Phillis Wheatley

Poet, considered a founder of African American literature, was born around 1753, probably among the Fulani peoples living near the Gambia River in West Africa. Her poetry and prose indicate familiarity with animistic ancestor worship, solar worship, Islam, and an African consciousness she brought to North America after she was captured aged 7 or 8, enslaved, and forced aboard the Phillis, a brigantine owned by Timothy Fitch of Medford, Massachusetts and captained by Peter Gwinn of Boston. According to the Slave Voyages Database, she embarked from the Windward Coast of Africa with 95 fellow Africans and was one of 76 who survived the deprivations of the ship’s cramped and squalid conditions and arrived in Boston 245 days later, wearing only a scrap of carpet. On 11 July 1761, she was sold on the block “for a trifle” to John and Susanna Wheatley, prominent Bostonians who named her after the slave ship that brought her to America. Her name was thus a constant reminder of her enslavement and suffering during the Middle Passage.

Seeing Phillis attempt to write, the Wheatleys encouraged her to read and write, first in English, then Latin. At age 12 she published her first poem in a local newspaper, but many Bostonians doubted that a young African woman could craft such reasoned and elegant poetry. She successfully defended her intelligence and literary skills before an inquisition by New England’s finest minds, but still failed to find a local publisher for a collection of her poetry. Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book written by a sub-Saharan African in English, was therefore published by the Countess of Huntingdon in London in 1773. An overnight sensation in Europe, Wheatley was feted as a prodigy by London’s literati. Returning to Boston, she was granted her freedom, and continued to write poetry, including one honoring George Washington. But her fame was fleeting. A proposed second poetry collection was sold off by her husband, John Peters, a pintlesmith who was perhaps born free, and who abandoned her. Wheatley suffered from asthma (a legacy of the Middle Passage) and the death of three children, before dying in poverty and obscurity, aged 31, in 1784.

Phillis Wheatley was an inspiring example to nineteenth-century African American writers such as Ann Plato, Frances E.W. Harper, Jarena Lee, and Alice Dunbar Nelson. In the view of scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., she is the mother of African American letters. She was a polyglot who knew English, Fulani, possibly some Arabic (she was observed soon after her purchase to be making strange, though indecipherable markings on a wall), and Latin. From West Africa to New England to England, she negotiated with considerable success the mixture of white cultures and languages which encircled the Atlantic. She was thus a fine example of what historians such as Ira Berlin, Linda Heywood, and John Thornton have classified as Atlantic Creoles.

RUFINA – Illegally enslaved twice

An African woman illegally enslaved twice, first in Africa and then in Uruguay. Although it cannot be known precisely, it is likely that Rufina was born between 1820 and 1825, and that she gave birth to a daughter, Francisca, when she was between 15 and 20 years of age. After being kidnapped in northern Uruguay and brought to the Brazilian Empire, she succeeded in bringing her case to the provincial president of Rio Grande do Sul, who ruled for her release and her return to Uruguay.

In March 1854, Rufina, a free African Mina woman residing in Passo de Peira (near the Río Negro in Tacuarembó, Uruguay, on the border with Brazil) was kidnapped along with her partner, Matheus, also a free African Mina, and four of their children: Francisca (14 years old), Maria do Pilar and Pantaleão (ages unknown), and a newborn, Brum. Her other two children, Ignácio and Catharina (ages unknown), were with a neighbor at the time of her abduction. Rufina and the others were taken by a group of four men led by Fermiano José de Mello. After walking for a whole night, one of the kidnappers separated from the group, taking Matheus, while the others continued with Rufina and her children.

After three weeks of walking during the night and hiding in the brush during the day, Rufina and her children arrived in Canguçu, where they were delivered to Joaquim da Silva Soares. Two months later, Rufina, Francisca, and Brum were sold to José Laurindo da Costa, while Maria do Pilar and Pantaleão were sold to the city of Piratini.

