EARLIER THIS month, the people of Burkina Faso celebrated the anniversary of the August 4 Revolution that brought Captain Thomas Sankara into power. Given recent developments in the country – the ouster of long-ruling president, Blaise Compaore – and subsequent attempts at destabilising the transition government, the occasion was marked with great reflection.
The memory of Sankara is not only for the Burkinabe to hold. As a committed pan-African, Sankara’s contributions towards the shaping of African consciousness are not only enormous, but they have also stood the test of time. From renaming Upper Volta to Burkina Faso – Land of the Upright People – to challenging practices of post-colonial States in relation to the colonising presence, Sankara set a solid and futuristic framework for thinking about governance and development. And, he was not just about the talk!
“We must make every effort to see that our actions live up to our words and be vigilant with regards to our social behaviour so as not to lay ourselves open to attack by counter-revolutionaries lying in wait. If we always keep in mind that the interests of the masses take precedence over our personal interests, then we will avoid going off course,” once thundered Sankara.
It is a creed upon which he lived, before he led Burkina Faso, during his presidency, all the way until his death. In fact, at the time of his death, Sankara was poorer than when he had assumed office – and he was not a rich man to begin with! Yet, such was his devotion to his people and to the goals of the Revolution – dignity for the Burkinabe and flushing out French imperialism.
The assassination of Captain Thomas Sankara was ordered because this leader took his country’s independence seriously. In doing so, he prevented some unscrupulous individuals in government with an insatiable appetite for public theft from plundering public resources. He also restricted the involvement of imperial agents in dictating the development path.
Instead, within a space of four years, this man achieved for his country what some thieves and frauds masquerading as heads of state and modern-day messiahs can only but achieve in their wildest dreams, coloured or not.
Sankara devised socio-economic programmes that encouraged self-sufficiency, effectively giving the so-called experts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank fresh lessons on how Africa had the potential to succeed on its own, provided there was the political will to act in the interest of the people.
To appreciate the potency of this action, you have to watch public servants – from presidents right down to junior staffers – receive instructions from their former colonisers and other imperial powers. It is a sorry sight in which national agency is outsourced to people who are after their own interests, not those of the mass of the population. This tragedy quickly degenerates into farce as the interests of citizens are set aside, nay, forgotten in pursuit of acceptance and praise from those who do care about poor, marginalised and dispossessed Africans.
In this space, leaders care more about ratings from the IMF, World Bank and other oppressive institutions to whom majority populations are just statistics on a spreadsheet, not human beings. The same leaders are happy to cut ribbons that open gateways of suffering to the masses. They embrace food policies authored in colonial capitals and expose the masses to vulnerabilities – of disease and starvation. In the very same space, you hear of development but you never see it or feel it. Only those who are actively working against the people seem to be the ones destined to enjoy the fruits of such development.
It should not be so.
A week before Captain Sankara was killed by an assassin’s bullet in a coup d’etat he famously remarked: “while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.
The pursuit of integrity has to be accompanied by the process of thinking, of forming ideas, openly debating them and coming up with what is best for the country first, before anything else. You simply cannot create lasting legacies without sound ideas. For a country that is serious about its position and standing in the rest of the world, ideas become the bedrock upon which it is built.
Is the idea of integrity central to Malawi’s hopes, dreams and aspirations? Do we even know what these are? If we do, what do they look like? How are we going to attain them? Yes, it is a struggle, but one worth pursuing. The struggle is also against our weaknesses, the kind of weaknesses that have brought us to this place of poverty, shame and indignity as Malawians.
We can no longer afford to continue as if nothing can be done about our sorry state. If we are to succeed, however, we will not only have to stand tall but we will have to choose to be men and women of integrity.
It is possible!