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Vol. 73/No. 47      December 7, 2009

Sankara: For a united
front against the debt
(feature article)
Printed below is an excerpt from Thomas Sankara Speaks. The French edition is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for November. Sankara was the leader of a deep-going popular revolution in the West African nation Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. In speeches and interviews he charts a course that placed the political mobilization and organization of workers and peasants as a prerequisite to effectively combat the hunger, illiteracy, and economic backwardness imposed on Africa by centuries of colonial and capitalist rule. The piece below is from a speech presented at an Organization of African Unity conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 29, 1987. Sankara calls for a united front against paying the massive debts owed to the giant banks in the imperialist centers. Copyright © 1988 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The debt in its present form is a cleverly organized reconquest of Africa under which our growth and development are regulated by stages and norms totally alien to us. It is a reconquest that turns each of us into a financial slave—or just plain slave—of those who had the opportunity, the craftiness, the deceitfulness to invest funds in our countries that we are obliged to repay. Some tell us to pay the debt. This is not a moral question. Paying or not paying is not a question of so-called honor at all.

Mr. President:

We listened to and applauded the prime minister of Norway when she spoke right here. She said, and she’s a European, that the debt as a whole cannot be repaid. I just want to develop her remarks further by saying that none of the debt can be repaid. The debt cannot be repaid, first of all, because, if we don’t pay, the lenders won’t die. Of that you can be sure. On the other hand, if we do pay, we are the ones who will die. Of that you can be equally sure. Those who led us into debt were gambling, as if they were in a casino. As long as they were winning, there was no problem. Now that they’re losing their bets, they demand repayment. There is talk of a crisis. No, Mr. President. They gambled. They lost. Those are the rules of the game. Life goes on. [Applause]

We cannot repay the debt because we have nothing to pay it with. We cannot repay the debt because it’s not our responsibility. We cannot repay the debt because, on the contrary, the others owe us something that the greatest riches can never repay—a debt of blood. It is our blood that was shed.

People talk of the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt the economy of Europe.1 But they don’t mention the African Plan, which enabled Europe to face Hitler’s hordes at a time when their economies were under siege, their stability threatened. Who saved Europe? It was Africa. There is very little talk about that. There is so little talk that we can’t become accomplices ourselves of this ungrateful silence. If others can’t sing our praise, we have the duty, at the very least, to point out that our fathers were courageous and that our veteran fighters saved Europe and ultimately allowed the world to rid itself of Nazism.

The debt is also the product of confrontations. When people talk to us today about economic crisis, they forget to mention that the crisis didn’t appear overnight. It has been with us for a long time, and it will deepen more and more as the popular masses become increasingly aware of their rights in face of the exploiters. There is a crisis today because the masses refuse to allow wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a few individuals.

There is a crisis because a few individuals hold colossal sums of money in foreign banks—enough to develop Africa. There is a crisis because in face of these individual fortunes, whose owners we can name, the popular masses refuse to live in ghettos and slums. There is a crisis because people everywhere refuse to stay in Soweto when Johannesburg is directly opposite them. That is, there is struggle, and the deepening of this struggle leads to worries among the holders of financial power.

They ask us today to collaborate in the search for stability. Stability to the benefit of the holders of financial power. Stability to the detriment of the popular masses. No, we can’t be accomplices in this. No, we can’t go along with those who suck the blood of our peoples and who live off the sweat of our peoples. We can’t go along with their murderous ventures.

Mr. President:

We hear talk of clubs—the Club of Rome, the Club of Paris, the Club of Everywhere. We hear talk of the Group of Five, of Seven, of the Group of Ten, perhaps the Group of One Hundred. Who knows what else? It’s normal that we too have our own club, our own group. Starting today, let’s make Addis Ababa a similar seat, the center from which will come a breath of fresh air, the Club of Addis Ababa. We have the duty to create the united front of Addis Ababa against the debt. This is the only way we can say today that, by refusing to pay, we’re not setting out on a course of war but, on the contrary, a fraternal course of explaining the facts as they are.

What’s more, the popular masses of Europe are not opposed to the popular masses of Africa. Those who want to exploit Africa are the same ones as those who exploit Europe. We have a common enemy. Our Club of Addis Ababa must tell both sides that the debt cannot be paid. When we say the debt cannot be paid we are in no way against morality, dignity, or respect for one’s word. It’s our view that we don’t have the same morals as the other side. The rich and the poor don’t share the same morals. The Bible and the Koran can’t serve in the same way those who exploit the people and those who are exploited. There will have to be two editions of the Bible and two editions of the Koran. [Applause]  
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