It is not clear how Rufina managed to reach the police, but somehow while passing through Porto Alegre she caught the attention of the authorities, and she was imprisoned with her two children and her captor, Laurindo José da Costa. The latter was released soon thereafter on the false promise that he would return with his papers of ownership of Rufina. Once Laurindo was gone, Rufina and Francisca told the story of their capture. Rufina explained that she had been a slave of Colonel José Cabral and his wife Francisca, and that she had been freed with the abolition of slavery in Uruguay in 1846.

This would have been the second illegal enslavement of the African Rufina. As Rufina later told the judge, she remembered arriving in Uruguay at a time when slavery was still legal, and it is probable that her arrival in the Americas took place sometime in the early 1830s. As Rufina called herself a Mina, we can believe that she was shipped somewhere off the coast of West Africa, most likely in Lagos (present-day Nigeria), the main exporting port of the region after 1825. This is north of the equator, where the trafficking of slaves had been prohibited since 1815, due to British pressure on Portugal and Spain during the Congress of Vienna.

After 1850, with the prohibition of the Atlantic slave trade to Brazil, bush captains and slave raiders tried to capture and then sell free blacks, including those who resided outside of Brazilian territory. The British were informed by the Uruguayans of a new form of enslavement and human trafficking on the southern border of the Brazilian Empire. Once seized by the police in the province of Rio Grande do Sul, then, Rufina became the subject of intense correspondence between authorities in Uruguay, Brazil, and England.

To prove to the British that the abolition of slavery was being enforced in an exemplary fashion, Brazilian foreign minister Paulino José Soares de Souza (1807–1866) and João Luis Vieira Cansansão de Sinimbu (1810–1906), president of Rio Grande do Sul Province, made every effort to locate Rufina’s two sons and to return them to Uruguay. In 1855 the entire family—with the exception of Matheus, who was never found—was returned home.

The story of Rufina is one of dozens of criminal cases of kidnapping and enslavement of free people that occurred on the Brazilian border with Uruguay in the second half of the nineteenth century, mostly in the 1850s and 1860s. But while Rufina was eventually able to return to her home, her case was an exception. Most captured blacks remained slaves in Brazil. Almost all cases ended with the acquittal of the kidnappers by popular jury, which demonstrates the deep roots of slavery in nineteenth-century Brazilian society.

Source: enslaved.org

Independence Day – Togo

In this day 1960, Togo the former German colony that gained independence from France.

It’s been 60 years since Togo gained its independence from France.

The country, which was severely hit by the slave trade in the 16th century, was once a protectorate of Germany until the Germans were defeated by the French and British military forces after World War I in 1914.

In 1922, the western part of the country was handed to Britain while France was given the eastern area by a mandate from the League of Nations.

The country was primarily divided into the British administrative region and the French administrative region.

Togo at the time had a major problem. Its major tribe, the Ewes were divided by the boundaries of British and French Togoland.

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Before 1918

Then emerged Sylvanus Olympio, a Lome citizen whose main concern was to unite the Ewe people.

The resident of the French area of the country was the leader of the Committee of Togolese Unity after World War II and was elected president of the first territorial assembly in 1946.

A year after, Olympio, who had Togolese and British education, began having issues with the Togoland’s French colonial administration.

With this and his wish to unite Ewes, Olympio joined the Comité de l’Unité (CUT), an association dedicated to Ewe reunification. The association also opposed closer links between Togo and the French Empire.

As president of the Togo Assembly after 1946, and later a deputy to the French Assembly, he appeared a number of times before the United Nations, stressing the need for Ewe unification.

However, his wish to unite the Ewes did not materialize when in 1956, the British Togoland voted by plebiscite to join the Gold Coast which later became independent Ghana.

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In 1956 French Togo received limited autonomy. It subsequently held elections which were won by the Parti Togolaise du Progrès, and Olympio’s rival, Nicholas Grunitzky became prime minister.

But Olympio and the CUT protested the election to the United Nations till another election, this time supervised by the UN, was organized in 1958.

