Tag Archives: The Upright Man

In memory of Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara, The Upright Man: 27 quotes on Women’s liberation and the African freedom struggle


Thomas Sankara

The Upright Man: Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara

Captain Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara is the late Burkinabe military captain, Marxist revolutionary, Pan African theorist and the President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. He is more popularly known as The Upright Man. He was born on the 21st of December 1949 in Yako, Burkina Faso.

He rose to power through a popular revolution or coup in what was known as Upper Volta in West Africa. He was only 33 at the time. His goal was the socioeconomic and political transformation of his nation, eliminating corruption, oppression, exploitation and dominance of France, the former colonial power.

He renamed Upper Volta and called the new country Burkina Faso  which literally means Land of Upright Man, hence his popular moniker.

Sankara is remembered for some of the most ambitious and successful programmes for social and economic change he implemented when he came to power. Within four years, he transformed Burkina Faso from an impoverished nation to a self reliant country through his commitment and drive to transform his political and moral ideology into action.

He conducted a struggle against imperialism, foregoing foreign aid for his government, nationalising the land and mineral wealth, neutralising the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

He was one of the first presidents to launch a tree planting programme to arrest the desertification of the Sahel, agrarian self sufficiency, local production of Burkinabe goods, nationwide literacy campaigns and vaccination programmes.

These are only a few examples of his programmes. It is by no means an exhaustive list. He was deeply committed to the liberation of women from exploitation and oppression by outsiders and society and culture.

He banned female circumcision, forced marriages, polygamy, expelling girls from school when they fell pregnant. Sankara appointed women to high governmental positions, employed women in the army, encouraged them to be employed outside the home and set up committees and institutions to tackle women’s liberation.

This article is not going to focus on his accomplishments and programmes. The focus is on his words and ideas and one of his concerns – Women’s Liberation.

Therefore, I have chosen 27 quotes, mainly from The book Women’s Liberation and the African freedom Struggle. The book features two speeches. The first, Women’s Liberation and the African freedom Struggle, was made he made in 1987.

The second, Women’s role in the democratic and popular revolution, was made earlier on the 2nd of October 1983. I was reading the book and was going to write and post a review. However, time was not on my side.

Therefore, I thought that 27 quotes, one for each year since he passed away, was a befitting way to remember Thomas Sankara through his own words and ideas and something, women’s liberation, that concerned him very much while he was still alive.

In a sense, it captures the essence of Thomas Sankara and provides a focus on the man himself, his convictions and his essence without an interpreter or narrator providing their own opinion of what they made or understood of the Upright Man.

Look forward to the review in a few days. In the meantime enjoy these quotes and please share them so that more people become aware of Sankara and what he stood for; his ideas, his quest for the liberation of the oppressed worldwide and women’s liberation.

In his own words, “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”. He would happy that his ideas are still alive and are a source of inspiration to the people he sacrificed his life for – you and me – and humanity.Caption of Thomas Sankara

