By Sheku Sheriff….
In 1987, Blaise Compaoré, the current President of Burkina Faso came to power in what is now widely regarded as one of the most unpopular military coups in the history of Africa. On the fateful day of October 15 1987, the young Pan-Africanist revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso, Capt. Thomas Sankara, who had for four years ruled the country once called Upper Volta, which he had renamed Burkina Faso, was executed in mysterious circumstances. His childhood friend and co-revolutionary Blaise Comparé succeeded him in what many now describe as one of the most heinous political betrayals to ever occur on the African continent. Thomas Sankara was a revolutionary, a theorist, a poet and a soldier.
The young Sankara in those days was like a bright lamp in a dark room. An African leader in the 80s who believed that true African development would not come from a reliance on loans and hand-outs from institutions like the IMF or the World Bank, but by the African people growing more self-reliant and taking control of their own destiny. In one of his most famous quotes, Thomas Sankara told the people of his country that, “he who feeds you, controls you.” Throughout his short life and rule, he vigorously pursued policies of self-reliance and a lifestyle of simplicity.
In an era when African leaders were only too happy to dance to the tune of the Western powers and post colonialists, Sankara was calling for Africa’s inclusion in decision making at the top hierarchy of major international organizations like the United Nations. Advocating for such inclusion Sankara said, “Let there be an end to the arrogance of the big powers that miss no opportunity to put the rights of the people in question. Africa’s absence from the club of those who have the right to veto is unjust and should be ended.”
No where was Sankara more ahead of his time than in the pursuit of women’s rights. In a continent characterized by male dominance in almost every aspect of public life, Sankara believed that true African progress could not be achieved in the absence of women taking their rightful roles among their male counterparts. To put this in context, here was a young man in West Africa advocating gender equity in an era when it was still believed that the role of the woman was in the kitchen. In some areas of West Africa today, women are still not allowed to eat at the same table as men let alone become public leaders. In advocating for gender equity in those day Sankara told his compatriots, ” Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half their people are held in silence. I hear the roar of women’s silence. I sense the rumble of their storm and feel the fury of their revolt.” Captain Sankara can be described as Africa’s first true male Feminist.
Unfortunately, Like Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela and Murtala Mohamed before him, the world powers in those days were not interested in African leaders who posed a threat to their neo-colonial theoretical constructs of capitalism and socialism. Sankara was seen as a danger to established interests and portrayed as an unstable mad man. Sankara once replied that for him to bring about the changes to his society that he envisioned, some degree of madness was needed.
I was still in secondary school in my hometown of Segbwema when Capt. Thomas Sankara was executed. In those days we used to listen religiously to Focus on Africa on BBC as it was the only major source of African news. I can still feel the sadness that overwhelmed us in school the day that we heard that our young hero had died.
Sankara had decided to live by his teachings. He had taken a salary of only $450.00 and he had he and his ministers driving around Ouagadougou in cheap Renault cars. Unfortunately, some of his compatriots did not buy into his revolutionary fervour and saw him as an unrealistic tyrant who wanted to diminish their lifestyle. They therefore worked to get rid of him and replace him with his best friend Blaise Compaoré.
From 1987 to the present day, Blaise Compaoré has clung on to power like a canoe man clings to his paddle. When the wave of multiparty politics hit the African continent he took off his military fatigues and became a civilian president. He has consistently manipulated elections in his favour and treated the opposition like flies on the wall. In one of the poorest countries in the world, Compaoré supports his lifestyle by engaging in the trade of arms to rebel factions and is even rumoured to be involved in the drug trade. He lavishes the military with gifts and ensures loyalty by appointing only his most trusted lieutenant to top positions. He was the main arms trader to rebels in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In the late 80s, when world financial institutions started to peg international aid to democratic reforms, many leaders in cash strapped African countries rushed to draw up constitutions that imposed term limits on their leadership. This was seen as a move meant to portray that they were serious about democracy and to silence their critics who said that these old leaders just wanted to cling on to power forever. Unfortunately for people like Compaoré, time does not stand still. Compaoré presided over the crafting of a constitution that gave him a two consecutive 5 year term limit. At the time, ten years would have seemed to be too far away to really care. In the mind, ten years is a long time.
In Africa, time moves slowly, but it moves. Even though it took another ten years, Compaoré’s two terms are up. Instead of getting ready to retire what does he do? He has convinced his parliament of close colleagues to start working on changes to the country’s constitution that would allow him to run for another term. However, it seems as if the people of Burkina Faso have finally had enough of this tyrant who was instrumental in starting the civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. Even the examples of Gadhaffi’s,his ex-comrade, Lauren Gbagbo his next door neighbour and Charles Taylor his one-time ally were not enough to convince this power hungry dimwit that sometimes retirement is an attractive option.
The people of Burkina Faso have decided that they have finally had enough. To show just how serious they were, they set fire yesterday to the country’s parliament were lawmakers were gathered to debate extending Compaoré’s rule. They also reportedly set fire to the houses of some parliamentarians. The military which is full of Compaoré’s allies have imposed a state of emergency and dissolved parliament, but Compaoré still announced that he would be in charge of a one year transitional government with promises that he would not seek re-election. Unfortunately many do not believe him and this morning protestors have once again descended on the streets of the capital Ouagadougou.
Many political watchers in Sierra Leone will be observing developments in Burkina Faso with very keen interest. Before the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, there was moves being made clandestinely by country’s President Ernest Bai Koroma to change the country’s constitution and allow himself unlimited rule. In a bid to promote the concept, the President’s minions had been on radio waves and started to already print T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “After U nar U.” Other Sierra Leoneans who were angry at moves by the President to once again introduce political instability in a country that has been through such a terrible civil war started printing counter t-shirts with the label “After Gbagbo nar U,” in reference to the Ivorian leader who made an identical move and is now languishing in The Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity. Those printing the counter t-shirts were promptly arrested and detained for threatening public safety while those wearing t-shirts calling for the President to continue in defiance of the constitution were allowed to parade the streets of the country unchallenged.
As Sierra Leoneans continue to watch the unfolding turmoil in Burkina Faso, many are wondering if a page in the future history of their country is being written. The country’s President is starting to look like a man whose love for power seems to grow day by day, as he continues to surround himself with people who only say what he wants to hear. Sierra Leoneans who believe that any change to the constitution that will allow the President another term, will start the reintroduction of the one party rule that damaged the country will also be watching and planning accordingly. Many are watching the transformation of a smiley face congenial leader into a smiley faced tin can despot.
After Ebola the future security of Sierra Leone will depend on the next move by President Ernest Koroma and his bunch of political allies. We hope he will learn from the many examples unfolding in his neighbourhood and do what is right for the country. He has many capable young people in the APC party who can succeed him. Let him give them a Chance.