Olympio and his CUT won that election and he became prime minister.

Togo was granted independence on April 27, 1960. A year later, it became a republic with Olympio as its president.

Due to dissatisfaction with some of his policies and pro-French attitude, Olympio was assassinated in a coup on January 13, 1963.

Sources: face2faceafrica.com

 

How Togo came to have its name

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One of the more fascinating ways to look at the small country of Togo is that if Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah had his way, Togo would have been part of the territory formerly known as the Gold Coast.

As Face2FaceAfrica once explained, Nkrumah had always wanted more of Togo, perhaps all of it, to be part of Ghana. This was in line with his dreams of a united Africa.

Indeed, part of what became Ghana was won over through a referendum in 1956 when the people of Western Togoland voted to be part of the British colony. Togoland was the French colony next door to the Gold Coast.

But Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio, Togo’s first president, was an Ewe nationalist. He believed the Ewe ethnic group needed their own nation and thus, never quite overcame the pain of seeing Western Togoland join Ghana.

The Ewe nation is also a fundamentally important factor in the conception of modern Togo.

Archaeological evidence suggests that what counts as primary Ewe identity, that is language and a few other customs, was solidified prior to the 13th century.

The Ewe language itself descended from the Gbe group of languages which also includes the Fon and Aja. This family of languages is spoken largely in west African countries.

17th-century Eweland spread from modern Ghana right up to Benin. Consequently,

Ghana, Togo and Benin are the three countries on the continent that house today’s Ewe people.

European slave trade ambitions in Africa put the Ewe people in the region callously named the Slave Coast. This stretch from the Volta river in the west to bight of the Benin river.

The territory that is today Togo is thought to have been conceptualized, or better still, named around the 15th century. Togo, in the most popular Ewe dialect, comes from to (toh) meaning “river” and godo (gohdoh) which means “on the other side”.

The country thus etymologically translates as “on the other side of the river”. The said river is thought to be Lake Togo, historically a premium water source for the ancients.

Although the country is literally named by the Ewe, Togo does not even have the

biggest population of that ethnic group. That honor falls to Ghana where the Ewe are in the country’s eastern region bordering with Togo.

Olympio’s dream of an Ewe nation may never be realized. But others like Togo’s first president may take pride in the fact that most Ewe have regarded the country as some sort of “spiritual home” since independence in 1960.

 

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TOGO TODAY

Sources: face2faceafrica.com

Slavery memorial – Lisbon 2020

In 2020 a Memorial will be erected in Lisbon in honor of the victims of the slave trade, an initiative of

Djass – Association of Afro-descendants that was one of the winning projects of the 2017/2018 edition of the Participative Budget of Lisbon.

The Memorial will be chosen by voting in public sessions and will take place in December and January in various locations in the Lisbon region.
There are three voting proposals designed by three great contemporary artists:
– Grada Kilomba
– Jaime Lauriano
– Kiluanji Kia Henda.
Check out the project proposed by Grada Kilomba 
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“The Boat” stretches across the memorial platform, like a garden, forming a simple composition of benches that closely mimics a “ship with enslaved people.”
A boat in the “Portuguese” imagination is easily associated with maritime glory and expansion; a narrative that romanticizes the colonial historical past and erases one of the longest and most horrendous chapters of humanity – Slavery.
The dark gray concrete benches contrast with the platform floor, accentuating in the distance the boat’s silhouette, as well as its contents, the bodies. The distance between the concrete benches creates “entrances” and endless paths, almost a maze, inviting the public not only to contemplate “the boat” from the outside, but also to enter it and walk inside it – as if it were a garden of contemplation and memory. The rectangular and uniform shape of the benches reveals them, not only as seats, in which the public is invited to sit to look, think, contemplate, pray, worship and respect; but it also reveals them as an allusion to metaphorical tombs, which give “habitat” to a story of dehumanization, and give a place of rest and recognition to thousands of enslaved people.
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To distinguish the simple benches from metaphorical tombs, the latter will be covered with poems written on its surface, such as: “There is nothing sweeter than a deep truth.” The poems interact directly with the public, who reads them and bows before them. This choreography of contemplation is proper to a memorial, as a space of rituals and ceremonies to a history that has to be remembered and that cannot be forgotten. A story that has to be told and buried with dignity, for only in this way can memory be produced.