  1. The weight of age-old traditions in our society has relegated women to the rank of beasts of burden. Women suffer doubly from all the scourges of neocolonial society. First, they experience the same suffering as men. Second they are subjected to additional suffering by men.
  2. Our revolution is in the interests of all the oppressed and all those who are exploited in today’s society. It is therefore in the interests of women, since the basis of their domination by men lies in the system through which society’s political and economic life is organised. By changing the social order that oppresses women, the revolution creates the conditions for their genuine economic emancipation.
  3. The men and women of our society are all victims of imperialist oppression and domination. That is why they wage the same battle.
  4. The liberation and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph. Women hold up the other half of the sky.
  5. A diploma is not a free pass to emancipation.
  6. We must have a correct understanding of the question of women’s emancipation. It is not a mechanical equality between men and women, acquiring habits recognised as male – drinking, smoking and wearing pants. That’s not emancipation. Nor will acquiring diplomas make women equal to men or more emancipated. A diploma is not a free pass to emancipation. Picture of Thomas Sankara
  7. The genuine liberation of women is one that entrusts responsibilities to women, that involves them in productive activity and in different fights the people face. The genuine emancipation of women is one that compels men to give their respect and consideration. Emancipation, like freedom, is not granted, it is conquered. It is for women themselves to put forward their demands and mobilize to win them.
  8. Could it be possible to eliminate the system of exploitation while maintaining the exploitation of women, who make up more than half of our society?
  9. The final goal of this great understanding is to build a free and prosperous society in which women will be equal to men in all spheres.
  10. We should be conscious of the battles that have been waged, the successes that have been achieved, the setbacks that have been suffered, and the difficulties that have been encountered. This will aid us in further preparing and leading future struggles.
  11. It now falls to you to act with the great sense of responsibility in breaking through all the chains and shackles that enslave women in backward societies like ours and to assume your share of the responsibilities in the political fight to build a new society at the service of Africa and at the service of all humanity.
  12. As long as women don’t have a clear appreciation of the just nature of the political battle to be fought and don’t see clearly how to take it forward, we can easily stop making headway and eventually slip backward.Image of Thomas Sankara emblazoned with the quote "I want people to remember me as someone whose life has been useful to humanity".
  13. Education and economic emancipation, if not well understood and channelled in a constructive direction, can be be a source of misfortune for the woman and thus for society as a whole.
  14. Our women should not retreat in face of the so many-sided struggles that lead a woman to take charge of herself fully and proudly, so as to discover the happiness of being herself, not the domesticated female of the male.
  15. We must say again to our sisters that marriage, if it brings society nothing positive and does not bring them happiness, is not indispensable and should be avoided.
  16. As revolutionaries, we should see to it that marriage is a choice that adds something positive, and not some kind of lottery where we know what the ticket costs us, but have no idea what we’ll end up winning. Human feelings are too noble to be subjected to such games.
  17. The revolution cannot triumph without the genuine emancipation of women.
  18. Women, like men, have qualities and weaknesses – which undoubtedly proves they are equal to men. Placing the emphasis deliberately on women’s qualities in no way means we have an idealistic vision of them. We simply aim to single out the qualities and capacities that men and society have always hidden in order to justify their exploitation and subjugation of women.
  19. Though our resources are ridiculously small, our goals are ambitious. The will to go forward and our firm conviction are not sufficient to make our wager succeed. We must marshall our forces – all our forcs, organise them, and channel them toward winning our struggle. Image of Thomas Sankara addressing a rally
  20. We should avoid shirking responsibilities, which has led to a failure to bring all forces into the struggle and to making this pivotal question of women’s emancipation into a marginal one. We must avoid rushing ahead, leaving far behind those, especially the women, who should be on the frontlines.
  21. It’s in the heat of the struggle that important and decisive victories are won.
  22. Conceiving a development project without the participation of women is like using only four fingers when you have ten. It’s an invitation to failure.
  23. It is an obvious fact that wherever women have had access to education, their march to equality has been accelerated. Emerging from the darkness of ignorance allows women to take up and use the tools of knowledge in order to place themselves at the disposal of society.
  24. Living in squalor produces squalid relations. Look at the pigs if you don’t believe me.
  25. For the time being, we have no choice but to recognise that male behaviour – made up of vanity, irresponsibility, arrogance, and violence of all kinds toward women – can in no way result in coordinated action against women’s oppression. What can be said of these attitudes, which can sink to the level of stupidity, and which in reality are nothing but a safety valve for oppressed males, who, through brutalising their wives, hope to regain some of the human dignity denied them by the system of exploitation. This male stupidity is called masichismo. It includes moral and intellectual impoverishment of all types, even (acknowledged or not) physical powerlessness, which often compels politically conscious women to consider it their duty to fight on two fronts. Thomas Sankara
  26. We must pay close attention to the situation of women because it pushes the best of them to talk of a war of the sexes, when what we really have is a war of social groups and of social classes that should simply be waged together, with men and women complementing each other. We have to say frankly that it’s the attitude of men that makes such confusion possible. That in turn paves the way for the bold assertions made by feminism, some of which have not been without value in the fight that men and women are waging against oppression. This fight is one we can and will win – if we understand that we need one another and are complementary, and finally, if we understand that we are condemned to being complementary.
  27. Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence. I hear the roar of women’s silence. I sense the rumble of their storm and feel the fury of their revolt. I await and hope for the fertile eruption of the revolution through which they will transmit the strength and the rigorous justice issued from their oppressed wombs.

Keep your eyes peeled for two book reviews coming within the next few days. The first is Woman’s liberation and the African freedom struggle based on speeches by the late Captain Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara.

