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One of the most valid reasons why Africa is where it is today is because it is utterly lacking the kind of visionary, courageous, upstanding, and tenacious leaders that are capable of meeting the increasingly complex challenges the continent has been contending with while also serving as a symbol of inspiration to their people. Most leaders who run the continent today are a bunch of opportunists who merely wanted power by all means, got it, and deployed it for their selfish aims and objectives.
Africa is currently lagging behind globally because she cannot boast of leaders in the mold of the famous Thomas Sankara of blessed memory from Burkina Faso. Dubbed the ‘Che Guevara of Africa’, Sankara is one of the most significant leaders that Africa has produced. He was a leader who championed the call for self-determination and the need for Africa’s dignity and respect to be put on the front burner of global conversations. Revered and highly respected for his charismatic and captivating speeches, his evergreen legacy of amicableness coupled with his fierce anti-imperialism rhetoric was enough to give rise to ‘Sankarism’ in contemporary Burkina Faso. The big question is, how many leaders in Africa care about ideology today? The answer is painful but relatively self-evident.
The truth is, if Africans and their current leaders truly want to get it, adopting ideologies that are similar to that of Sankara is indeed the way to go.
The famous Sankara was a military officer, anti-imperialist, and revolutionary who clearly understood the stakes and where Africa’s position ought to be among the comity of nations. As an unflinching opposer to neo-colonialism, he made deliberate efforts to mentally liberate his people from the shackles that colonialism left on them. During his short stint as leader of Burkina Faso, Sankara expressed his opposition to what could be aptly described as non-African ideologies through his teaching and the intentional implementation of his national policies.
Unlike what is painfully obtainable today, Sankara orchestrated policies at the national level in Burinka Faso that promoted true independence backed by self-sufficiency for Burinia Faso citizens. His foreign policy drive was phenomenal because rather than the beggarly disposition assumed by most African nations today, he suggested foreign policies that went all out to discourage imperialism wicked capitalism, and neo-colonialism in every sense of it. His dream for African unity was clearly displayed in his love for Africanism and pan-Africanist ideals, which were targeted at ensuring the joint prosperity of African countries.
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Sankara was a man who understood the place of Africa and was very determined to challenge the status quo that has kept the continent on her knees. For Sankara, his vision for Africa didn’t stop at flowery, inspiring, and conscious preachings. He walked the talk by adopting a method of getting things done first by working to change the mindset of his people by equipping them with the right set of ideas and going all out to educate them on the need for internal growth and development. Although his life was cut short, his ideas worked like magic, and his iconic achievements speak volumes about the kind of man he was and how he affected his country positively. Should African leaders resolve to go back to the drawing board and redirect their educational thrust, the continent will witness a giant leap in development in a matter of years.
There are many ideas and lessons from Sankara that African leaders can inculcate into their viewpoints that will make defining differences in the lives of their people. One of these notable ideas was how Sankara made intentional efforts to purge the institutional and bureaucratic corruption that was already deeply entrenched in Burkina Faso. As the leader of the country, he understood the need to live by example, as well as how public funds should be utilised for the benefit of the common man. As head of state, he slashed the salaries of ministers and sold off the fleet of exotic cars in the convoy of the President. Contrary to the culture of waste, which is prevalent in the continent today, he opted instead for the cheapest kinds of car available in the country, which at that point in time was the Renault 5. He slashed his salary to $450 per month and even refused to allow air conditioning units to be installed in his office, because, according to him, doing so would have made him feel guilty since only a few of his people could afford it. The famous Sankara was a man that did not even let his portrait be hung in offices and government institutions in Burkina Faso because going by his viewpoint, every Burkinabe is a Thomas Sankara and none should get preferential treatment. In all truthfulness, there is no African leader of today who holds these views, and this can provide some insight into how African nations can start getting it right.
Sankara loved his country so much and provided new dimensions to patriotic zeal. He was the man who changed the name of the country he so cherished from the colonially imposed Upper Volta to the Burkina Faso which it bears today, which means land of upright men.
