Africa’s Martin Luther- I have a dream
Every time we read books concerning Africa, pessimism reigns supreme, corruption, underdevelopment, malnutrition, disease, these the words most frequently used. Nevertheless more than twenty years ago Africa had the possibility to change its destiny thanks to one man, a revolutionary, the African Ghe Guevara, Thomas Sankara. The slogan of the no global movement “another world is possible” is based on the revolutionary experience of Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987.
France from 1919 used the Alto Volta (today Burkina Faso) as a strategic territory in order to control the other colonies nearby. It was the only possible use of a country lacking in raw materials. In 1960 it obtained independence and Alto Volta was plundered by the ruling class that had taken the power which grew under the french. Before 1983 Burkina Faso was one of the poorest countries in the world, without raw materials, one doctor to every 50.000 inhabitants, an infant mortality of 107 for every thousands, a rate of schooling of 2%, a life expectancy of life 44 years old.
Thomas Sankara, the son of a soldier, at 34 years old took the power “in order to give Africa back to the africans”. In four years he changed his country first of all renaming Alto Volta Burkina Faso meaning “country of the integral ones”. In Africa corruption was and is one of the main impediments to a real development, for example the defunct dictator of Zaire, Mobuto, had a personal patrimony deposited abroad of eight billion dollars. In 2004 the country’s foreign debt was thirteen billion dollars. Thomas Sankara drastically reduced expenses of the state apparatus which upto that point absorbed 70% of the budget ; those suspected of corruption were fired. The blue cars were abolished, Sankara arrived at ministerial meeting by bicycle. “We cannot be the rich ruling class of a poor country” he loved to repeat. The foreign heads of state visiting Burkina Faso, were not received in the presidential palaces but in the poor villages of the country.
One of the targets of Sankara was to give dignity once again the neglected to the peasants. In order to do this he adopted unpopular political measures such as increasing the prices of agricultural products and introducing customs duties, his mission was to achieve the alimentary self-sufficient. The “intentional colonial pact” wanted by European countries still today renders many african states enslaved to the market. The Europeans imposed on their own colonies to cultivate what they needed. Chad produces cotton, Rwanda tea, Senegal peanuts. The monocultivation has put in a position of submission these countries. Every year the price of the agricultural products comes down on the international market therefore the African countries are forced to import food in order to survive becoming indebted. Sankara wanted to escape from this cycle and he succeeded in this.
During the years ’85- ’86 the Burkina Faso achieved alimentary self-sufficiency, the production of cereals touched record levels, the GNP grew by 4.6% per annum. Sankara understood the importance of infrastructure and began the construction of the main railways of the country. February of 2004, Ethiopia had a tremendous alimentary crisis. Hundreds of thousands of tons of maize spoiled in the silos because there was not the infrastructure to allow distribution to the population and they died. These were the injustices which Sankara opposed and therefore refused international aid. “With the annual wage of a FAO employer we can build a school in Burkina Faso”.
The international community was not in agreement with Sankara’s policies because he did not want to open the market to foreign companies and he entered “war” with the International Monetary Fund. In 1983 the foreign debt of Burkina Faso amounted to 398 million dollars (40% of GNP). “The debt in its actual form is the colonial reconquest, the debt cannot be repaid, that which the IMF has asked, we have already done” . Sankara put into effect the reorganization of the public accounts not following the IMF advice that is cutting social welfare state leaving military expenses unchanged.
In the revolutionary program of Sankara the women played an important and somewhat atypical role for an African country. In 1985 he launched the campaign against genital mutilation , he introduced divorce which could be requested by the woman without the consent of her husband, feminine participation in the political life achieved unhoped levels. Sankara’s sister, Odile Sankara, has continued the work of her brother on themes regarding women, having founded the association “talents de femmes” in order to promote feminine excellence in writing and in the arts. We have met Odile, actress of the theatre and cinema, in Ancona. “Burkina Faso does not have natural resources but we are rich culturally, we are made up of ethnic groups that can cohabit and are carriers of cultural values. The objective of the association is to show the woman artist, to render her an accepted figure and to value the handcrafted artistic production of women”.
On 15 th October 1987 the revolutionary experience was interrupted. Thomas Sankara was killed in an organized ambush by his companion Blaise Compaoré, the President of Burkina Faso. Today Burkina Faso has returned to being “a normal” country. Spreading corruption, expenses of the State have returned to previous levels of growth, as has the national debt. Blaise Compaoré has followed exactly dictates of Washington, he has opened the market to international GMO food companies which other countries such as Zambia has refused to do while the population in Burkina Faso continues to suffer. What thing did not work with Sankara’s policies ? We have asked Carlo Batà, author of the italian version of the book on Sankara “He tried to change things too fast and has underrated the forces that were against him (above all those who had the power in rural areas and the city bourgeoisie). Informed of the attempt of coup d’état het answered that in Burkina Faso there were seven million Sankaras”. Jean Ziegler, special rapporteur on the Right to Food author of the book “empire of shame” who knew Thomas Sankara, asserts that it is only an issue of time.
Sankara is still a very strong figure in the collective African imagination , he was the first protester against globalisation and today the changes dreamed by him are indeed possible. The Latin American countries are showing marks of a radical change of direction, in Africa there are charismatic antiglobalisation figures such as Aminata Traoré so the dream of Sankara could not be so far away.