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Thomas Sankara:How he made Burkina Faso Economically Independent

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A Tanzania Struggles to find the way into economic independence with the current 34% budget dependence on donors,we have quite number of lessons to take from a man who led dramatic changes in His country in his 4 year of reign,he became the president at the age of 33 and His positive social and economical impact was greatly undeniable.This strong lesson being,not how long someone stays in power but rather with what vision and passion does he executes his leadership responsibilities. Thomas Sankara was Burkina Faso’s president from August 1983 until his assassination on October 15, 1987. Perhaps, more than any other African president in living memory, Thomas Sankara, in four years, transformed Burkina Faso from a poor country, dependent on aid, to an economically independent and socially progressive nation. Thomas Sankara began by purging the deeply entrenched bureaucratic and institutional corruption in Burkina Faso.

He slashed the salaries of ministers and sold off the fleet of exotic cars in the president’s convoy, opting instead for the cheapest brand of car available in Burkina Faso, Renault 5. His salary was $450 per month and he refused to use the air conditioning units in his office, saying that he felt guilty doing so, since very few of his country people could afford it. Thomas Sankara would not let his portrait be hung in offices and government institutions in Burkina Faso, because every Burkinabe is a Thomas Sankara, he declared. Sankara changed the name of the country from the colonially imposed Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means land of upright men.

Thomas Sankara’s achievements are numerous and can only be summarized briefly ; within the first year of his leadership, Sankara embarked on an unprecedented mass vaccination program that saw 2.5 million Burkinabe children vaccinated. From an alarming 280 deaths for every 1,000 births, infant mortality was immediately slashed to below 145 deaths per 1,000 live births. Sankara preached self-reliance, he banned the importation of several items into Burkina Faso, and encouraged the growth of the local industry. It was not long before Burkinabes were wearing 100% cotton sourced, woven and tailored in Burkina Faso. From being a net importer of food, Thomas Sankara began to aggressively promote agriculture in Burkina Faso, telling his country people to quit eating imported rice and grain from Europe, said, “let us consume what we ourselves control,” he emphasized. In less than 4 years, Burkina Faso became self-sufficient in foods production through the redistribution of lands from the hands of corrupt chiefs and land owners to local farmers, and through massive irrigation and fertilizer distribution programs.

Thomas Sankara utilized various policies and government assistance to encourage Burkinabes to get education. In less than two years as a president, school attendance jumped from about 10% to a little below 25%, thus overturning the 90% illiteracy rate he met upon assumption of office. Living way ahead of his time, within 12 months of his leadership, Sankara vigorously pursued a reforestation program that saw over 10 million trees planted around the country in order to push back the encroachment of the Sahara Desert. Uncommon at the time he lived, Sankara stressed women empowerment and campaigned for the dignity of women in a traditional patriarchal society. He also employed women in several government positions and declared a day of solidarity with housewives by mandating their husbands to take on their roles for 24 hours. A personal fitness enthusiast, Sankara encouraged Burkinabes to be fitted and was regularly seen jogging unaccompanied on the streets of Ouagadougou ; his waistline remained the same throughout his tenure as president.

In 1987, during a meeting of African leaders under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity, Thomas Sankara tried to convince his peers to turn their backs on the debt owed western nations. According to him, “debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa. It is a reconquest that turns each one of us into a financial slave.” He would not request for, nor accept aid from the west, noting that “…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.” Thomas Sankara was a pan-Africanist who spoke out against apartheid, telling French President Jacques Chirac, during his visit to Burkina Faso, that it was wrong for him to support the apartheid government and that he must be ready to bear the consequences of his actions. Sankara’s policies and his unapologetic anti-imperialist stand made him an enemy of France, Burkina Faso’s former colonial master. He spoke truth to power fearlessly and paid with his life. Upon his assassination, his most valuable possessions were a car, a refrigerator, three guitars, motorcycles, a broken down freezer and about $400 in cash.

As we are aspiring for changes in AFrica,we need more of selfless leaders like Thomas Sankara.

God Bless Africa.

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