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Sankara´s Vision of Self Sustained Development.(By Omme Rahemtullah)
Sankara´s Vision of Self Sustained Development.(By Omme Rahemtullah)
Sankara's Vision of Self Sustained Development.
Thomas Sankara, revolutionary Pan-African president of Burkina Faso from 1983-1987 had a vision for the sustained and dignified progress of his country, the "land of honorable men." During his short period of rule in Burkina Faso, the country saw an unprecedented participation of the populous towards a collective goal of self-sustained development. At the center of Sankara's perspective on the development of Burkina Faso and the African continent as a whole was the question of debt. The debt that African countries 'owe' to developed nations of the world and their lenders is an imperial legacy that perpetuates injustice, inequality and corruption on the continent. In the words of Thomas Sankara himself; "The question of debt is the question of Africa's economic situation. As much as peace, this question is an important condition of our survival…The debt cannot be repaid. If we do not pay, our creditors will not die. We can be sure of that. On the other hand, if we pay, it is we who will die. Of that we can be equally sure."
The accumulation of debt in African countries started in the 1970's, and often arose out of reckless and self-interested lending by developed countries. The cold war allowed for a favorable environment to lend money to newly independent countries in Africa. Banks in developed countries, as a result of the booming oil industry, had huge sums of money, and in an effort to profit on it, were eager to lend it out and collect on the interest. The cold war allowed for alliances that facilitated this lending, where in order to maintain these alliances and support, money was lent out regardless of who was running the country and the ability to repay. In the 1970's and 1980's when the oil industry fell into crisis, interest rates shot up, which meant that the debt of African countries grew. At the same time, as a result of failed development projects and policies brought on by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, such as Structural Adjustment Programs, the commodities produced by African countries (such as cotton and coffee) loss their value on the international market. Thus these countries now had less money to service their debt, but also the accumulated interest from the original loans. Many countries have paid off the original amount of their loans, but are still paying of interest on this amount!
Thomas Sankara realized and spoke out about how this debt was crippling and keeping Africa in the hands of imperial rulers, never allowing it to be truly free. Sankara as a leader was an honest and humble man. His life was the blue print that could bring Burkina out of the grips of neo-colonialism, and untimely was the reason for his assassination. Sankara believed and promoted a development that focused on taking charge of ones own destiny, to count on their own forces, and break free from domination. With Sankara's limited time as president of Burkina Faso he was able to embody this vision into his activities, and into the hearts and minds of Burkinabes. Anyone visiting the country will soon see this in the eyes of the people, the pride with which they carry their country and the hope they see in its future.
What then was Sankara's vision for the development of his nation and of the continent? Self-sufficiency was the key to liberation, as we have discussed, he recognized the burden that debt caused, and thus did not allow for any foreign aid in the country. He went so far as to only allow himself the salary of a Captain, as he was a Captain in the army, and his presidency did not justify a higher salary. As hard as one might try, no foreign bank accounts or stashes of money have ever been linked to Sankara. Even ministers in his government were limited to very modest salaries and per diems, even when traveling abroad. When asked once by a report as to why he did not allowed for foreign aid and charity into the country, Sankara responded; "The unhappiness of the person in your country who finds that the quality of wine is poor is as valid as the sadness of the Burkinabč here that has no water to drink. Elsewhere in the world, the population is unhappy because the government has not created a third or a fourth, or even a twenty-fifth television channel. This is no reason for us to ask you to mark time, to wait for those of us who do not have one. Other countries have their burdens to carry too."
Refusal to repay the debt was also a solution proposed by Sankara to free his people from the strangles of dependence. He called upon a united Africa to stand up to debtors and refused to pay the unjust and unequal debt that has been held over them. Sankara warned his peers at the 1985 OAU meeting that "either we resist collectively and refuse categorically to repay the debt, or we are not able to do this, one by one, isolated, we will suffer death." The inability for a united voice continues to result in a growing debt, and an increased percentage of national GDPs of African courtiers going towards debt repayment, resulting in less national resources going towards its people.
Thought it has been 20 years since the assassination of Sankara by counter revolutionary forces that were in collusion with imperial forces, the legacy and vision for a self-sustained Burkina Faso and Africa live on in the hearts and activism of Africans and other people of good faith. In an effort to keep this legacy alive and to commemorate the life and vision of Thomas Sankara, the Toronto chapter of the Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA) will be holding an event in his honor on Saturday October 13th. The evening will feature a panel focusing on Sankara's vision for the emancipation of women and self-reliant development. The evening will also feature Robin Shuffield's film "Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man", as well as music, poetry and testimonials. Join us on October 13th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at Oakham House (63 Gould St, just north of Church and Dundas). This is a free event. For more information contact admin@grila.org or 416-721-4531 http://www.grila.org .
Omme Rahemtullah
GRILA member
Toronto chapter