The life, legacy & assassination of an African revolutionary – Lisa Janae Bacon

The life, legacy & assassination of an African revolutionary – Lisa Janae Bacon


In 1972, Thomas Sankara
was swept into a revolution for a country not his own. Hailing from the West African nation
of Burkina Faso— then known as Upper Volta— the 22-year-old soldier
had travelled to Madagascar to study at their military academy. But upon arriving,
he found a nation in conflict. Local revolutionaries
sought to wrest control of Madagascar from France’s lingering colonial rule. These protestors
inspired Sankara to read works by socialist leaders
like Karl Marx and seek wisdom from military strategy. When he returned to Upper Volta in 1973, Sankara was determined to free
his country from its colonial legacy. Born in 1949, Sankara was raised
in a relatively privileged household as the third of ten children. His parents wanted him to be a priest,
but like many of his peers, Sankara saw the military
as the perfect institution to rid Upper Volta of corruption. After returning from Madagascar, he became famous for his charisma
and transparent oratorial style— but he was less popular
with the reigning government. Led by President Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo, this administration came to power
in the 3rd consecutive coup d’état in Upper Volta’s recent history. The administration’s policies
were a far cry from the sweeping changes
Sankara proposed, but, by 1981,
Sankara’s popularity won out, earning him a role
in Ouédraogo’s government. Nicknamed “Africa’s Che Guevara,”
Sankara rapidly rose through the ranks, and within two years,
he was appointed Prime Minister. In his new role,
he delivered rallying speeches to impoverished communities,
women, and young people. He even tried to persuade
other governments to form alliances based on their shared colonial legacy. But Ouédraogo and his advisors
felt threatened by Sankara’s new position. They thought his communist beliefs would
harm alliances with capitalist countries, and just months
after becoming Prime Minister, Ouédraogo’s administration
forced Sankara from the job and placed him on house arrest. Little did the President know this act would fuel Upper Volta’s
4th coup d’état in 17 years. Civilian protests
ensued around the capital, and the government ground to a halt while Sankara tried to negotiate
a peaceful transition. During this time, Blaise Compaoré, Sankara’s friend
and fellow former soldier, foiled another coup that included
an attempt on Sankara’s life. Eventually, Ouédraogo resigned
without further violence, and on August 4, 1983, Thomas Sankara
became the new President of Upper Volta. Finally in charge,
Sankara launched an ambitious program for social and economic change. As one of his first agenda items,
he renamed the country from its French colonial title
“Upper Volta” to “Burkina Faso,” which translates
to “Land of Upright Men.” Over the next four years he established
a nation-wide literacy campaign, ordered the planting
of over 10 million trees, and composed a new national anthem— all while cutting down
inflated government employee salaries. But perhaps the most unique element
of Sankara’s revolution was his dedication to gender equality. He cultivated a movement
for women’s liberation, outlawing forced marriages,
polygamy and genital mutilation. He was the first African leader to appoint
women to key political positions and actively recruit them to the military. However, Sankara’s socialist policies
were met with much resistance. Many students and elites
believed his economic plans would alienate Burkina Faso
from its capitalist peers. His crackdown
on the misuse of public funds turned government officials
against him as well. After four years,
what began as an empowering revolution had isolated many influential Burkinabes. But Sankara was not ready
to yield his power. He executed
increasingly authoritarian actions, including banning trade unions
and the free press. Eventually, his autocratic tendencies turned even his closest friends
against him. On October 15, 1987, Sankara was conducting a meeting
when a group of assailants swarmed his headquarters. Sankara was assassinated in the attack, and many believe the raid was ordered
by his friend Blaise Compaoré. Though his legacy is complicated, many of Sankara’s policies have proven
themselves to be ahead of their time. In the past decade, Burkinabe youth have celebrated
Sankara’s political philosophy, and nearby countries like Ghana have even
adopted Sankara’s economic models. On March 2, 2019 a statue of Sankara
was erected in Burkina Faso’s capital, establishing his place
as an icon of revolution for his country and throughout the world.

100 thoughts on “The life, legacy & assassination of an African revolutionary – Lisa Janae Bacon”

  1. TED-Ed shows that knowledge is beyond color, age, or gender. Your videos on great people of color help open the eyes of those who learn a mostly whitewashed storytelling of history in school. Thanks for being colorblind, TED-Ed!

  2. The best people always die early but their ideals are like an echo into history… It never truly dies

    Edit- thank you Ted-Ed for teaching us what school forgets to teach.

  3. Guevara, samcara, Mandela, ……. Are nice people, but when a Muslim guy try to do the same immediately you call him a terrorist.

  4. Amongst the greatest of African leaders, if ever there was any.
    I belive more should have been told about his lifestyle, very inspirational.