Slavery memorial – Lisbon 2020

In 2020 a Memorial will be erected in Lisbon in honor of the victims of the slave trade, an initiative of

Djass – Association of Afro-descendants that was one of the winning projects of the 2017/2018 edition of the Participative Budget of Lisbon.

The Memorial will be chosen by voting in public sessions and will take place in December and January in various locations in the Lisbon region.
There are three voting proposals designed by three great contemporary artists:
– Grada Kilomba
– Jaime Lauriano
– Kiluanji Kia Henda.
Check out the project proposed by Jaime Lauriano 
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Designed as a space to represent Slavery in a broad way, this project to build the Memorial to Tribute to Slave People aims to establish a link between past and present, inviting the public to reflect on colonial violence and its continuity in the current days. Designed as a piece of significant urban presence, the Memorial will at the same time be a place of reverence and mourning; a meeting arena; a spiritual and ritual space.

The memorial design is based on two forms: the triangle and the circle. Taken from iconographic research on religious symbols and struggle, the forms aim to celebrate the history of resistance of the enslaved people and to inspire the new struggles of communities of African descent around the world. Another important element of the Memorial is the speech, which will be translated by writing words – on the inner walls of the Memorial – gathered in rounds of conversation with African descent communities in Portugal.

Therefore, this project stands beside other initiatives that are rethinking the colonial past not only in the light of violence. For if in the tombs people were transported to work in enslavement, they were also transported philosophies, religions and experiences that were not restricted to the borders delineated by the European colonizers. News from Haiti has reached the Americas and examples of rebels have generated uprisings in several countries. In the 21st century, the anti-racist struggles and movements are still connected, with the Memorial could not be different.

 

Slavery memorial Lisbon

In 2020 a Memorial will be erected in Lisbon in honor of the victims of the slave trade, an initiative of
Djass – Association of Afro-descendants that was one of the winning projects of the 2017/2018 edition of the Participative Budget of Lisbon.

The Memorial will be chosen by voting in public sessions and will take place in December and January in various locations in the Lisbon region.
There are three voting proposals designed by three great contemporary artists:
– Grada Kilomba
– Jaime Lauriano
– Kiluanji Kia Henda.
We would like to introduce you the project of Kiluanji Kia Henda.
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Project

Plantation – Prosperity and Nightmare” is intended to address the memory of slavery as the presence of an absence, as we do not believe it is possible to directly and realistically represent such transnational trauma.

We then turn to the raw material, sugar cane, the white gold that was at the origin of the compulsory slave trade.
The project is a representation of a sugar cane plantation consisting of 540 feet of black aluminum sugar cane, each 3 meters high and 8 centimeters in diameter. Between the cane feet there are regular breaks, inviting for walking and reflection. An experience is presented between the sacred, the contemplative, and the everyday banal. As if sugarcane became the image of urban repetition itself. Until a small amphitheater appears in the middle of the plantation, as a meeting point. Maybe a quilombo of runaway slaves. Maybe just a void, a gap of intervals, where something new can come up.
This is expected to be a socializing point for the most varied cultural events, from music to small street shows, from academic dialogues to theatrical readings. The historical link between monoculture and slavery is narrated, in a monument that deals with the relationship between excess wealth and the inhuman exploitation of life. The project aims to build a place of memory, open to reflection. It is sought that in the center of the anguish the avenues of encounter are open, pointing to new creations and new possibilities for coexistence.

Tribute to Fela Kuti

The Phenomenon

Over a decade after his death, vindication has come to Fela Kuti, Africa’s musical genius. AfroBeat, his gift to the world, is now an international staple on his own uncompromising terms, social content intact.

