In the land of upright men
Thomas Sankara was murdered when I was just starting school.
It was October 15 of 1987, and I really cannot remember hearing or seeing anything about this on television.
I do remember that a year earlier, everyone sat in front of our black-and-white television set as footage of a plane crash and evidently distressed soldiers went through some wreckage in search of clues as to what could have happened to Samora Machel.
Many people will remember that day. Samora Machel’s murder cut people to the quick, and his death was the cause of one of the two occasions that I saw President Robert Mugabe shedding tears in public; the other was in 1992 while burying the First Lady, Amai Sally Mugabe.
In Southern Africa, we were very close to Machel. He represented the uncompromising and fearless leader that delivered liberation against seemingly insurmountable foes.
That was the history we were taught. But we never really got to read of other luminaries and their ideas: people like Patrice Lumumba and Steve Biko were only mentioned in passing.
People like Thomas Sankara and Amilcar Cabral were total strangers in our grapplings with high school history.
A passing statement by President Mugabe many years later directed me to Sankara, his life, work and death.
To paraphrase, he said something to the effect that Thomas Sankara handed over a single AK-47 rifle – that symbol of revolution – for onward transmission to the fighters of Umkhonto we Sizwe in the ANC as the poor Burkinabe’s contribution to the fight against apartheid.
That was the kind of man he was; someone ready to do any small bit to advance the cause of political, economic and cultural liberation, hence, references to him as “Africa’s Che Guevara”.
Thomas Sankara was a man with a vision, a vision that some called, at the time, the greatest post-colonial Africa had ever seen.
There simply is not enough space here to even give a synopsis of the man’s vision, a vision that is encapsulated in his renaming of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which translates to “Land of Upright/Incorruptible Men”.
But on October 15, 1987, he was murdered.
Blaise Compaoré was involved and has been President of Burkina Faso ever since.
He immediately busied himself with reversing all the good Thomas Sankara had done and imploring the IMF, World Bank and France to quickly come back and rape the land of upright men.
One account presented in a documentary by Silvestro Montanaro for Italian broadcaster RAI, indicates that just before Compaoré fired the first shot, Thomas Sankara gasped: “Blaise, you are my best friend, I call you my brother, and yet you assassinate me?”
To this, the murderer reportedly responded with an irritated hand gesture and a few mumbled words in French and a tightening of the trigger.
These are some of the people who are leading Africa and leading lands of upright men.
I do not know if President Compaoré really did pull the trigger or even if he was indeed involved in the plot to murder Thomas Sankara.
But I have little reason to doubt it. After all, in 2008 he was the only African member of the UN Security Council to side with the US, France, Britain and Italy in trying to pave the way for the military invasion of Zimbabwe.
Looking around the continent, I wonder what Thomas Sankara would have to say about the direction the continent is going.
I wonder how he would feel about Rwanda and Uganda’s actions in regards to the DRC; about the fact that 90 percent of the African Union’s budget comes from the same people who kill Africa’s upright men; about people like General Carter Ham, with Ambassador Christopher Dell in tow, bleating none-sense about how America wants to help Namibia improve its military capacity as if we don’t know what AFRICOM is; about how we entertain poverty in a continent with the world’s highest concentration of mineral wealth while exporting raw materials that make the killers of upright men rich.
I really wonder at our total loss of self-respect, self-worth and dignity.
It is something that Thomas Sankara would surely be concerned about.
His widow, Mariam Sankara, once remarked: “Thomas knew how to show his people that they could become dignified and proud through will power, courage, honesty and work.
What remains above all of my husband is his integrity.”
Is there any integrity left in the land of upright men?