  5. More communist propaganda!! If only they let him continue with his programs, then a true utopia could have been achieved. What non-sense

  6. Decent video but it is quite disappointing that this video didn’t frame Sankara’s leadership as a fight against imperialism/neocolonialism from France and even the US. This video frames it more so as he was not friendly to capitalist countries because he was a communist whereas there were people in government that were. I don’t think that Sankara would have had an issue working with capitalist countries especially if they were neighbors, the biggest issue was the imperialism of France and other European countries on Africa

  7. You can usually kill ideas by letting their proponents reign for a while. This is what happened to Sankara, there was highly effective land redistribution yes … but also extrajudicial death squads and show trials for dissidents.

    That's not anti-imperialist struggle any more. That's a struggle to replace the foreign despot with a domestic one. As with all such 'liberations', there were a few upsides but those hardly validate the idea as a whole.

  8. "Racism is one of the wrost act of humanity "
    "Indians are indeed the best people on Earth "
    "Everyone is perfect "

    – Siddharth Kishor
    14 (grade X)
    Ranchi
    JHARKHAND, India , Asia

  9. Why is Thomas Sankara's name not in the title? Who is Lisa? Why does it imply some generic African revolutionary? You wouldn't refer to Che Guevara in a title as a Latin American revolutionary

  10. Fun fact, on top of Thomas and Blaise being close friends, during their time in the army they also formed a band and wrote a good amount of music together. So Thomas Sankara is probably the only person in history to be ousted in a coup led by a former band mate. Also, the band was called Tout-a-Coup

  11. I love how most on the comments are praising him, ignoring the moments where he became a dictator, pro-censorship and starting infringing civil rights.

    But hey, "Viva la revolucion", is a beautiful phrase that can be used to disguise attrocities and enhance a sense of righteousness, specially when some people are willing to turn a blind eye toward attrocities for a "greater and collective good".

    Also don't mind me, i'm just an individualist that values personal freedoms and rights.

  12. It’s sad when a good man gets attacked so much by the selfish and greedy that he feels forced to move towards authoritarianism

  13. WAIT!! You didn’t mention how western secret services helped with his assassination! Or how the trade unions were very corrupt and how he wanted to make new ones.

  14. TED Ed:
    *releases history related video *

    r/HistoryMemes members:
    my memes shall rise once again!

    Thomas Sankara was a man of communistic culture and gender equality

  15. I do agree with the quote in the intro, so many lives of great individuals who contributed to their country only to be killed by those whom they are serving but greedy.

  16. FRANCE SPONSORED THE KILLING OF SANCARA! And now they're threatening Nigeria and the west African countries …..SIMPLE!!! Why? Cause of resources they don't want to pay for.

  17. Thomas Sankra was such an Amazing Awesome Human Being And Beautiful Soul.! Too bad the Capitalist Pigs decided to Assasnate Him for Being a Marxist-Leninist. The Capitalists Want War, Workers O The World Unite! You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Chains…….!!!!!!! Nice.

  18. Did you just call Karl Marx a socialist leader? I'm pretty sure he was a communist extremist whose ideologies lead to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people under communist regimes.

  19. There is no person in the world who is 100% good or bad. We all have different levels of both. You are seen by history as what phase of your actions had more weight, and it looks like in his case, the positive outweighs the negative.

  20. Can you guys talk about IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) I have that syndrome and would like to know more about it in one of you’re future videos!

  21. Thomas Sankara be like: "alright guys I aint paying you but we finna plant 10 million trees" Burkina Faso: "oh, ok"
    Beats back desertification

  22. He didn't gain the support of his peers, and the privileged which is a classic mistake. This problem is why most revolutions fail to achieve their goals of a better society. People don't do something for nothing and if what you're doing isn't good for them, and they aren't getting paid well, they will find ways to sabotage or overthrow you. Kings used to use land to buy off the nobility and since those land rights were only valid by the king that gave them, and would be worthless if the king were overthrown, it benefited the nobility to keep the king on the throne, he was their meal ticket. Another choice is totalitarian fear such as North Korea and Cuba but that doesn't work over large geographic areas with diverse populations. You can't keep an eye on everything if there's too much to see and you have to delegate to others, and those others can turn on you. It also doesn't endear the leader to their people or the rest of the world.

    The key to being a good leader is finding something for everyone while being fair to the largest number of people. This usually starts with transparency in terms of who's benefiting and how, and ends with accountability. Set a goal for the society like improving the economy, famine proofing the land and stockpiling food, trade, education, whatever is most important to the people and then develop a plan that has everybody contributing towards that common goal, and a clear understanding of what people will be paid for it and how. This makes it unpopular to try to take advantage of the situation by setting yourself up with a big salary or not doing your fair share of the work. When everybody knows what the government officers make, and there is transparency in how much work they do, it helps diminish cronyism, nepotism, and lining pockets, while also allowing people who do greater work to have a benefit to themselves for that work. IE you didn't just rule every rich person's property was now yours and then turn the rest of the rich and powerful against you to overthrow you, and you also didn't let other members of the government put one over on the people and get rich while they do all the work. The key is finding that balance between equal pay for equal work, and allowing for the people who are the government to benefit in some way that keeps them around and keeps them from overthrowing you.

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