Thomas Sankara : Unapologetic Human Rights defender

Talk about Thomas Sankara by using appropriate words is not an easy task especially because he had a way with words that was close to perfection. In the very short life that he had, he symbolized the hope of millions of Africans in a hurry to be done of the feeling of constant suffocation caused by colonialism. Lumumba had Mobutu, Sankara will have Compaoré. The tricks use by the oppressor live on but the will of emancipation of the oppressed people persist. Thomas Sankara by facing the colonial power knew that he would die. But it was not the most important for him. The most important for him was to be part of a movement having roots in every places where the people are oppressed. From the US ghettos to the Brazil favelas, to the outcast in India the problem are the same. The writings and thoughts of Thomas Sankara are a constant reminder that problem of the others are ours and that we have a duty of solidarity. The speech pronounced by Thomas Sankara on October 4th 1984 at the general assembly of United Nations and the one pronounced on July 29th 1987 at the 25th conference of the Organization of African Unity are the perfect reflection of this mindset. I propose you the reading of these legendaries speeched not enough entered in the public culture.

Thomas Sankara’s Speech at the United Nations : October 4th 1984 (excerpt)

“I speak on behalf of the millions of human beings … thrown out of work by a system that is structurally unjust and periodically unhinged, who are reduced to only glimpsing in life a reflection of the lives of the affluent. I speak on behalf of women the world over, who suffer from a male-imposed system of exploitation. … Women who struggle and who proclaim with us that the slave who is not able to take charge of his own revolt deserves no pity for his lot. This harbors illusions in the dubious generosity of a master pretending to set him free. Freedom can be won only through struggle, and we call on all our sisters of all races to go on the offensive to conquer their rights.

I speak on behalf of the mothers of our destitute countries who watch their children die of malaria or diarrhea, unaware that simple means to save them exist. The science of the multinationals does not offer them these means, preferring to invest in cosmetics laboratories and plastic surgery to satisfy the whims of a few women or men whose smart appearance is threatened by too many calories in their overly rich meals, the regularity of which would make you—or rather us from the Sahel—dizzy. We have decided to adopt and popularize these simple means, recommended by the WHO and UNICEF.

I speak, too, on behalf of the child. The child of a poor man who is hungry and who furtively eyes the accumulation of abundance in a store for the rich. The store protected by a thick plate glass window. The window protected by impregnable shutters. The shutters guarded by a policeman with a helmet, gloves, and armed with a billy club. The policeman posted there by the father of another child, who will come and serve himself—or rather be served—because he offers guarantees of representing the capitalistic norms of the system, which he corresponds to.

I speak on behalf of artists—poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, and actors—good men who see their art prostituted by the alchemy of show-business tricks.

I cry out on behalf of journalists who are either reduced to silence or to lies in order to not suffer the harsh low of unemployment.

I protest on behalf of the athletes of the entire world whose muscles are exploited by political systems or by modern-day slave merchants.

My country is brimming with all the misfortunes of the people of the world, a painful synthesis of all humanity’s suffering, but also—and above all—of the promise of our struggles. This is why my heart beats naturally on behalf of the sick who anxiously scan the horizons of science monopolized by arms merchants. My thoughts go out to all of those affected by the destruction of nature and to those 30 million who will die as they do each year, struck down by the formidable weapon of hunger. As a military man, I cannot forget the soldier who is obeying orders, his finger on the trigger, who knows the bullet being fired bears only the message of death. …. I protest on behalf of all those who vainly seek a forum in this world where they can make their voice heard and have it genuinely taken into consideration. Many have preceded me at this podium and others will follow. But only a few will make the decisions. Yet we are officially presented as being equals. Well, I am acting as spokesperson for all those who vainly see a forum in this world where they can make themselves heard. So yes, I wish to speak on behalf of all “those left behind,” for “I am human, nothing that is human is alien to me.”

Our revolution in Burkina Faso embraces misfortunes of all peoples. It also draws inspiration from all of man’s experiences since his first breath. We wish to be the heirs of all the world’s revolutions and all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World. Our eyes are on the profound upheavals that have transformed the world. We draw the lessons of the American Revolution, the lessons of its victory over colonial domination and the consequences of that victory. We adopt as our own the affirmation of the Doctrine whereby Europeans must not intervene in American affairs, nor Americans in European affairs. Just as Monroe proclaimed “America to the Americans” in 1823, we echo this today by saying “Africa to the Africans,” “Burkina to the Burkinabè.”

