The Fred Hampton of Burkina Faso.
On August 4, 1983, socialist revolutionary Thomas Sankara became president of Burkina Faso at the age of 33. He only lasted 4 years, because he was killed in a military coup, suspected to have had support from the US and France.
Sankara gained the love of his people because of his humble lifestyle, socialist programmes and economic prosperity, but also his confrontation with the national elite, as he stripped power away from them, and for challenging Western imperialism and neo-colonialism in the continent.
In those 4 short years he:
• Lowered his salary to $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, 4 bikes, 3 guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer.
• Sold off the government fleet of Mercedes cars and made the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso the official service car of the ministers.
• Vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles in a matter of weeks.
• Initiated a nation-wide literacy campaign, increasing the literacy rate from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987.
• Redistributed land from the feudal landlords and gave it directly to the peasants.
• Planted over 10 million trees to retain soil and halt the growing desertification of the Sahel.
• Built roads and a railway to tie the nation together.
• Appointed women to senior positions, encouraged them to work and granted pregnancy leave during education.
• Opposed foreign aid, saying that “he who feeds you, controls you.”
• Called for a united front of African nations to repudiate their foreign debt, arguing the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay money to the rich and exploiting.
• Converted the army’s provisioning store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone (the first supermarket in the country).
• Refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes.
Sankara: “Our revolution draws on the totality of man’s experiences since the first breath of humanity. We wish to be the heirs of all the revolutions of the world, of all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World.”