africans of all nations, all ethnic groups unite and reclaim what is rightfully yours.

Homeland or death, we will win comrades! Aluta Continua!

Thomas Sankara 8

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May 2, 2015 · 1:40 pm