Throughout his life, Fela contended that AfroBeat was a modern form of danceable, African classical music with an urgent message for the planet’s denizens. Created out of a cross-breeding of Funk, Jazz, Salsa and Calypso with Juju, Highlife and African percussive patterns, it was to him a political weapon.

Fela refused to bow to the music industry’s preference for 3-minute tracks, nor did he buckle under entreaties to moderate his overwhelmingly political lyrics. He went down in 1997 still railing against the consumerist gimmicks that taint pop music, with the aim, he felt, of promoting and imposing homogeneous aesthetic standards worldwide, thereby inducing passivity.

The fact that AfroBeat is today globally winning hearts in its original form – lengthy, ably crafted, earthy compositions laced with explicitly political lyrics – suggests that Fela’s purgatory on earth may have served to awaken a sensibility in people to appreciate authenticity and substance.

The Message

Fela’s rise in the early 1970s paralleled the downfall of the hopes Africans pinned on their newly won Independence. As a whole, Africans were again living in incarcerated societies; Nigeria, he said, was a “prison of peoples”. Africa had fallen mostly into the hands of uncaring thieves and scoundrels who were unmindful of wrecking society in order to sustain insolent lifestyles. To reclaim Africa’s stolen dignity became Fela’s obsession.

As many of these new countries turned into terror-drenched, neo-colonial states, Fela summoned his people to return to their senses and principles of old: self-pride, self-reliance, and decency rooted in traditional cultural norms. To achieve these, he prescribed forsaking the corrupting ways of Western society, its capitalist greed, its Communist despotism, the straitjacket moral conventions of Judeo-Christianity and Islam. He saw imperialism, colonialism and racism as scourges to be universally eradicated, and the structures that sustain them dismantled, before humankind could advance.

Fela’s seismic music infused freshness into the reality of rotten politics. In song after song, he summoned revolt, not solely against erstwhile tyrants and exploiters (“Zombie”, “Army Arrangement”, “Coffin for Head of State”) but against self-damaging prejudices and assimilationist alienation (“Yellow Fever”, “Colonial Mentality”, “Teacher, Don’t Teach Me No Nonsense”, “Gentleman”, “Lady”). He chastised the West (“International Thief
Thief”, “Underground System”) and the local elites that fronted for multinationals (“Beasts of No Nation”, “Government of Crooks”).

Ordinary Africans embraced songs such as “Shakara”, “Sorrow Tears and Blood”, “Upside Down” and “Why Black Man Dey Suffer” for accurately mirroring their frustrations. They welcomed the graphic words of “Expensive Shit” or “Who No Know Go Know” as down-to-earth explanations for their lowly condition. More importantly, Fela’s music was a clarion proclamation that it was possible to reverse their lot (“Water No Get Enemy”, “Africa Center of the World”).

Groomed and pampered in youth by a pre-independence middle class but morphed by Black Power and pan-Africanist politics into a revolutionary ghetto hero, Fela voiced relentless condemnation of the so-called New Africa, attracting to himself a deluge of repression. His personal life became a harrowing tale of police beatings, victimization by the court system, near-death encounters with the Nigerian military.

Fela’s casual, uninhibited approach to sexual relations, his affection for nudity, further alarmed the uptight elites. Because of the Judeo-Christian concept of “sin”, he believed, humans were constrained by an “Adam-and-Eve” loathing of their own bodies. Monogamous marriage, individualism and “body-phobia”, he said, were Islamic-Arab or Judeo-Christian importations.

Few aspects of his life caused more affront, and media curiosity, than his marriage to twenty-seven beautiful fellow singers and dancers, aggravated by his impenitent use of marijuana. Though no woman ever claimed to have been coerced into marrying him or remaining at his side, these young, resourceful, intelligent and highly politicized co-wives were considered an insult to “good society”.

