A Pan-Africanist and undisputably one of the greatest African leaders of our time, Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara carved out a reputation dominant in African politics and history for generations to come. Within four years of his presidency, Sankara fulfilled what other leaders cannot do in decades of governance. Sankara’s leadership style is incomparable and uncontestable with the present-day trend of governance in the African continent. Wait a minute! Are we speaking of leaders who travel for virtual summits because of poor internet connectivity?
The military captain took over the mantle of leadership in a bloodless and majorly supported coup in 1983, aged 33 years old. He took rapid steps to refurbish and reform the subservient mindset of the burkinabés to colonialism.
He followed in proximity to democratic and social reforms through women’s empowerment and large scale development. Sankara was sadly killed in a military coup on 15th October 1987. A coup organized and machinated by his best friend, Blaise Compaoré.
Here are 8 reasons why studying the leadership style of Thomas Sankara should be mandatory for African leaders.
1. Reduced drastically on Government’s wasteful spending
Thomas Sankara’s elevation to power wasn’t banked on self aggrandizement. After seizing power, Sankara immediately sold off the government’s fleet of mercedes cars and replaced them with the small and economical Renault 5: The cheapest car in Burkina Faso.
This car was the official vehicle for all government officers and ministers. He took a bold step in reducing the salaries of all public servants, including his own. As a minister, you’ll have to personally drive your vehicle as the use of government chauffeurs were prohibited. 1st class airline tickets for government officials were also forbidden.
Thomas Sankara as president, lowered his salary to a meager $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer.
2. Elevated the status of women in Burkina Faso
Sankara was an antagonist to male domination and misogyny. Actively involved in women’s empowerment, he outlawed the practice of female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy in support of women’s right. Fines and civil punishments were enforced to ensure the protection of women’s right. The burkinabé leader also appointed women to high ranking government positions, motivated them to deliver, recruited them into the military, and implemented a policy which granted young girls pregnancy leave during education.
Sankara was literally a feminist. A revolutionary attuned with feministic principles. He had a women-only presidential guard which travelled with him around the country. He encouraged men to visit the marketplaces while their wives sat at home. This was done for men to experience the diverse conditions faced by women in fulfilling their wifely duties.
3. Shattered any form of personality cult and political hype
This is somewhat a peculiar call. The former president was not a fan of praises and political exaltation. He contradicted the personality cult theory which is a norm similar with African leaders. Sankara declined to have his portrait hung in public places and government offices. His argument was that there were millions of Sankaras out there who also wanted their portraits on walls, but did not hung them. Thomas Sankara adopted a humble lifestyle.
He refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not accessible to anyone but a handful of Burkinabés. Yes! There was once such a political leader.
4. Sankara rebranded and carved out a worthy image for Burkinabés
Sankara renamed the country from the french colonial name Upper Volta to Burkina Faso which means (“Land of Incorruptible People”) and its citizens called Burkinabés (“Upright People”). Being an accomplished guitarist, Sankara composed the nation’s new national anthem. He also converted the army’s provision store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone. The first in the country.
5. Embarked on massive health programs and schemes
Sankara’s passion for developing the health sector is a far cry from present day leaders who would prefer foreign comfort to their local hospitals. He launched a mass vaccination program with the aim of eradicating polio, meningitis, and measles. Within the space of two years, over 2 million Burkinabés were vaccinated. Infant mortality plummeted from 20.8% to 14.5%.
Record says Sankara’s administration was the first to publicly recognize the AIDS epidemic as a major threat to Africa. Interacting with the local level, Sankara called on every village to build a medical dispensary and had pharmacies built in 5,384 out of 7,500 villages. He was an health ambassador!
6. Education was a priority.
Prior to Sankara’s presidency, the country’s illiteracy rate was a staggering 90%. School attendance under Sankara increased from 6% to 22%. The construction of schools were endorsed through government programs.
7. Pushed for the conservation of the environment
Sankara was keen on averting the problems of deforestation. A national agenda was enrolled to plant 10 million trees. This was done to halt the growing desertification of the sahel.
8. An unfaltering opposition towards foreign aid and a crusader for African unity
This was the defining hallmark of this outstanding Pan-Africanist. Sankara placed an ultimate ban on the abysmal trend of foreign aid in Africa. His foreign policies were formulated to penetrate and dissipate any form of imperialism. Additionally, Sankara objected aid from organizations including the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
. “Debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa. It is a reconquest that turns each one of us into a financial slave.”Sankara speaking at an OAU summit, 1987.
The demotivation of the reliance on aid by boosting domestic revenues and diversifying the sources of assistance were the core objectives of Sankara.
He actualized the African dream by improving on food sufficiency. Total cereal production rose by 75% between 1983 and 1986. The railway building program was facilitated without any consideration of foreign aid or help. Over 700km (430 mi) of rail was laid by the Burkinabé people to help ease the burden on manganese extraction. An act which reformed mindsets in believing African countries could be prosperous without foreign aid or assistance.
He delivered powerful speeches in platforms like the Organization Of African Unity opposing neo-colonialist infiltration of Africa through deceitful western trade and finance. In one of his speeches, Sankara said: “He who feeds you controls you”. Foreign aid was a way to keep poor nations under the grip of the colonizer. He rallied excessively submitting reasons on why Africa should be united.
The story of Thomas Sankara is worthy of emulation for any successive president. Corruption was unfashionable during his time as public officials accused were left to defend themselves in court without defense counsels.
Long live the legacy of Sankara!