30 years after Thomas Sankara – a Namibian decolonial reflection

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Last Sunday, 15 October 2017, marked 30 years since Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader and former president of Burkina Faso, preceded us into ancestry.

He was killed by his close associate Blaise Compaore, seemingly on instruction of France and Cote d’Ivoire. Compaore met his fate when the young Sankarists jubilantly removed him from power in 2014. He ran to Cote d’Ivoire, with his tail between his legs, where he was granted citizenship.

Sankara was president of Burkina Faso for only four years but his legacy remains unmatched by many politicians who have been in government for close to 30 years and still fighting to stay on. The conclusion many involved in researching Sankara’s historiography were unable to reach is that he was effectively a decolonial revolutionary. Decoloniality is an organising principle used by Afrocentric activists and radical scholars in studying colonialism and coloniality.

Colonialism has to do with the occupation or control by a foreign power of a territory that is supposed to be sovereign. Coloniality goes beyond colonialism, concerning the residue of colonialism – when colonialism has ended, the whiteman gone. Decoloniality then sets out to repudiate, quarantine and liquidate coloniality. Coloniality manifests in three forms: coloniality of power, coloniality of being and coloniality of knowledge.

Sankara was a decolonial revolutionary who gave back the people of Burkina Faso’s subjectivity, knowledge and confidence of self. When he came to power in 1983, he renamed his country from a meaningless colonial name ‘Upper Volta’ to ‘Burkina Faso’, meaning the Land of Upright Men. To repudiate coloniality of power, he told and taught the Burkinabe people to be self-reliant by quadrupling the production levels of several food types, embarking on a radical land reform program that gave land to the masses and abolished renting, and showed the IMF and World Bank the door.

Sankara embarked on a massive awakening campaign, aimed at repudiating coloniality of knowledge and being, that made the Burkinabe to have confidence in themselves, in black people in general, and be their own liberators. Sankara’s decolonial revolutionary programs saw the masses planting 10 million trees, building more than 350 schools in villages and vaccinating 2.5 million (more than the Namibian population) people against meningitis, yellow fever and measles in one week.

He campaigned for the emancipation of women and permitted girls to remain in school even if they were pregnant. Sankara reduced his salary to only N$6,000 per month. In Namibia, this salary may be competing only with the politicians’ monthly entertainment allowance. He never zigzagged or flip-flopped like contemporary African stomach leaders.

Listen to him: “We have to work at decolonizing our mentality and achieving happiness within the limits of sacrifice we should be willing to make. We have to recondition our people to accept themselves as they are, to not be ashamed of their real situation, to be satisfied with it, to glory in it, even.”

Africa today does not have leaders to whom public pride can be directed. While there are few exceptions, none of the current leaders in Africa can match Sankara. In October 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited African leaders, including ours, to India where they were given Indian skirts to wear and display such fashion on a group photo.

Sankara would have opposed such humiliation. In fact, at one of the OAU meetings shortly before he died, he displayed the clothes worn by him and his delegation – all made in Burkina Faso. In September 2017, US President Donald Trump invited African leaders, including ours, to a meeting where he gave them food and thanked them for allowing his friends coming to African countries to get rich. Sankara would have resisted.

To expect any of the current leaders in Africa, those of the liberating generation, to pick up Sankara’s spear is to expect Donald Trump to speak Otjiherero. The spear of Thomas Sankara will be picked up by the third generation of freedom fighters who will fight for economic freedom. It will be the young men and women who are prepared to wear decolonial spears and transform the capitalist state.

Indeed, Sankara will not be made proud by the self-glorifying elite demolishing people’s homes and refusing to give land to the masses of our people. While Namibia appears to be directionless at present, let it be known that the fearless Namibian Sankarists are coming to turn tables; he who was God becomes Dog and who was Dog becomes God. The Sankarists, who will even dare look beyond the viva viva slogans of the ruling party, are under clear orientation from the departed decolonial leader as follows; “it took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.” Sankara is not dead, he lives on as revolutionary decolonial mirror, teacher and guide.

* Job Shipululo Amupanda is a Commissioner for African Diaspora and External Affairs of the African Youth Commission. He is a political science lecturer at the University of Namibia.

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