The second is I Write What I Like written by the late Steve Bantu Biko. It is a compilation of his speeches, letters, reports, articles and interviews. Don’t miss them. Thanks for reading. Spread the word. Spread the ideas.

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Upright Man: Captain Thomas Sankara


image

Twenty-seven years ago, on October 15, during a staff meeting, a rogue military gang, either led or ordered by Blaise CompaoréThomas Sankara‘s close friend, ally and trusted comrade, assassinated the young Pan Africansist icon and anti-imperialism revolutionary, Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara.

He was was only 37 years old. His untimely murder marked the death of one of Africa’s last anti-imperialist revolutionaries.

His body was chopped, cut up and dismembered in macabre circumstances. He was buried unceremoniously and his ideas, memory and name erased from the public view. However, it remained in the personal memory of Africans worldwide. And this is why I choose to remember this icon to prevent us from forgetting, and keeping Thomas Sankara‘s ideas alive.

Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara is remembered fondly as the hope of Africa. Some compare his charm and political trajectory and the tragedy that robbed Africa of an inspirational leader to Che Guevera.

That does a disservice to him. He was unique. He was the spokesman of the poorest of the poor in Africa and an advocate of women worldwide. There are those who have a less romantic and idealistic perception of him: they depict him as an autocrat who came to power through a coup. They are entitled to their opinions.

Sankara was ahead of his time. It’s a cliché but it’s also a fact. It is undeniable.

However, one thing is unquestionable: his legacy to African political thought and inspirational leadership are unparalleled especially in the present. His popularity, then and now, remains as strong as ever. Once he came to power, he undertook the most ambitious and radical programme for socioeconomic change ever attempted on the African continent, then and now.

image He is remembered for the value he placed on discipline, plus his integrity and selflessness. He implemented radical reforms when he came to power. His ministers drove small cars and travelled economy class. Sankara, himself, rode a bicycle. Chauffeur driven Mercedes Benz and 1st class airline tickets were banned.

He reduced his own salary and that of his own government ministers and public servants. He left nothing in the way of the immediate and radical transformation of society which is a move that upset his opponents and the western powers.

They (France and her allies) feared his ideology of an independent Africa which was not dependent on the West for its survival. It threatened its hegemonic control over Burkina Faso and other west African colonies.

He was an advocate for good governance, sustainability and transparency.

He understood why women are so critical to Africa’s transformation and he implemented bodies and policies that addressed women’s rights long before it was popular.

Decades before Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was calling on African men to be feminists, he had already declared, “We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph.” Thomas Sankara viewed the struggle of Burkina Faso’s women as “part of the worldwide struggle of all women”.

image

Sankara was a preeminent thinker. He was the first African leader to recruit women into the military and appoint them to major cabinet positions. He was a doer not just a talker.

He was not afraid of challenging culture and tradition. He risked the ire of Burkinabè men by banning forced marriages and encouraging women to work outside the home, plus implementing policies to retain girls at school when they fell pregnant.

He put an end on the pressure on women to marry.  He viewed the emancipation of women as central to dismantling the stranglehold of the feudal system on Burkina Faso.

He set a world record, launching a nationwide public health campaign vaccinating 2 1/2 million people in a week. He was an avid environmentalist planting over 10 million trees to arrest the desertification of the Sahel.

To promote local production, Thomas Sankara actively encouraged cotton production and made a decree for public servants to wear a traditional tunic sewn by Burkinabè tailors and woven using local cotton. Western style suits were discouraged. Sankara himself also wore clothes made by local tailors, when he was not in military fatigues, and advertised them at continental and international conferences.

He angered the feudal landlords by taking land from them and redistributing it directly to the peasants. Consequently, wheat production rose in just three years from 1700kg per hectare to 3800, making Burkina Faso self reliant, a feat nations like Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa and other African nations with rich repositories of precious minerals and fossil fuels have failed miserably.

image

Thomas Sankara shunned foreign aid and famously called for aid that helped the aided to become self reliant. He began a rail and road building programme to link up the country’s infrastructure and improve market accessibility.

Instead of foreign aid, he relied on (national building exercises) the commitment and energy of the Burkinabè to lift Burkina Faso out of the economic doldrums.

His political education was simple: “Let us consume only what we ourselves control!” Be self sufficient. Be honest. Live simply. But above all, it was his main goal that resonated beyond Burkina Faso and the African continent: Sankara wanted a fairer, proud, independent Africa that was equipped to tackle its challenges and that is what ultimately cost him his life.

