Remembering Thomas Sankara: 10 Things We Can all Learn from His Life

On this day in 1987 armed men burst into the office of Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina Faso and murdered him and 12 of his aides. Like Lumumba, his death was instigated and supported by Western powers, and like Lumumba he was succeeded by a cruel, clueless and reactionary dictator.

Last year I wrote an article about Sankara and there are many other places where details of his life can be obtained. I think there are valuable lessons that we can learn from this eminent African.

Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara

So today on the 26th anniversary of his death here are a few things all Africans can learn from this extraordinary person.


Sankara was a man ahead of his time, a true visionary. His government planted 10 mil trees to stop the desertification of his country and by doing also recovered land for agricultural purposes. He was going green three decades ago.


Thomas Sankara was a humble man; he stopped the practice of hanging the portraits of national leaders in public places. He said there was no need, as the whole country could be Sankaras. He also didn’t have air conditioning in his office because he said he would not have such luxuries while the poor suffered.


Thomas Sankara’s salary was $450 and he did not have many possessions. After he was deposed the new government, in an effort to discredit him, ransacked his home and all they found were a few things including his car, guitar and motorbikes.

Women’s Rights:

Thomas Sankara was a feminist; he encouraged women to take up leadership roles, outlawed female genital mutilation and banned child marriages. He famously declared that “women hold up half of the sky.” It is shameful to note that after almost three decades there are some people who think women are inferior to men.

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 was a man of action, not an empty rhetorician. He gave Burkina Faso its name- changing it from French Upper Volta to show the country’s total independence and a vision of the future. After condemning and rejecting foreign aid, which he rightly saw as insidious and unhelpful, he gave the peasants land and turned Burkina Faso into a self-sufficient country in 4 years.


Thomas Sankara was healthy; he jogged unguarded each morning in the streets of Ouagadougou. Under Sankara Burkina Faso vaccinated 2.5 million children, infant mortality rates dropped to 145 deaths per 1,000 in less than two years and his government became the first in Africa to acknowledge the dangers of AIDS.


Thomas Sankara was practical, on realising that his country need every cent he banned chauffeur driven cars for government officials, banned them from flying first class and sold the government fleet of Mercedes Benzes and bought them cheap Renaults.

Living a Complete Life:

Thomas Sankara was a well-rounded individual. He was a good musician and actually wrote Burkina Faso’s national anthem, he was a soldier, a leader of his country, a theorist and a great orator.

Utilising the power of youth:

Thomas Sankara died when he was 39. In a short life he had become president, led one of the most vibrant revolutions Africa has ever seen. He utilised his youth and lived life to the fullest- in the process earning himself a lasting place in the annals of African history.


Thomas Sankara encouraged us, as Africans to define our own future, declaring that we must “dare to invent the future.”

You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.

Thomas Sankara was a paragon of virtue and is a lasting example which shows that not all African leaders are corrupt, inept or greedy. He is an inspiration to a new generation of Africans who refuse to associate Africanness with cronyism, greed and empty slogans.

On the 26th anniversary of his death let us learn from him and, in his words, “dare to invent the future!’

*In memory of Captain Noel Isdore Thomas Sankara  (December 21, 1949 – October 15, 1987) a Burkinabe soldier, president and exemplary African*

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