Six months after the ouster of Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso is attempting to organise its first democratic elections, set for October. Fears of a coup still loom. But from Smokey, the anti-establishment rapper, to Boubakar the street vendor, the country’s youth believe in their revolution. Our reporter Julien Sauvaget met young people rallying around the cause of their national icon, Thomas Sankara.
It is impossible to understand events in Burkina Faso without mentioning Thomas Sankara, who came to power in a coup in 1983. Under his rule, Upper Volta was renamed Burkina Faso, “the land of honest men”. Sankara was nicknamed the “African Che Guevara” for his revolutionary way of governing. Ministers’ salaries were lowered, government saloons replaced by Renault 5s. Sankara refused to lead an expensive lifestyle at the head of a poor country. He crafted an image of a man devoted to the people.
In events akin to a modern Greek tragedy, he was assassinated when his best friend, Blaise Compaoré, took power in a coup in 1987. The final act took place in October 2014. After 27 years as president, Compaoré fled the country after his attempt to change the constitution to remain in power provoked massive street protests.
It is perhaps unsurprising that Compaoré’s corrupt way of governing, the polar opposite of Sankara’s, so angered the country’s youth. Despite it long being forbidden by Compaoré to even pronounce Sankara’s name, his legacy is stronger than ever. The country's youth has seized upon his image, listening to his few recorded speeches, and hawking T-shirts of their hero. Most of these young people were not even born in the early 1980s when he was in power.
The immense hope generated by Burkina Faso’s “African Spring” is similar to that created by Sankara’s own arrival in power, three decades earlier. This is the story of Generation Sankara, a generation that has taken control of its own destiny.