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Thomas Sankara

About 3 years ago during my Youth Service in Nigeria (an obligatory service to the Nigerian government immediately after college education); I met this young man who boasted effortlessly (and described in clear details) on how he was going wreak havoc if he happen to find himself in any political office in the future. I asked him a very simple question: “why?” He answered by saying the following (paraphrased):

“That’s the order of the day bro, everyone in Abuja is sharing the cake, when I get to Abuja, I will take my portion glamorously and disappear”

[The art of cake sharing simply means corruption, stealing public funds; and Abuja is the capital city of Nigeria, jam-packed with politicians where such actions are not uncommon]

I rebuffed his remarks explaining that what he was hoping to do is not only ignoble but irrational and grossly deplorable.

Since his logic was to Xerox political leaders, I might have failed to convince him then (since everyone seems  to be corrupt), however, I hope this letter gets to him.

. . .

Dear young man,

Being addicted to Fela Kuti music, I must say that a large portion of my minuscule knowledge about African history is to be attributed to Fela (and you could of course guess what sort of history that is).

Very unusual of him, in one of the record he released in 1992 (I think), titled Underground System, he praised an African Leader –Thomas Sankara. I had listened to the record when I was in college and I thought “a praise coming from Fela … this dude must be exceptional”.

However I wouldn’t know about the life history of Sankara until few days ago. (Thanks to YouTube!)

One of the best Presidents Africa has ever produced, Thomas Sankara, took over power at the age of 33. It was Upper Volta, a poverty-stricken country in West Africa. A reporter was quoted to have said “The standard of living of the inhabitants was disastrous” at the time. She had achieved her independence in 1960 from the French but until early 80s before Sankara took over, the country remains entrenched in corruption and poverty.

Guided by his standing principles, he renamed the country – Burkina Faso meaning, “the land of the upright man”

Talk they say his cheap, and Sankara was allergic to tawking without actions: one of the first moves was to reduce the salaries of his ministers, starting with his own personal salary (which he reduced to $450). He stripped off all public officials of their luxuries.

He was so passionate about reducing government spending that he suggested at some point that 2 ministers should share a single car! (That cracked the sh** out of me). He sold off all the Mercedes cars and purchased Renault 5 as the official cars for his ministers, which was the cheapest car in Burkina Faso at the time.

He banned first class flight – all officials must fly economy. In fact, Sankara was noted to have said “Whether you are in first class or economy, when the plane lands, you all land together, when it takes off, you all take off together so there is no need to waste taxpayers money, drinking champagne in first class”.

He takes this even to what seems like trivial things: he refused consistently to use the air conditioner in his office because he sees no reason why he should use whatever that is unavailable to his citizens.

His policies are laudable:

“His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritizing education with a nationwide literacy campaign, and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever, and measles”

Even more surprising to me was his role on women liberation – he banned polygamy, female genital mutilation, and forced marriages; encouraged men to cook meals and go shopping for their wives; allowed the enrollment of women into the military; in fact, he is believed to be the first African leader to appoint women as ministers apart from the ministry of women’s affairs. In short, Sankara was a feminist. Again, not the feminist who talk on TVs with big grammars and queens English, he was a very pragmatic feminist, and to put all these in context, this was in the 80s!

On this day in 1987, at the age of 37, Sankara was murdered alongside 12 of his aides in a coup d’état

After his death, all he left behind was a car, 4 bikes, a fridge and a broken freezer.

que son âme repose en paix

Doesn’t all these make so much sense than stealing government money and burying it in the pit?

dressing like a woman to evade arrest?

embezzling government money for the military to defend the people against terrorism?

or having your house invaded by security agents at 1am for alleged corruption (whether gestapo or otherwise)?

My friend, we can do, much, much, better!

                                                                                             Olatomiwa Bifarin

                                                                                             October 15, 2016



  1. Wikipedia, Thomas Sankara
  2. CCTV, Faces of Africa – Sankara’s Ghost.
  3. ZORN Production, Thomas Sankara, l’homme intègre.

PS: I encourage folks, especially African Youths to learn more about Thomas Sankara, we have crap loads of awful leaders in Africa, but also some really good ones to emulate.

You can start from here, or here. You will find these documentary absolutely inspiring!



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