Thomas Sankara and the Burkinabe Women's Liberation Movement

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On August 4, 1983 Captain Thomas Sankara and Captain Blaise Compaore staged a coup in the Republic of Upper Volta. Compaore led his men to take over key parts of Ouagadougou, the capital. Thomas Sankara was released from house arrest that the neo-colonial president Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo of the Republic of Upper Volta had placed him under. This coup is known as the August Revolution. [1] [2] [3] The leaders of the coup, Sankara, Compaore, and other young radical soldiers seized power of the country and appointed Sankara as president for his charismatic leadership and “ability to match action with rhetoric”. [4] Sankara called for a Marxist anti-colonial revolution. His anti-colonial revolutionary program consisted of independence from foreign imports, political reforms to fight corruption, environmental justice, and placed a huge emphasis on a women’s liberation movement. [5]

Thomas Sankara President of Upper Volta

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara was a Burkinabé revolutionary and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. A Marxist and pan-Africanist, he was viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, and is sometimes referred to as "Africa's Che Guevara".

Republic of Upper Volta former country

The Republic of Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, was a landlocked West African country established on December 11, 1958, as a self-governing colony within the French Community. Before attaining autonomy it had been French Upper Volta and part of the French Union. On August 5, 1960, it attained full independence from France.

Ouagadougou City in Centre Region, Burkina Faso

Ouagadougou, also Vagaga, is the capital of Burkina Faso and the administrative, communications, cultural, and economic centre of the nation. It is also the country's largest city, with a population of 2,200,000 in 2015. The city's name is often shortened to Ouaga. The inhabitants are called ouagalais. The spelling of the name Ouagadougou is derived from the French orthography common in former French African colonies.

Background on Burkina Faso

Before Sankara changed the name on the first anniversary of his coup, Burkina Faso was known as the Republic of Upper Volta and before that Upper Volta. Upper Volta was a French colony that remained underdeveloped because it provided a migrant labor force to other nearby French colonies on the coast such as Côte d'Ivoire and Mali. After decades under colonial control, Upper Volta won its independence in 1960 and changed its name to the Republic of Upper Volta. After the French military left, the leaders of the revolution created a bureaucracy that did not involve civilian control. [6] [7] The bureaucracy also welcomed foreign investments from France and other colonial powers, thus making the Republic of Upper Volta a neocolonial state.

Mali republic in West Africa

Mali, officially the Republic of Mali, is a landlocked country in West Africa, a region geologically identified with the West African Craton. Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa, with an area of just over 1,240,000 square kilometres (480,000 sq mi). The population of Mali is 18 million. Its capital is Bamako. The sovereign state of Mali consists of eight regions and its borders on the north reach deep into the middle of the Sahara Desert, while the country's southern part, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Senegal rivers. The country's economy centers on agriculture and mining. Some of Mali's prominent natural resources include gold, being the third largest producer of gold in the African continent, and salt.

The people of the Republic of Upper Volta consisted of many rival ethnicities. Sixty percent of the country was made up of Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, Mande, and Fulani people. Forty percent of the country were Mossi people, most of the revolutionary leaders were Mossi. [8] The Mossi people had a lot of internal conflicts between their traditional leaders which mostly concerned of power and the jurisdiction of their power. Before French colonialism, the Mossi leaders ran the countries through a system of chieftains. The French colonizers saw the Mossi people as being superior to the rest of the ethnicities and worked to form a bond with the Mossi people. After the French colonizers were kicked out, the Mossi leaders maintained their bonds with the French capitalist class and welcomed other foreign capitalists to invest in the Republic of Upper Volta. [9] [10]

Senufo people West African ethnic group

The Senufo people, also known as Siena, Senefo, Sene, Senoufo, Syénambélé, and Bamana, are a West African ethnolinguistic group. They consist of diverse subgroups living in a region spanning the northern Ivory Coast, the southeastern Mali and the western Burkina Faso. One sub-group, the Nafana, is found in north-western Ghana.

The Lobi belong to an ethnic group that originated in what is today Ghana. Starting around 1770, many Lobi peoples migrated into southern Burkina Faso and later into Côte d'Ivoire. The group consists of around 180,000 people. Lobiri is the name of the language spoken by the Lobi people.