Nigeria’s rulers regarded Fela’s “Kalakuta Republic” as a Sodom and Gomorrah to be purged with sulphur and gunfire; this elicited from Fela a response whose trademark extravagance signaled out-and-out defiance. When convenient, he provoked outrage, rode it as if surfing a wave, and used it as political capital.

A life pockmarked by scandal allowed Fela to project himself as indestructibly macho, an image he relished and cultivated. This was as much a manifestation of patriarchal narcissism as an attempt to blunt the fear the Nigerian military’s ferocity had instilled into ordinary citizens.

Fela

 

The Man

Fela was a Promethean spirit, in a constant face-off with Death. In the solace of intimacy, he was jovial, boisterous and loquacious, but he was mercurial – reflective and wistful at times, irascible and distant at others. His father-brother-lover relationship with his wives was overall affectionate, their love and loyalty for him undeniable. But his angry outbursts at errant household members or defaulting band personnel were intimidating.

Anyone who knew him well was aware that he was a nurturing democrat as much as a charismatic autocrat. Intensely loyal to friends and family and a profoundly generous man, he could be quite dogmatic, inconsistent and arbitrary in views and behavior, reigning unfettered as a benevolent King over his Kalakuta commune.

Much of what Fela said may be questionable, but most of what he actually did is not. Intuitive, and shot-from-the-hip, Fela’s ideology was all his own – disjointed and contradictory, but powerful and original. His sincere commitment to the world’s underdogs is indisputable, as was his passionate love for Africa.

Although his uninhibited life-style openly challenged the nuclear/monogamous marriage structure, paving the way for progressive discussions of multiple forms of partnership, Fela’s take on sexual orientation and identity echoed archaic notions. He recognized the need to renegotiate the social pact between the genders and stood up for the rights of prostitutes as “sexual workers” deserving respect and legal protection. But he exhibited much confusion about homosexuality; faced with such issues, he retreated to the safe ground of established patriarchal/heterosexual socialization. So, what is it about this quixotic rebel and libertine that fascinates us?

 

Kuti

Transformative Insubordination

Partly it was his transgressive deviation from conformity; partly, his willingness to pay a heavy price for defending freedom.

Above all, as an artist, he has left us an imperishable music that is indeed classical. His masterly compositions are a sort of people’s dictionary, translating into accessible art the complex ills afflicting society.

AfroBeat is about social, political and cultural literacy. It confronts the geography of world complacency, greed and fear and calls for a trans-formative insubordination.

Source: Fela.net

Check out this documentary about the man: Music is the weapon

 

Sankara & Sankara Oct 15:Assassination of a revolutinary

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Please take your time to watch the video:

When did Thomas Sankara live? Born in 1949, Captain Thomas Sankara took power during the revolution which started on August 4, 1983. With his comrades in arms, he renamed the Upper Volta, a name inherited from the French colonial power, into the Democratic and Popular Republic of Burkina Faso, which means “the land of upright men.” He was later ousted by one of his closest comrades, Blaise Compaore, then murdered on October 15, 1987 along with twelve of his companions.

What is Thomas Sankara known for? Trying to turn his West African country into an agricultural laboratory in order to achieve food self-sufficiency. He was ahead of his time and promoted products made in Burkina Faso. He also attempted to boost local manufacturing and consumption. “The comrade president of Burkina” wanted to improve the health system and the education in a country that was one of the poorest in the world. He lived a modest lifestyle himself. The emancipation of women was also one of his political priorities.

What has Thomas Sankara been criticized for? His links to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, but also for disrupting the established order. In 1985, a conflict even occurred with Mali about the border between the two countries.

Did Thomas Sankara speak out against the powers that be? In a historical speech pronounced in July 1987 at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Sankara denounced the debt owed to the Bretton Woods institutions – World Bank and International Monetary Fund – which according to him were inherited from colonialism.

Almost three decades after his murder, the captain was still seen as a hero by the protesters who brought down the regime of Blaise Compaore in October 2014. Many people consider him an icon for African youths.

A memorial project is underway in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou.

