In 1983, Thomas Sankara seized power of the country Upper Volta, a self-governing French colony. It was a popularly supported coup that resulted in Sankara becoming president at the age of 33. He immediately launched the most ambitious program for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent. To symbolize this new autonomy and rebirth, he renamed the country to Burkina Faso which means “the land of upright people” in Moore and Dioula. He also created a new country flag and wrote the national anthem. Because of his revolutionary programs for African self- reliance that were defiant alternatives to the neo-liberal development strategies imposed by the West, he is often referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”.
His policies were oriented towards fighting corruption, reforestation, averting famine, and making education and health a real priority. Also his presidency allowed for women to serve important roles in the government. Improving women’s status was one of Sankara’s explicit goals and was unprecedented in West Africa. His government banned female circumcision, condemned polygamy, and promoted contraception what is very common practices in the region. The Burkinabe government was the first African government to claim that AIDS was a major threat for Africa.
Sankara was overthrown and assassinated in a coup d’etat led by the French-backed Blaise Compaore on October 15, 1987. I spoke to several locals who experienced the Sankara’s administrative reform. They all told me that he was a true hero and made many improvements in his four years as president. They felt he could have made Burkina Faso a much better nation if he was still alive.