An Incomplete Triump

“Don’t shoot, you cannot kill ideas!”

Surrendering Cuban revolutionary, after the failed attack against the Moncada garrison, Cuba.

Within hours of Thomas Sankara’s assassination, the French government sent messages of congratulations to the coup leadership. But the job was not as yet done and within hours of his assassination they begin destroying Sankara’s economic and political legacies. Sankara’s family is harassed, their homes raided and personal belongings removed. His papers and documents disappear from state archives and government offices. State television and radio stations were ordered to change programming and begin dragging his name through mud, broadcasting stories about his corruption, and spreading rumors of his siphoning off money from the state exchequer to enrich himself and his family. His social and public works programs are immediately halted, if not reversed. His companions and colleagues are jailed if not killed. His personal history and political ideas are re-written and re-cast, as history itself is employed to remove his presence from the minds and consciousness of the country’s people. Soon, all official evidence of Thomas Sankara, his political imagination, and his social programs are removed. The people who attempt to resist this erasure, they too are silenced: media is repressed, journalists are fired or killed, public discussions and political gatherings outlawed, student groups broken up, activists jailed and in some instances, killed outright. [Harsh, 2014a]

The nation is stunned into submission, still in shock at the realisation of what has happened. There had been discontent with Sankara’s close knit circle of associated and officials, but no one had expected such a brutal turn of events. A young, intelligent, confident and charismatic leader, someone who was determined to break the chains of colonial economic arrangements that had impoverished his people, had been gunned down and erased with surprising ease. All was but lost. The silence of the international community, the inaction of regional Africa states, and the promises of support for the new regime arriving from leaders around the world, the coup seemed to have succeeded.

But the attempts at erasing Thomas Sankara’s legacy will fail. Each generation of Burkinabé will pass on Sankara’s imagination, hopes and ideals to the next. The people will read him, speak him, write him into prose, poems, film and art, sing songs about him, study him, and absorb his social and political spirit. And each generation will wait, and prepare, for the moment when what was so brutally lost will once again be claimed. And that moment came, some twenty-seven years later, when the people rose up, and toppled the dictatorship of Blaise Campoaré – the man who murdered Thomas Sankara, and thought that he was strong enough to murder his spirit too.

Post Image: At the Chez Françoise – In front of a mural of Norbert Zongo (left) and Thomas Sankara (right) the former residence of President Blaise Campaoré’s brother, which was ransacked shortly after the events of November 30, 2014. Now accessible to the public, it has become architectural evidence of the crimes and brutality of the regime. A group of young men have grabbed a monopoly as guides, and take visitors on a short tour of the house regaling them with tales of sorcery, sadomasochism, torture, lavish consumption and depravity that took place within its walls. Guides: (from left to right), Nikiema, Delma, Maxim and Baga.