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Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara.jpg
1st President of Burkina Faso
In office
4 August 1983 – 15 October 1987
Preceded by Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo
Succeeded by Blaise Compaoré (coup d'état)
5th Prime Minister of Upper Volta
In office
10 January 1983 – 17 May 1983
President Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo
Preceded by Saye Zerbo
Succeeded by Post abolished
Secretary of State for Information
In office
9 September 1981 – 21 April 1982
Personal details
Born
Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara

(1949-12-21)21 December 1949
Yako, Upper Volta
Died 15 October 1987(1987-10-15) (aged 37)
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Spouse(s) Mariam Sankara
Children 2
Military service
Battles/wars Agacher Strip War

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (21 December 1949 – 15 October 1987) was a Burkinabé revolutionary and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. A Marxist and pan-Africanist, he was viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, and is sometimes referred to as "Africa's Che Guevara".

A group of revolutionaries seized power on behalf of Sankara (who was under house arrest at the time) in a popularly-supported coup in 1983. Aged 33, Sankara became the President of the Republic of Upper Volta. He immediately launched programmes for social, ecological, and economic change, and renamed the country from the French colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso ("Land of Upright Man"). His foreign policies were centred on anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalising all land and mineral wealth and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritising education with a nationwide literacy campaign and promoting public health by vaccinating 2,500,000 children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles.

Other components of his national agenda included planting over 10,000,000 trees to combat the growing desertification of the Sahel, redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents and establishing a road and railway construction programme. On the local level, Sankara called on every village to build a medical dispensary, and had over 350 communities build schools with their own labour. Moreover, he outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy, as well as appointing women to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school, even if pregnant.

Sankara exerted authoritarian control over the nation. He eventually banned trade unions and a free press. To counter opposition to his policies in towns and workplaces around the country, he encouraged the prosecution of officials accused of corruption, counter-revolutionaries and "lazy workers" in Popular Revolutionary Tribunals. As an admirer of Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution, Sankara set up Cuban-style Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

His revolutionary programmes for African self-reliance made him an icon to many of Africa's poor. Sankara remained popular with most of his country's citizens. However, his policies alienated and antagonised several groups, which included the small, but powerful Burkinabé middle class, the tribal leaders whom he stripped of their long-held traditional privileges of forced labour and tribute payments, as well as France and its ally the Ivory Coast. On 15 October 1987, Sankara was assassinated by troops led by Blaise Compaoré, who assumed leadership of the state shortly after. A week before his assassination, Sankara declared: "While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas".

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