Thomas Sankara, former leader of Burkina Faso, was the apparent opposite of everything we are often told that success should look like. Mansions? Cars? Who? What? Get out of here. As Prime Minister and later as President, Sankara rode a bicycle to work before he upgraded, at his Cabinet’s insistence, to a Renault 5 – one of the cheapest cars available in Burkina Faso at the time. He lived in a small brick house and wore only cotton that was produced, weaved and sewn in Burkina Faso.
Going by his lifestyle, Sankara was the antithesis of success, but it is this very distinction that enabled him to become the most successful president Africa has ever seen, in terms of what he accomplished for and with his people. Sankara would not have chopped P-Square’s money given twice a chance – in fact, he might have sat him down and taught him a thing or two about the creeping menace of pop culture patriarchy – because Thomas Sankara, “The Upright Man”, was a feminist. In this and many other ways, Sankara was the African dream come true, the only living proof that hopes of African independence are not dead on arrival.
His life ended with a bullet which, according to the testimony of some involved in his assassination, was ordered by former Liberian president Charles Taylor with the support of the French and American governments, and delivered via Blaise Compaoré – Sankara’s long-time friend and colleague, and the current president of Burkina Faso. Four years prior, when Compaoré and Sankara had jointly staged the popular coup of 1983 that made Sankara president, Burkina Faso was one of the poorest countries in the world. Under Compaoré it still is – so much so that the dire circumstances led to a series of violent protests last year.