He famously said, “Where is imperialism?” Look at your plates when you eat. These imported grains of rice, corn, and millet – that is imperialism.”

His solution was self reliance through growing what they could consume.

Thomas Sankara was a political statesmen and a political thinker who merged theory with practise in the manner of great philosopher-Kings throughout human history. His dual approach places him in the exalted company of a few. image

What probably sets Sankara aside is his application of Marxist-Lenist ideology to drive structural change in an unequal society characterised by poverty and oppression by a tiny political minority.

His appeal to the majority of modern Africans, unlike the current crop of African leaders, is his undisguised dedication to the welfare and well being of his country and country-people.

Few African leaders today can match his extraordinary zeal to uplift Africa and its citizens. Today’s breed of African leaders come to power and do little or nothing to change the miserable conditions the masses find themselves in.

After independence, the people are left asking: what did we fight for. The only change in the post-independent state is the colour of the oppressor by a tiny wealthy minority.

There are no sweeping policy, structural or socioeconomic changes. There are a few aesthetic changes but the colonial structure and apparatus remain virtually intact and are used to maintain the status quo after independence.

Imperialism and neocolonialism emerge as the true winners and economic apartheid continues unchecked.

There is no need to emphasise that Thomas Sankara was a committed African nationalist. African nationalism is a broad based and flexible mode of thought which encompasses African Marxism, African populism and African socialism.

In addition, African nationalism isn’t a uniform ideology but it takes various forms. Some African nationalists embraced modernisation, capitalism and westernisation.

Then there were the early theorists like Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sékou Touré and others who advocated for a unique blend of African socialism mixed with traditional African values and traditions together with elements of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Captain Thomas Sankara in Harare flanked by the first prime minister of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Zimbabwe's first president Canaan Sodindo Banana.

Captain Thomas Sankara in Harare flanked by the first prime minister of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Zimbabwe’s first president Canaan Sodindo Banana.

However, Thomas Sankara was a class apart from the types described above. He was an African populist like Steve Bantu Biko. They both embraced the tenets of African socialism but their emphasis was on structural change such as the transformation of their countries’ economies, policies and their societies for the benefit of their people.

Apart from their youth and charm, Biko and Sankara were doers, active participants in social transformation, contrary to the older brand of African socialists and nationalists who were theorists and merely played lip service to their political rhetoric.

They both came up with genuine and practical liberation ideologies.

Biko and Sankara, like Amilcar Cabral, believed in the intelligentsia committing class suicide to help uplift the masses because they believed that the gap between the black intelligentsia and the masses was a deterrent to development.

Two of Africa's finest sons and popular leaders: Captain Thomas Sankara and Samoa Machel (president of Mozambique)

Two of Africa’s finest sons and popular leaders: Captain Thomas Sankara and Samora Machel (president of Mozambique)

Thomas Sankara like Biko, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba are African martyrs. They share a common thread that runs through their tragic narratives: they were murdered by agents of the Western powers.

Sankara’s murder eerily echoes that of Lumumba.

Sankara’s untimely death robbed both the Burkinabè and Africa of a young charismatic leader who was chartering a new course. However, he left behind a template of what an African leader can, could, must and should be.

Captain Thomas Sankara with Colonel Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi

Today, there are many committed Sankarists across the African continent, extending, into the Diaspora reinforcing Sankara’s thoughts: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas“.

The appeal of Sankara’s ideas is even stronger today because of the growing divide betweens the haves and have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressed, the western puppets and masses.

Thomas Sankara‘s radical four year rule in the early 1980s transforming Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso (the land of upright men), into a self reliant nation fired the imagination of Africans and Pan Africanists. His ideas not only found currency with the Burkinabè but they resonated elsewhere in Africa and the Diaspora.

Sankara’s ideology of African economic independence, self reliance, freedom from serfdom and slavery, education, literacy, women’s equality, addressing deforestation and wiping out corruption are ideas that are still poignant in the struggle for African liberation and the realisation of the envisioned self.

This is why Thomas Sankara is still as popular and relevant as ever. His ideology, memories and popularity have a longevity which continues to haunt those responsible for his murder. They assassinated him but they didn’t kill his ideas.