What are some Thomas Sankara quotes?“The origins of debt come from the origins of colonialism. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before. They are those who used to manage our economies. Colonizers are those who indebted Africa through their brothers and cousins who were the lenders. We had no connections with this debt. Therefore we cannot pay for it.”

“I am neither a messiah nor a prophet. I possess no truths. My only ambition is a double aspiration: firstly to be able to speak in a simple language, with evident and clear words, on behalf of my people, the people of Burkina Faso; secondly to manage to also be the voice of the ‘great disinherited people of the world’, those who belong to the world so ironically christened the Third World. And to state, though I may not succeed in making them understood, the reasons for our revolt.”

“We wish to be the heirs of all the revolutions of the world, of all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World.”

Who killed Thomas Sankara?Full light has not been shed on the circumstances and those responsible for his death during the coup of 1987. His widow Mariam Sankara ist still seeking justice. DNA tests were done on the supposed remains of Burkina’s leader, but they were not conclusive. An international arrest warrrant has been issued against the former president Blaise Compaore, now living in exile. There are many calls for France to give access to its archives to see if the former colonial power was involved in the death of the “African Che Guevara.”

Claire-Marie Kostmann, Richard Tiene, Gwendolin Hilse and Philipp Sandner contributed to this package. It is part of DW’s special series “African Roots,” dedicated to African history, a cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

Source: Deutsche Welle.

 

 

Thomas Sankara: The man every revolutionary needs to know

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Take your time to watch this video and know more about Thomas Sankara and even his last minute

ONLY 4 YEARS in power (1983-87).

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (21 December 1949 – 15 October 1987) was a Burkinabé military captain, Marxist revolutionary, pan-Africanist theorist, and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, he is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”

– He vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles in a matter of weeks.
– He initiated a nation-wide literacy campaign, increasing the literacy rate from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987.
– He planted over 10 million trees to prevent desertification
– He built roads and a railway to tie the nation together, without foreign aid
– He appointed females to high governmental positions, encouraged them to work, recruited them into the military, and granted pregnancy leave during education.
– He outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy in support of Women’s rights
– He sold off the government fleet of Mercedes cars and made the Renault 5 (the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time) the official service car of the ministers.
– He reduced the salaries of all public servants, including his own, and forbade the use of government chauffeurs and 1st class airline tickets.
– He redistributed land from the feudal landlords and gave it directly to the peasants. Wheat production rose in three years from 1700 kg per hectare to 3800 kg per hectare, making the country food self-sufficient.
– He opposed foreign aid, saying that “he who feeds you, controls you.”
– He spoke in forums like the Organization of African Unity against continued neo-colonialist penetration of Africa through Western trade and finance. • He called for a united front of African nations to repudiate their foreign debt. He argued that the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay money to the rich and exploiting
– In Ouagadougou, Sankara converted the army’s provisioning store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone (the first supermarket in the country).
– He forced civil servants to pay one month’s salary to public projects.
– He refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes.
– As President, he lowered his salary to $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer.
– A motorcyclist himself, he formed an all-women motorcycle personal guard.
– He required public servants to wear a traditional tunic, woven from Burkinabe cotton and sewn by Burkinabe craftsmen. (The reason being to rely upon local industry and identity rather than foreign industry and identity)
– When asked why he didn’t want his portrait hung in public places, as was the norm for other African leaders, Sankara replied “There are seven million Thomas Sankaras.”
– An accomplished guitarist, he wrote the new national anthem himself

Sankara seized power in a 1983 popularly supported coup at the age of 33, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. He immediately launched one of the most ambitious programmes for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent. To symbolize this new autonomy and rebirth, he renamed the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Man”). His foreign policies were centered on anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalizing all land and mineral wealth, and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritizing education with a nationwide literacy campaign, and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever, and measles. Other components of his national agenda included planting over ten million trees to halt the growing desertification of the Sahel, doubling wheat production by redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents, and establishing an ambitious road and rail construction program to “tie the nation together”. On the localized level Sankara also called on every village to build a medical dispensary and had over 350 communities construct schools with their own labour. Moreover, his commitment to women’s rights led him to outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy, while appointing women to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school even if pregnant.[5]