Bobo people ethnic group

The Bobo are an ethnic group living primarily in Burkina Faso, with some living north in Mali. Bobo is also a shortened name of the second-largest city in Burkina Faso, Bobo-Dioulasso.

Between winning independence in 1960 and Thomas Sankara’s August Revolution, five coups took place in just over two decades. The coups were done by Mossi leaders against Mossi leaders for a series of power grabs. The focus of the leaders of the Republic of Upper Volta were still on pleasing foreign investors instead of local development and maintaining the civilian’s right to self-determination. The country was split by its ethnic groups but defined by devotion to neo-colonialism. It was not until the sixth regime change (August Revolution) after French occupation that colonial ties were finally severed. [11] [12] [13]

Background on Thomas Sankara

Sankara was born on December 21, 1949 in what is now Burkina Faso. His full name was Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara. His mother’s name was Marguerite Sankara and his father was Sambo Joseph Sankara. His father was a soldier in the French Army who had fought in World War II and detained by the Nazis. Because of his father being in the army, the Sankara family moved often from base to base in France’s West African colonies. Thomas Sankara was radicalized by seeing the stark contrast of the suffering of the majority and the luxury of the minority of people throughout the colonies. Marguerite Sankara was of Fulani ethnicity and Sambo Joseph Sankara was of Mossi ethnicity. This made Thomas Sankara a Silmi-Mossi, half Fulani and half Mossi, which was at the bottom of the hierarchy within the Mossi people. [14] [15] [16]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Thomas Sankara enlisted in the Republic of Upper Volta’s military when he turned 19 years old. He was exposed to popular movements in Madagascar during his officer’s trainings and was taught Marxist-Leninist theory by other soldiers. The Sankara family was devout Catholic and although Thomas Sankara became a Marxist he never lost his Catholic faith. Today, Burkina Faso is 60.5% Muslim and 19% Catholic, at the time that Sankara took power in 1983, Burkina Faso was 90% Muslim. Understanding the importance of the people he wanted to lead into liberation he studied the Qu’ran alongside studying Marxist–Leninist theory. [17] [18] [19] [20]

During the fifth neo-colonial regime change in 1983, Thomas Sankara was a well known charismatic leader with a large following of youth, women, and radical elements of the military. This forced the conservative President Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo to appoint Sankara as Prime Minister to maintain peace with the left. As Prime Minister, Sankara pushed for diplomatic relations with Cuba, Nicaragua, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Palestine, Ghana, Algeria, and Libya, citing their “shared experiences of colonialism”. As Sankara used his new position to form international ties to move the country away from neo-colonialism and towards self-reliance, President Ouédraogo used his power to maintain neo-colonialism and by pleasing foreign investors and Mossi chieftains. [21] [22] On May 17, 1983, just a few months after Sankara’s appointment, Ouédraogo notice his plan to appease the left while moving the country to his direction had backfired. Sankara had used his position to unify the workers, women, youth, and military against the neo-colonial establishment. Ouédraogo responded by sentencing Sankara to house arrest. [23] [24] [25] On August 4, 1983, the people of the Republic of Upper Volta protested Sankara’s release. Later that day Blaise Compaore, Thomas Sankara’s best friend and fellow soldier, seized many key buildings in the capital. Ouédraogo released Sankara and it was later announced that Sankara would be president and architect the Marxist anti-colonial revolution. [26] [27] [28]

Sankara’s Revolutionary Program

Sankara used Marxist theory to understand that the only way to fight colonialism was through relying on the resources of the country and not relying on foreign imports and investments. Sankara still understood that the country could not survive without imports. He broke ties with Côte d'Ivoire, France, and other colonial powers and opted to not create ties with the Soviet Bloc. He instead decided to join the Non-Aligned Movement in an effort to unify the third world and other post-colonial countries. [29] To maintain the country’s direction into a post-colonial socialist state, Sankara focused on three key points. The first was centralizing the government to eradicate corruption and take power away from the traditional Mossi leader and therefore unify all ethnicities. The second was improving environmental conditions through planting trees to avoid desertification, which was part of his agrarian reform initiative. Lastly, the hallmark of his program was a strong women’s liberation movement, which would unify the population in a way that would transcend class and ethnicity. Women also made up over half the population of the country. [30] [31]