Sankara’s Revolution sent seismic shocks throughout the continent threatening the status quo of France’s unchallenged dominance of its ex-colonies in West Africa and the corrupt regimes (neocolonial elite or puppets) acting as gatekeepers of these neocolonialist states.

Thomas Sankara spoke in layman’ terms publicly and at forums such as the OAU (Organisation of African Unity), articulately diagnosing the raping and pillaging of Africa by the neocolonialist powers using proxy wars, Western finance and trade. He pinpointed the pitfalls of aid saying it simply and clearly, “he who feeds you, controls you”.

He also provided the remedy to his diagnosis.

He called for the formation of the Club of Addis Ababa to collectively confront the catastrophes and issues debt was causing in Africa. He reiterated the benefits of a united front of African nations to refuse to pay debt for many reasons such as if Africa paid, it would face a crisis.

He said, “It is our duty to create an Addis Adeba’s unified front against debt. That is the only way to assert that refusing to repay is not an aggressive move on our part, but a fraternal move to speak the truth.”

Best friends, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Captain Thomas Sankara

Best friends, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Captain Thomas Sankara

In addition, he argued that the current governments were not the ones who had run up the debts. It was their (neocolonialist powers) cousins. Therefore, it was not Africans’ responsibility to repay that debt.

Below is an excerpt of his speech against debt at the OAU in Addis Ababa in 1987:

“We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before. They are those who used to manage our states and economies. Colonizers are those who indebted Africa through their brothers and cousins who were the lenders. We had no connections with this debt. Therefore we cannot pay for it. Debt is neo-colonialism, in which colonizers transformed themselves into “technical assistants”.We should better say “technical assassins”.

They present us with financing, with financial backers. As if someone’s back could create development. We have been advised to go to these lenders. We have been proposed with nice financial set-ups. We have been indebted for fifty, sixty years and even more. That means we have been led to compromise our people for fifty years and more.

Under its current form, that is imperialism controlled, debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave, of those who had been treacherous enough to put money in our countries with obligations for us to repay. We are told to repay, but it is not a moral issue. It is not about this so-called honour of repaying or not.”

You can read more at the following link: Thomas Sankara’s  Speech Against Foreign Aid at the OAU.

He was aware about the role of Western aid and equally clear on the role of debt in controlling Africa as he stated: “The root of the disease was political. The treatment could only be political. Of course, we encourage aid that aids us in doing away with aid. But in general, welfare and aid policies have only ended up disorganizing us, subjugating us, and robbing us of a sense of responsibility for our own economic, political, and cultural affairs. We chose to risk new paths to achieve greater well-being.”

Three months after this famous speech at the OAU, the angel of death closed in on Thomas Sankara because of his outspoken and uncompromising stance against neocolonialism and white supremacy.

He had prophesied at the OAU summit that, “If Burkina Faso alone were to refuse to pay the debt, I wouldn’t be at the next conference.”

Unfortunately, he was correct.

He was warned to take action but he refused because he chose to remain true to the ideals and spirit of the revolution.

Consequently, the dogs of imperialism in the Burkinabè leadership and another French puppet, Côte d’Ivoire president Félix Houphoet-Boigny, did the bidding of their masters and Africa’s brightest star was murdered.

image Thomas Sankara‘s  narrative has all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy. It has betrayal, intrigue, friendship, loyalty, a hero, a villain; he is overthrown and murdered at the request of his best friend, ally and trusted comrade.

Most important of all, his case study is a must for those who preach about Black Consciousness and unity. It illustrates the selfless approach and self discipline required to practise what you preach especially if you are dedicated to African advancement and development.

If you want to find a solution to the problems afflicting Africa, Thomas Sankara‘s narrative provides the perfect case study. He is the antithesis to the current crop of neocolonialist puppets.

Africa’s leaders and political parties should borrow several pages out of his book, if not the whole book.

Thomas Sankara‘s character and ideology doesn’t fit in with the dominant narrative propagated in the west for decades. It is impossible to find a less corrupt, selfless or self-serving leader than Thomas Sankara. It is even more impossible to find a leader today with more integrity than Sankara.

He was a man among great men. This is why he is referred to as The Upright Man.

To understand why, watch the documentary about The Upright Man by following the highlighted link or copy and paste the following URL http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=J5USbA701SI#.

22 Comments

October 16, 2014 · 2:36 am