His idea was that Africa should be treated with respect and he was very willing to give everything in defense of that respect. At a point, he was said to have once had a conversation with young people where he discouraged them from ‘wearing brands like Levi’s or shirts from universities in foreign lands, e.g., Harvard because they were not contributing anything to the nation. This was what pushed him to make sure that all public servants working in the country were compelled to only wear clothes from cotton obtained in Burkina Faso. To achieve self-sufficiency and consolidate the gains of competitive advantages, he was a strong advocate of inter-continental trade among African nations.
He had a powerful desire that African countries should make intentional efforts to contribute to each other’s economy to help the continent do away with the overdependence on colonisers for resources. He understood that the West was strongly capitalist and was only in business with Africa to rip Africans off.
Through the Addis Ababa club, he strongly preached that African countries should adopt policies that could help them achieve sustainable economic growth. He was of the firm view that African countries should take advantage of the resources that they have at their disposal and use the labour force available in their countries to productively exploit their resources. He advocated that African governments should not be found wanting in promoting the ideology of Africans investing in domestic projects and resources just like he did in Burkina Faso.
Sankara is everything African leaders should be if they are truly desirous of lifting their people and improving their living standards. Sankara made breakthroughs in every sector of human endeavour in Burkina Faso. In the healthcare sector, for example, the bold polio and meningitis vaccination program, which was carried out by Sankara, was one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in Africa to date! This was a program that saw no fewer than 2.5 million Burkinabe people getting vaccinated every week. It is regrettably sad that today, that magnitude of efficiency is no longer existent in African healthcare.
In the area of environmental policies, Sankara discouraged desertification in his country by carrying out an afforestation campaign he tagged ‘One Village, One Grove’, which he used to encourage every town in Burkina Faso to celebrate social occasions and events by planting trees, starting with the capital city of Ouagadougou. This well-orchestrated afforestation plan saw Burkina Faso planting over 10 million trees in just about 4 years. Till today, the beauty and landscape of Burkina Faso still bear testimony to Sankara’s ingenuity.
Indeed, African leaders have a lot to learn from the innovative and commendable policies that Sankara stood for and even died for. The only reason he is still regarded as a legend in the country four decades after his assassination is because of his leadership traits. Sankara was an incorruptible man who stood by his values. He made it a mission to prevent corruption by singling out all government officials who were corrupt and ensuring that they faced the law. He stood by his morals even in the face of death.
It is sad that today, Africa can no longer boast of leaders who are ready to stand for the right thing and fight corruption. In fact, the greatest source of corruption in the continent today is the government. African leaders can only break the cycle of corruption and poverty that exists in Africa by copying Sankara by taking the sacrifice to stand up for what is right without fear of what the consequences could be.
The kind of leadership principles exhibited by Sankara set him apart as a flagbearer of the future that Africa must work towards, and African leaders must copy. He had a vision for an Africa that was bold, free, unfettered, and proud, and he proclaimed this vision without minding what the West thought of him. He was known for ending all his speeches with the words, ‘Homeland or death, we will triumph!’ Sankara was the man that openly challenged both French hegemony in West Africa as well as the unchallenged power of his fellow military leaders whom he rightly labelled as ‘criminals in power’.
In conclusion, the time is ripe for Africans to understand that the tools and strength desperately needed for the transformation of the continent do not reside with the World Bank and IMF policies, or from the aid and assistance which it has made itself a slave to China, India, the United States or Europe for. The truth remains that the strength to transform Africa lies in the foundations laid by uncommon heroes like Thomas Sankara; a man who showed Africa and in fact the world in vivid images that with a single-minded pursuit of purpose, the worst can be made the best, and in record time, too. Going forward, Africans must start seeking that kind of leadership, the sort that would eradicate incompetence and mediocrity, which will almost immediately create a virtuous circle fostering excellence and efficiency for the benefit of Africans who have been confined to the lowest echelons of life for too long.