This blog considers Thomas Sankara, the former Burkina Faso President as the most ideal pan-African leader to have lived in recent history. In a mere four years of ruling Burkina Faso (which he renamed), he did not only outline an anti-imperialist agenda that should be adopted by many countries under the yoke of neo-colonialism, but he also physically built the country. He painted a picture of a modern Africa that is not necessarily Europeanised. In his policies and thinking, we see a clear line between modernisation and Imperialism. He challenged the traditional feudal chiefs’ hold onto land, promoted gender equality, was a big arts patron, supported the youth and lived a very frugal life. He has been called the upright man. The name he created for the country, Burkina Faso, actually means the land of the upright.
Burkina Faso, since Sankara’s death was ruled by Blaise Compaore, who literally was a class-monitor operating on behalf of France, the country that colonised the country that used to be called Upper Volta. He over-turned Sankara’s policies, and had the man’s grave attacked several times. Talking about Sankara in the country was almost criminal. It attracted serious consequences. After 27 years of imperialism-backed dictatorship, the people of Burkina Faso, the youth calling themselves the children of Thomas Sankara took to the streets and peacefully protested Compaore’s plans to extend his rule. The dictator did not budge. The youths burned the Parliamentary buildings. France sent a plane to evacuate their man to Ivory Coast, where another puppet is in control. The Burkinabe got their country back. They are now rebuilding it, and one hopes that their current President, the first civilian leader since independence follows Sankara’s relevant and revolutionary policy and ideological blueprint.
Uganda goes to the polls tomorrow. The country has been ruled by a Compaore type of figure. Under his rule, the country has been involved in each and every conflict in the region, from Somalia, to Central African Republic. This man is a key points-man for US and UK interests in the region. Uganda needs a Sankarian revolution yesterday. Ugandan society needs an overhaul in the way feudal patriarchal structures operate in most areas. The country needs genuine leadership on the gender equality front. A leader willing to tell men things about male privilege. Thirty years of doing the bidding for neo-imperialism are enough. Uganda’s national interest needs to come from the shadows of personal and American interests. The country needs a national identity. Who are we? What are we? What does it mean to be Ugandan? The arts are gone. Artists in the country succeed, despite Uganda, not because of it. The country carries a heavy debt burden and a thieving class has grown, without tangible production. False middle and upper classes that are not based on productivity but connections. Economic growth figures reflect the amount of corruption happening, than industrialisation.
Who will lead the Sankarian revolution in Uganda?
There is no Thomas Sankara in Uganda today. As Prof. Horace Campbell wrote recently:
Besigye (Kizza) has been addressing very large rallies in all parts of the country. Citizens have flocked to his rallies with gifts and the symbolism of youths bringing jackfruit, chicken, goats and food as donations to political rallies signaled that the poor want to make up for the financial deficiencies of the opposition, FDC (Forum for Democratic Change). The massive rallies of Besigye and the enthusiasm of the electorate has been a signal of the deep desire for change in the political direction of Uganda.
The peasants, the working class, those that Sankara referred to as ‘the people’ have showed support to the FDC candidate. Besigye’s campaign message hits directly at the exploitation of the poor by the corrupt. He indeed preaches that power needs to be removed from the hands of a few and put back into the hands of the people. But there is a problem. Prof. Campbell puts it better.
Ugandan workers and poor farmers are demanding change, but so far the traditional opposition parties have failed to present a project that could find support among the most oppressed. Kizza Besigye has persevered over the past fifteen years, but his horizons are limited to his understanding of the future dependence on western forces.
Imperial neo-liberalism is the beast. The foundation Besigye talks about looks too eerily neo-liberal. He talks the free-market language. The FDC Policy agenda and manifesto preach social-market economics. They are trying to build neo-liberal societies but want to contain the excesses. That is not a Sankarian revolutionary party. Indeed as Horace tells us:
While the FDC has pointed to the wretchedness of the poor, the campaign has not made the link between the structural adjustment programs and the conditions of Ugandans. In many ways, this opposition will remain constrained by its exposure to the international ‘donor community’ and the embrace of the International Republican Institute (IRI). The over-size influence of western NGOs and embassies is evident in the operations of all of the top candidates. It was significant that General Sejusa did not flee to Tanzania or Mozambique when he fell out with Museveni, but to Britain.
Besigye and the FDC are thin on pan-Africanism. In all honesty, Besigye, compared to the other leading challengers for the seat comes off as the cleanest individual. His name has never been connected to corruption scandals. He is a puritan, as Daniel Kalinaki’s book, Kizza Besigye and the Ugandan Unfinished Revolution describes him. He is a stickler to principle. In that way, one can say that there is after all a small Sankara streak in him. He obviously speaks to the people, the masses. That, too is Sankarian. But his medicine of neo-liberal market economics, to the exploitation of the poor by the rich is faulty.
By all means, the current neo-colonial regime should go. And at the moment, only Kizza Besigye represents a chance for change. The people support him and they should have their way, as popular democracy (not necessarily the neo-liberal variety of procedural multi-party elections) demands. Once that first step of getting rid of the current neo-colonial regime has been achieved, a proper Sankarian revolution can then happen. The progressive pan-Africanists should get ready for the battle for Uganda’s policy and ideological soul under Besigye. One hopes that the FDC on getting power soon realise the folly of neo-liberalism. The Western block do not trust Besigye that much, after all, so he does not have to become a stooge of US-UK imperialism while in office.