Women’s Liberation Movement

Sankara’s focus on a women’s liberation movement is unique to Sankara and Burkina Faso. Sankara was always a big admirer of Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. In Cuba, Castro and Che and the 26th of July Movement understood that the peasants were the revolutionary class through armed struggle and not the Communist Party’s alliance with a coalition of unions as a vanguard party. ‘The Movement’ saw that there had to be a force with credibility in the colonial society that could ally itself with the most oppressed group of people, that was armed struggle through guerrilla warfare tactics and the peasant class. [32] Thomas Sankara saw the radical elements of the military as the societally-credible force and women as the most oppressed group of people. [33] [34] [35] As Sankara saw gender equality as the core of any revolutionary movement in Burkina Faso he followed his rhetoric with action. He appointed women into positions within the government and into the revolutionary army. He created the Ministry of Family Development and the Union of Burkina Women (UFB) and amended the constitution to require that the president have at least five women in their ministry. After the restructuring, several reforms took place. Polygamy and forced marriages were banned, education programs were set up to teach home economics, parenting, and how to stop the spread of AIDS. Sankara was the first African leader to acknowledge the threat of AIDS. [36] Sankara also established International Women’s Day (March 8) as a day to swap gender roles. He also turned the whole week into the Week of the Women to celebrate Burkinabe women. He also forced husbands to give their wives half of their paycheck. [37] His most remarkable achievement towards gender equality was banning female genital cutting and setting up educational programs on why it was banned. [38] This was remarkable for a few of reasons. The first, was that he was able to ban the practice without disrupting relations in the country. Second, it was a power grab, it was a way of asserting the authority of the revolution while taking power away from the country’s traditional leaders, mostly the Mossi people. Third, it was a way to appease the imperialist powers of the world by complying with the United Nation’s standards on gender equality.

Related Research Articles

Burkina Faso country in Africa

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa. It covers an area of around 274,200 square kilometres (105,900 sq mi) and is surrounded by six countries: Mali to the north; Niger to the east; Benin to the southeast; Togo and Ghana to the south; and Ivory Coast to the southwest. The July 2018 population estimate by the United Nations was 19,751,651. Burkina Faso is a francophone country, with French as the official language of government and business. Roughly 40% of the population speaks the Mossi language. Formerly called the Republic of Upper Volta (1958–1984), the country was renamed "Burkina Faso" on 4 August 1984 by then-President Thomas Sankara. Its citizens are known as Burkinabé. Its capital is Ouagadougou.

History of Burkina Faso aspect of history

The history of Burkina Faso includes the history of various kingdoms within the country, such as the Mossi kingdoms, as well as the later French colonisation of the territory and its independence as the Republic of Upper Volta in 1960.

Blaise Compaoré Burkinabé politician, President of Burkina Faso from 1987 to 2014

Blaise Compaoré is a Burkinabé politician who was president of Burkina Faso from 1987 to 2014. He was a top associate of President Thomas Sankara during the 1980s, and in October 1987, he led a coup d'état during which Sankara was killed. Subsequently, he introduced a policy of "rectification", overturning the leftist and Third Worldist policies pursued by Sankara. He won elections in 1991, 1998, 2005, and 2010 in what were considered unfair circumstances. His attempt to amend the constitution to extend his 27-year term caused the 2014 Burkinabé uprising. On 31 October 2014, Compaoré resigned, whereupon he fled to the Ivory Coast.

Jean-Baptiste Philippe Ouédraogo, also referred to by his initials JBO, is a Burkinabé physician and retired military officer who served as President of Upper Volta from 8 November 1982 to 4 August 1983. He has since mediated a few national political disputes and operates a clinic in Somgandé.

Chantal Compaoré former first lady of Burkina Faso

Chantal Compaoré, born Chantal Terrasson de Fougères is the Franco-Ivorian wife of former President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso. Born in the Ivory Coast, after becoming the First Lady in 1987 she spent much of her time on charity work in Burkina Faso. Her husband, who came to power in a bloody 1987 military coup, was overthrown in the 2014 Burkinabé uprising. Chantal Compaoré was subsequently forced to flee to her home country, going into exile together with her husband.

