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Vol. 74/No. 37      October 4, 2010

Sankara: ‘We are heirs
of the world’s revolutions’
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions. The Spanish edition is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for September. The book contains several speeches by Thomas Sankara, who led the 1983-87 revolution in Burkina Faso. In October 1984 Sankara addressed the United Nations General Assembly. His presentation, which is excerpted here, explains how the peasants and workers of this West African country established a popular revolutionary government and began to fight the hunger, illiteracy, and economic backwardness imposed by imperialist domination. Copyright © 2002 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

We had to take the leadership of the peasant revolts, signs of which were visible in a countryside that is panic-stricken by the advancing desert, exhausted by hunger and thirst, and abandoned. We had to give meaning to the brewing revolt of the idle urban masses, frustrated and weary of seeing limousines driving the elites around, elites that were out of touch, succeeding one another at the helm of state while offering the urban masses nothing but false solutions elaborated and conceived by the minds of others. We had to give an ideological soul to the just struggles of our popular masses as they mobilized against the monster of imperialism. The passing revolt, the simple brushfire, had to be replaced forever with the revolution, the permanent struggle against all forms of domination.

Others have explained before me, and others will explain after me, the extent to which the chasm has widened between the affluent peoples and those who aspire only to eat their fill, quench their thirst, survive, and preserve their dignity. But no one can imagine to what extent “the poor man’s grain” in our countries “has fattened the rich man’s cow”!

In the case of the former Upper Volta, the process was even more striking. We represented a wondrous condensation, the epitome of all the calamities that have ever befallen the so-called developing countries. The example of foreign aid, presented as a panacea and often heralded without rhyme or reason, bears eloquent witness to this fact. Very few countries have been inundated like mine with all kinds of aid. Theoretically, this aid is supposed to work in the interests of our development. In the case of what was formerly Upper Volta, one searches in vain for a sign of anything having to do with development. The men in power, either out of naiveté or class selfishness, could not or would not take control of this influx from abroad, understand its significance, or raise demands in the interests of our people.

In his book, Le Sahel demain [The Sahel of tomorrow], Jacques Giri, with a good deal of common sense, analyzes a table published in 1983 by the Sahel Club, and draws the conclusion that because of its nature and the mechanisms in place, aid to the Sahel helps only with bare survival. Thirty percent of this aid, he stresses, serves simply to keep the Sahel alive. According to Jacques Giri, the only goal of this foreign aid is to continue developing nonproductive sectors, saddling our meager budgets with unbearably heavy expenditures, disorganizing our countryside, widening our balance of trade deficit, and accelerating our indebtedness.

Just a few images to describe the former Upper Volta: 7 million inhabitants, with over 6 million peasants; an infant mortality rate estimated at 180 per 1,000; an average life expectancy limited to 40 years; an illiteracy rate of up to 98 percent, if we define as literate anyone who can read, write, and speak a language; 1 doctor for 50,000 inhabitants; 16 percent of school-age youth attending school; and, finally, a per capita Gross Domestic Product of 53,356 CFA francs, or barely more than 100 U.S. dollars.

The diagnosis was clearly somber. The root of the disease was political. The treatment could only be political. Of course, we encourage aid that aids us in doing away with aid. But in general, welfare and aid policies have only ended up disorganizing us, subjugating us, and robbing us of a sense of responsibility for our own economic, political, and cultural affairs. We chose to risk new paths to achieve greater well-being. We chose to apply new techniques.

We chose to look for forms of organization better suited to our civilization, flatly and definitively rejecting all forms of outside diktats, in order to lay the foundations for achieving a level of dignity equal to our ambitions. Refusing to accept a state of survival, easing the pressures, liberating our countryside from medieval stagnation or even regression, democratizing our society, opening minds to a world of collective responsibility in order to dare to invent the future. Shattering the administrative apparatus, then rebuilding it with a new kind of government employee, immersing our army in the people through productive labor and reminding it constantly that without patriotic political education, a soldier is only a potential criminal. Such is our political program.

On the level of economic management, we’re learning to live modestly, to accept and impose austerity on ourselves in order to be able to carry out ambitious projects… .

To all of you listening to me, allow me to say: I speak not only on behalf of my beloved Burkina Faso, but also on behalf of all those who are in pain somewhere.

I speak on behalf of the millions of human beings who are in ghettos because they have black skin or because they come from different cultures, and who enjoy a status barely above that of an animal.

I suffer on behalf of the Indians who have been massacred, crushed, humiliated, and confined for centuries on reservations in order to prevent them from aspiring to any rights and to prevent them from enriching their culture through joyful union with other cultures, including the culture of the invader.

I cry out on behalf of those thrown out of work by a system that is structurally unjust and periodically unhinged, who are reduced to only glimpsing in life a reflection of the lives of the affluent.  
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