In order to achieve this radical transformation of society, he increasingly exerted authoritarian control over the nation, eventually banning unions and a free press, which he believed could stand in the way of his plans. To counter his opposition in towns and workplaces around the country, he also tried corrupt officials, “counter-revolutionaries” and “lazy workers” in Popular Revolutionary Tribunals. Additionally, as an admirer of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, Sankara set up Cuban-style Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs).

His revolutionary programs for African self-reliance made him an icon to many of Africa’s poor. Sankara remained popular with most of his country’s impoverished citizens. However his policies alienated and antagonised the vested interests of an array of groups, which included the small but powerful Burkinabé middle class, the tribal leaders whom he stripped of the long-held traditional right to forced labour and tribute payments, and France and its ally the Ivory Coast. As a result, he was overthrown and assassinated in a coup d’état led by Blaise Compaoré on October 15, 1987. A week before his murder, he declared: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”

On October 15, 1987, Sankara was killed by an armed group with twelve other officials in a coup d’état organised by his former colleague Blaise Compaoré. Deterioration in relations with neighbouring countries was one of the reasons given, with Compaoré stating that Sankara jeopardised foreign relations with former colonial power France and neighbouring Ivory Coast. Prince Johnson, a former Liberian warlord allied to Charles Taylor, told Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that it was engineered by Charles Taylor. After the coup and although Sankara was known to be dead, some CDRs mounted an armed resistance to the army for several days.

Sankara’s body was dismembered and he was quickly buried in an unmarked grave, while his widow Mariam and two children fled the nation. Compaoré immediately reversed the nationalizations, overturned nearly all of Sankara’s policies, rejoined the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to bring in “desperately needed” funds to restore the “shattered” economy,[34] and ultimately spurned most of Sankara’s legacy. Compaoré’s dictatorship remained in power for 27 years until overthrown by popular protests in 2014.

A transformational leader

Sankara’s visionary leadership turned his country from a sleepy West African nation with the colonial designation of Upper Volta to a dynamo of progress under the proud name of Burkina Faso (“Land of the Honorable People”). He led one of the most ambitious programs of sweeping reforms ever seen in Africa. It sought to fundamentally reverse the structural social inequities inherited from the French colonial order.

Sankara focused the state’s limited resources on the marginalized majority in the countryside. When most African countries depended on imported food and external assistance for development, Sankara championed local production and the consumption of locally-made goods. He firmly believed that it was possible for the Burkinabè, with hard work and collective social mobilization, to solve their problems: chiefly scarce food and drinking water.

In Sankara’s Burkina, no one was above farm work, or graveling roads–not even the president, government ministers or army officers. Intellectual and civic education were systematically integrated with military training and soldiers were required to work in local community development projects.

Sankara disdained formal pomp and banned any cult of his personality. He could be seen casually walking the streets, jogging or conspicuously slipping into the crowd at a public event. He was a rousing orator who spoke with uncommon candor and clarity and did not hesitate to publicly admit mistakes, chastise comrades or express moral objections to heads of powerful nations, even if it imperiled him. For example, he famously criticized French president François Mitterand during a state dinner for hosting the leader of Apartheid South Africa.

Who was Thomas Sankara?
– A captain in army of Upper Volta, a former French colony in West Africa
– Instrumental in the coup that ousted Col Saye Zerbo as president in 1982
– Took power from Maj Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo in an internal power struggle and became president in August 1983
– Adopted radical left-wing policies and sought to reduce government corruption
– Changed the name of the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “the land of upright men”
– Killed in mysterious circumstances by a group of soldiers in October 1987

 

He is one of the souls for the new revolutionary generation. Thomas incarnates the righteouness and the honesty of a lot of African. He was just direct and did not have any ambiguous obscure language.