As the world remembers the life and death of African revolutionary, Thomas Sankara, the future of the traditionally marginalized continent is always briefly brought into discussion.
The truly sad thing is that the focal point of this discussion always assumes that A) Africa is a despotic shithole full of backwards subhumans and B) it is our duty as members of the ‘civilized’ world to direct the affairs of Africa.
Allow me to take a second to fully reject both these premises before giving my own analysis on the situation in Africa. First, I reject the notion that Africa is culturally backwards. Give that there are many regions, diverse cultures, and ethical systems within Africa, this produces more of a water color painting than a solid outline of how to analyze the social status of the continent as a whole. This makes it especially difficult to develop a meaningful consensus on the social justice (or lack thereof) within Africa and still reject a Western-centric analysis. Despite all of this, I can say with clarity that there is an incredible amount of social value present in traditional African culture that is too often marginalized and trivialized by Western intellectuals. Secondly, as it is necessary to recognize the social value intrinsic to African traditional cultures, it is equally necessary to recognize that African communities and peoples should determine their future, not Western intellectuals. If anything, our job as socially conscious westerners is to provide a comparable analysis to our African brethren so that they might make the best decisions for themselves as they find fit in an open and rational process.
Onto the situation in and future of Africa.
The most disgusting attribution from bourgeois psuedo-intellectuals is that Africa “needs more Capitalism” and “more respect for the rule of law”.
What they mean by “more Capitalism” is more external entities exploiting the natural richness of the continent, in return they provide slave wages, criminally stacked trade deals, austerity measures, and “economic development packages”. What they mean by “respect for the rule of law” is respect for the capitalist social order and submission to the propertied classes as the dominating agent in all socio-economic life. Through this interpretation we are able to discern that the goals of these psuedo-intellectuals would have nothing to do with the self-determination of Africa or the well being of its inhabitants; rather, they would use Africa to expand their neo-liberal empire, perpetuate Capital hegemony, and mold Africa into the submissive and complacent proletarian they so desperately want it to be.
I would contest that above all else, Africa needs Africa. Africa desperately needs bold leaders behind a bold people. I quote Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara when I say:
Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.
I hope to see the African people throw off the shackles of neo-colonialism along with the rhetorical garbage from Western psuedo-intellectuals and finally decide the future of Africa outside the framework of Imperialism and Capital hegemony. Only this will truly defeat Capitalism in Africa and only this can ensure a peaceful, free, and vibrant future for all the African peoples.
Some Marxist-Leninists (and albeit orthodox Marxists) will take a harsh stance towards my analysis and claim I myself am petit bourgeois by supposedly leaving the future of Africa to the action of the mercantile classes. Absolutely false. I believe in the power of the masses and of the oppressed and working classes. They will always remain the primary agents in every socialist revolution and movement. The mercantile classes and those African business owners who collude with Western imperialists can only be seen as bourgeois imperialists themselves; as they are as responsible as the foreign neo-colonialists for perpetuating the stratification of their own countries.
It was the Bolivian Communist Party that sold out Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Members from the Nation of Islam murdered Malcom X. Africans aided the sale of African slaves to European slavers. The truth of the matter is that the class struggle has no country and sectarianism can run deep, this must be kept obvious when discussing the future of Africa and its current situation.
The Lesson of Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara was born in the Upper Volta which he later renamed Burkina Faso meaning “the land of upright men”. The former Upper Volta was a “self-governing” member of the French community that despite its title remained not much more than a labor pool used by French enterprises on the Ivory Coast. Sankara, grew up a member of the lower classes, received military education, and rose through the ranks. After witnessing several popular uprisings while stationed in Madagascar he became interested in the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. In 1983 he became President following a coup d’etat initiated by his comrades in the secret Communist circles of the military. He was only 33 when he was declared President.
For many, the story would end with this new leader becoming like the old, despotic, authoritarian, and ruthless. This is not the story of Thomas Sankara.
In a campaign for social justice and economic reform like Africa had never seen, Thomas Sankara set out to change the world.
He took power away from the neo-colonialists and their allies in the African feudal landlords by nationalizing all land and minerals. He redistributed land back to the peasants on an equitable basis, this caused wheat production more than double in three years, making the country food self-sufficient for the first time. He encouraged health and education which lead to nation wide literacy campaign and the building of 350 village health clinics where 2.5 million children were vaccinated against preventable diseases stalking the land. He called on other African nations to repudiate their foreign debt and began the liquidation of Burkina Faso’s own debt. He hammered down on the government bureaucracy by setting up Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, mass party organizations which were armed and acted as a counterbalance to the professional military. In addition, he cut the salaries of all public agents, including his own, and sold off the government’s fleet of Mercedes and replaced them with the cheapest vehicles available.
Thomas Sankara’s administration was also the first government of Africa to publicly recognize the AIDS epidemic and take on the battle for women’s rights. His administration banned female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and polygamy in a nation where women had been socially dominated without reprehension.
The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky. – Thomas Sankara
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Sankara was assassinated by a imperialist faction in his own closest circle which then brought a halt to the Revolution in Burkina Faso and brought back the old feudal relations with a neo-colonialist flavor.
All of this begs the question, what can we learn from Thomas Sankara and what does this mean for Africa and for the world?
What Sankara taught us more than anything is what he cited Che teaching us, a week before his own death:
Che Guevara taught us we could dare to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in our abilities. He instilled in us the conviction that struggle is our only recourse. He, was a citizen of the free world that together we are in the process of building.
Sankara was instrumental in proving to the world that despite all the rhetoric from the ruling classes in the West and in Africa, the struggle of the masses can succeed.
He proved in a country subjugated to foreign colonialism, stratified by feudal property relations, and starved of any freedom for the toiling classes, there is still hope. Change can happen and it can be positive. This hope, no matter how cliche it may be, is the key to unlocking the potential of African revolutionaries and revolutionaries everywhere.
See, the lesson of Thomas Sankara is not one to be owned exclusively by Africans, but by working class peoples and revolutionaries everywhere. We are citizens of the earth, and no matter how horrible the circumstances, how backwards the conditions, the room for Revolution is there as long as we think it is.
Slavoj Zizek often cites that Capitalism is maintained by a hegemony of thought. In the same way that ideological and thoughtful resistance to Capitalism is squashed so is the material resistance. The fact we believe the system is inevitable is in actuality what helps to perpetuate its inevitability
Granted, the internal contradictions of Capitalism and the conditions created by Capital hegemony will always breed discontent; it is still the strong belief in the masses and the success of Revolution, on top of a full rejection of Capitalist social relations that will lead the overthrowing of Capital hegemony and the installment of a free and Socialist paradigm.
Therefore, it can be posited that the future of Africa must also be the future of the world. This references back to the initial point of the article. Why must our discussion of Thomas Sankara be so brief? Why is it that we only remember him for a week or so a year? The lesson he has taught the world resonates every moment of every day with all revolutionaries. The proletariat has no nation. The class war is not restrained to any country or continent. Revolutionaries must begin to put humanity before nationality if we truly seek to liberate ourselves from the pig system and its accompanying state.
The victory of Socialism will not be attained through piecemeal legislation, emotional rhetoric, or dare I say, peaceful resolution. The victory of Socialism, the defeat of Capital hegemony, can only be won through action, through action with a vision. Action by the people, for the liberation of the people. If this is accomplished then the current situation in Africa becomes surmounted and the future of Africa, as well as the world, is finally emancipated.