Thomas Sankara’s Speech at the 25th conference of the Organization of African Unity : July 29th 1987 (excerpt)

The roots of the debt go back to the beginning of colonialism. Those who lent us the money were those who colonized us. They were the same people who ran our states and our economies. It was the colonizers who put Africa into debt to the financiers—their brothers and cousins. This debt has nothing to do with us. That’s why we cannot pay it.

The debt is another form of neocolonialism, one in which the colonialists have transformed themselves into technical assistants. Actually, it would be more accurate to say technical assassins. They’re the ones who advised us on sources of financing, on underwriters of loans. As if there were men whose loans are enough to create development in other people’s countries. These underwriters were recommended to us, suggested to us. They gave us enticing financial documents and presentations. We took on loans of fifty years, sixty years, and even longer. That is, we were led to commit our peoples for fifty years and more.

The debt in its present form is a cleverly organized reconquest of Africa under which our growth and development are regulated by stages and norms totally alien to us. It is a reconquest that turns each of us into a financial slave—or just plain slave—of those who had the opportunity, the craftiness, the deceitfulness to invest funds in our countries that we are obliged to repay. Some tell us to pay the debt. This is not a moral question. Paying or not paying is not a question of so-called honor at all… .

[N]one of the debt can be repaid. The debt cannot be repaid, first of all, because, if we don’t pay, the lenders won’t die. Of that you can be sure. On the other hand, if we do pay, we are the ones who will die. Of that you can be equally sure. Those who led us into debt were gambling, as if they were in a casino. As long as they were winning, there was no problem. Now that they’re losing their bets, they demand repayment. There is talk of a crisis. No, Mr. President. They gambled. They lost. Those are the rules of the game. Life goes on. [Applause]

We cannot repay the debt because we have nothing to pay it with. We cannot repay the debt because it’s not our responsibility… .

The debt is also the product of confrontations. When people talk to us today about economic crisis, they forget to mention that the crisis didn’t appear overnight. It has been with us for a long time, and it will deepen more and more as the popular masses become increasingly aware of their rights in face of the exploiters.

There is a crisis today because the masses refuse to allow wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a few individuals. There is a crisis because a few individuals hold colossal sums of money in foreign banks—enough to develop Africa. There is a crisis because in face of these individual fortunes, whose owners we can name, the popular masses refuse to live in ghettos and slums. There is a crisis because people everywhere refuse to stay in Soweto when Johannesburg is directly opposite them. That is, there is struggle, and the deepening of this struggle leads to worries among the holders of financial power.

They ask us today to collaborate in the search for stability. Stability to the benefit of the holders of financial power. Stability to the detriment of the popular masses. No, we can’t be accomplices in this. No, we can’t go along with those who suck the blood of our peoples and who live off the sweat of our peoples. We can’t go along with their murderous ventures.

Mr. President:

We hear talk of clubs—the Club of Rome, the Club of Paris, the Club of Everywhere. We hear talk of the Group of Five, of Seven, of the Group of Ten, perhaps the Group of One Hundred. Who knows what else? It’s normal that we too have our own club, our own group. Starting today, let’s make Addis Ababa a similar seat, the center from which will come a breath of fresh air, the Club of Addis Ababa. We have the duty to create the united front of Addis Ababa against the debt. This is the only way we can say today that, by refusing to pay, we’re not setting out on a course of war but, on the contrary, a fraternal course of explaining the facts as they are.

What’s more, the popular masses of Europe are not opposed to the popular masses of Africa. Those who want to exploit Africa are the same ones as those who exploit Europe. We have a common enemy. Our Club of Addis Ababa must tell both sides that the debt cannot be paid. When we say the debt cannot be paid we are in no way against morality, dignity, or respect for one’s word. It’s our view that we don’t have the same morals as the other side. The rich and the poor don’t share the same morals. The Bible and the Koran can’t serve in the same way those who exploit the people and those who are exploited. There will have to be two editions of the Bible and two editions of the Koran. [Applause]

We can’t accept their morals. We can’t accept their talking to us about dignity. We can’t accept their talking to us about the merits of those who pay and about a loss of confidence in those who don’t pay. On the contrary, we must explain that it’s normal these days to favor the view that the richest people are the biggest thieves. A poor man who steals commits no more than larceny, a petty crime, just to survive, out of necessity. The rich are the ones who rob the tax revenue and customs duties. They are the ones who exploit the people.

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