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The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were a system of local revolutionary cells, established in Burkina Faso by the Marxist-Leninist and pan-Africanist leader Thomas Sankara, President of the country from 1983 until his assassination in 1987. Committees were established in each workplace. They were inspired by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Cuba, and functioned as "organs of political and social control."

Pioneers of the Revolution

The Pioneers of the Revolution was a youth organisation in Burkina Faso, modelled along the pattern of the pioneer movements typically operated by communist parties, such as the contemporary Pioneers of Enver, José Martí Pioneer Organisation and Agostinho Neto Pioneer Organisation. The Pioneers of the Revolution organised children of all ages. Much like many other young pioneer movements, such as the Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organisation and the Young Pioneers of China, the most distinct sign of the Pioneers were their red scarves, joined by rudimentary uniforms and yellow berets.

Major Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingani was an officer of Army of the Republic of Upper Volta executed on September 19, 1989 along with Henri Zongo by Blaise Compaoré who accused them of plotting a coup. Lingani was set by Laurent Sédego, Gilbert Diendéré, Hermann Yaméogo, Issa Tiendrébeogo and his cousin Alain Ouilma of national safety department.

Mariam Sankara is the widow of Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina Faso from 4 August 1983 until his assassination on 15 October 1987. During this time she was First Lady of the country. Thomas Sankara, a Marxist and pan-Africanist army officer, became President of what was then known as the Republic of Upper Volta after a military coup in August 1983. He carried out what he proclaimed to be, the "Democratic and Popular Revolution", implementing many radical reforms. Sankara was killed in a coup in October 1987, orchestrated by his former friend and colleague Blaise Compaoré.

Burkina Faso–Libya relations

Burkina Faso–Libya relations refers to the current and historical relationship between State of Libya and the Republic of Burkina Faso. Libya maintains an embassy in the Burkinabé capital of Ouagadougou, and Burkina Faso one in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Tout-à-Coup Jazz was a musical group formed in the Republic of Upper Volta in the 1970s, during the military rule of Colonel General Sangoulé Lamizana. In French, tout à coup is an adverb meaning "suddenly" or "out of the blue". As the name indicates, the band played jazz, and is said to have been relatively popular. The band included Captain Thomas Sankara on guitar and his close friend, Captain Blaise Compaoré, on the microphone.

Burkina Faso–Soviet Union relations

Burkina Faso–Soviet Union relations refers to the historical relationship between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the Republic of Burkina Faso. Relations between the countries were relatively close during some parts of the late Cold War. The Soviet Union maintained an embassy in the Burkinabé capital Ouagadougou, and Burkina Faso maintained an embassy in Moscow.

Karim Sama, more commonly known by his stage name Sams’K Le Jah, is a reggae musician, radio host and political activist from Burkina Faso. He was born in the neighbouring Ivory Coast, before coming to Burkina Faso in 1985. During his teens he was a member of the Pioneers of the Revolution, a youth movement created by Captain Thomas Sankara, a radical left-wing revolutionary who came to power in 1983 military coup. A member of the Rastafari movement as well as a Sankarist, he upholds both Sankara and Haile Selassie.

The 1989 Burkinabé coup d'état attempt was allegedly an attempt at a military coup d'état, planned by Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingani and Henri Zongo, in addition to other unnamed conspirators. The plot, as described by the government of Burkina Faso, targeted President Blaise Compaoré – who, together with Lingani and Zongo, had previously carried out two coups in the country. All known conspirators were quickly executed.

The 1983 Upper Voltan coup d'état attempt was an event which took place on 28 February 1983, in the Republic of Upper Volta, just a few months after a previous coup d'état on 7 November 1982, carried out by radical elements of the army against the regime of Colonel Saye Zerbo, who himself came to power in a 1980 coup against Major General Sangoulé Lamizana. The coup attempt on 28 February, which targeted the Council of Popular Salvation and its leader Major Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo, failed.

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