Here’s Why Thomas Sankara Was Right—And He Was Killed For It | The African Exponent.
Colonial oppression in Africa did not end with the attainment of political independence. Rather, direct colonial domination on African peoples by the colonialist bourgeoisie of Europe and the United States metamorphosed into another form of subtle but vicious form of subjugation—neocolonialism.
In that sense, it is abundantly incontrovertible that decolonization in Africa suffered a stillbirth. It was a process that stopped midway. And because of these, the majority of Africans grapple with their full humanization; Africa remains dehumanized. Decolonization stands as the only potent and cogent avenue for the holistic emancipation of African peoples, not only in Africa but across the globe.
Why African elite nationalist parties and politicians aborted post-colonial decolonization
Instead of leading a truly transformational political, economic, social, and cultural revolution for genuine African liberation, the leaders of [elite] nationalist parties simply filled the vacuous political and economic positions left by the former colonizers without changing any of the colonial and Eurocentric institutions as well as modes of [exploitative and repressive] production and social relations set up by the colonialist bourgeoisie.
They acquiesced to the dictates of monopoly private capital (as dictated by the much-vaunted free enterprise of arbitrary global markets), much to the detriment of the immense black majority populations across the whole continent. It was safer for them to protect their newfound middle-class interests than strive for the equality of the masses.
They sought compromise by protecting their interests and those of the colonizers, negating the process of decolonization for the emergence of a new consciousness; the new African woman and man.
Political independence for these nationalist leaders was not so much about the fundamental and wholesome overhaul of the exploitative, oppressive, and dehumanizing capitalist base and superstructure—it was merely their avenue for their self-enrichment at the expense of the masses they claimed to fight for.
Failure to decolonize: Neocolonialism and dehumanization of Africans
Post-colonial Africa has been ravaged by the excesses of imperial neocolonialism, and the overwhelming majority of the continent’s leaders slavishly remain fettered to the hegemonic dictates of foreign powers. The oppressor never disappeared; the oppressor simply slid into the background and started making orders from that perspective.
Colonial powers still call the shots in Africa today, imposing their [egotistic, selfish, individualistic, and oppressive] worldview on the immense majority of the African masses with political and economic solutions that are not attuned to Africa’s contexts. If anything, the yawning inequality in Africa (where poverty and hunger are obstinate facts of our present concrete material realities) is antithetical to the vision of independence and sovereignty that was spiritedly fought for.
Africa’s elite nationalists embody the politics of envy and violence for self-aggrandizement. Freedom, as perceived by elite nationalists, does not entail the true liberation and emancipation of the masses for they envy the wealth and luxuries of the colonizer. They simply want to assume the position of the colonizer—including the brutal domination and dehumanization of the immense black majority that sustain this status quo.
Decolonization, love, and trust in the people: A new humanity for ending oppression
But for Thomas Sankara, the late iconoclastic revolutionary who was the Burkinabe president from 1983 to 1987, a radical approach gesturing towards true love of the world and people presented the only avenue for the full liberation and humanization of African peoples, and all oppressed peoples of the world.
Western hegemony maintained, and still maintains, its stranglehold over Africa through an ideology of oppression devoid of love and empathy—an ideology presented as benevolent when in fact it perpetuates oppression and dehumanization where only an elite few loot all the wealth while the majority wallow in poverty.
Foreign aid is one example. It is an act of false generosity in which the underlying causes of poverty are not fundamentally addressed and overhauled; because the idea is to keep profits flowing to the global and local elite. Foreign aid represents dehumanization of the people for they are not engaged in the process of critiquing their history and present material conditions.
[False generosity] is an act of egregious and abhorrent violence. Humanization is not a singular possession or deserved right for the elite oppressors; it is the birthright of all peoples of the world.
All this is done through the help of African presidents and their bourgeois ministers who have internalized the image of their former colonial oppressor. They have become the oppressor of the African masses, and the neocolonial powers remain the oppressors of African leaders and their people. The goal is to never change the system of exploitation and domination but to keep it intact. This explains the perennial intervention of European and American powers in the affairs of [nominally sovereign] African states. And of late, the global East has joined this [neocolonial] race too.
These ideologies of domination do not have the people at heart and they impede the crucial and indispensable revolutionary exercise of decolonization. Decolonization represents the first portent of true independence for the African masses. Even the oppressor is dehumanized because to maintain their material possessions and riches, they must be violent and dominant—which is the antithesis of humanization.
Without decolonization—which is always an ugly but thoroughly liberating phenomenon—the consciousness of Africans will continue to gravitate towards devastating inferiority complexes: they simply do not believe that they hold the power to change their material conditions and will continue to turn to the global North and East for solutions. This is an act of dehumanization.
Thomas Sankara—The true embodiment of decolonization and revolutionary love
Thomas Sankara understood that liberation—embodying the whole process of decolonization—originates from the admission that the oppressed have internalized the oppressor. Therefore the first step is to remove the oppressor living inside the oppressed. Critical reflection which leads to practical action comes into vogue.
This is exemplified by his unwavering stance against corruption: we should not envy the luxuries of the colonizer for these do not represent love of the world and people, but domination, violence, and death. Sankara understood that the duty of the revolutionary leader is not to impose the ideologies of the oppressor on the oppressed masses, but to engage mutually and dialogically with the people and fight alongside them, from a point of trust, hope, reflection, and action.
Sankara understood that the people must take charge of their own history (the past, present, and future) by engaging in the movement/process of critical inquiry, meaning that the masses must be involved in their decision-making—the ultimate expression of love and the will to change.
He understood that false generosity (embodied in the inhumane and brutal structural adjustment programs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) of the colonial powers is not altruistic, but a well-calculated ruse for the perpetual domination of African peoples in which the African looting class is unrelenting in its inhuman self-enrichment.
Hence he consistently denounced foreign aid. Because foreign aid is neocolonial violence and domination. And this is why Thomas Sankara was right. His strong advocacy for the genuine, emancipatory, and wholesome liberation of women was founded on this premise—decolonization involves everyone and must do away with the structures of domination imposed by white supremacist, imperialist, bourgeois, and patriarchal domination of the colonizer (which effectively is the hegemonic global order).
His drive for improving the literacy and critical consciousness by building many schools in Burkina Faso, coupled with the construction of several clinics and the implementation of nationalization programs bear testimony to the fact that the oppressed masses must be involved in the task of their empowerment and full humanization. Sankara’s policies came from a place of love.
Why we should emulate Thomas Sankara
Sankara refused the colonialist and capitalist worldview of material acquisition (possessive consciousness) which views human beings as things/objects; he strove for a new humanity in which human beings are subjects seeking the continuous liberation of all peoples of the world.
The dominator model underpinning our political, economic, and social structures and relations will continue to dehumanize people and must be replaced with a critical education that enlightens people towards critical reflection and practical action. In essence, love is the cure towards decolonization and ending oppression.
It was Che Guevara who remarked, “Let me say, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality.” This is what vindicates Thomas Sankara’s place in history as one of Africa’s unparalleled revolutionary leaders.
Sankara remains an immortal example of decolonization in Africa. His words, critical reflections, and practical actions—the philosophy of praxis—should serve as the inspiration for Africans that true liberation is still possible. It is not rosy, but a violent phenomenon in which the oppressed will also liberate the oppressor.