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Africa needs ‘genuinely new ideas’ from its elite – before it’s too late: Read an excerpt from Thomas Sankara Speaks

Africa needs ‘genuinely new ideas’ from its elite – before it’s too late: Read an excerpt from Thomas Sankara Speaks


Thomas Sankara’s assertion that ‘a soldier without any political training is a potential criminal’ is the basis upon which we wage the struggle for economic emancipation. The book is an important contribution.

- Floyd Shivambu

Thomas Sankara SpeaksKwela Books has shared an excerpt from its new publication Thomas Sankara Speaks – plus stand the chance to win one of three copies of the book!

“We must dare to invent the future. Everything man is capable of imagining, he can create.”

When Thomas Sankara gained power in Burkina Faso in 1983, he saw his first task as expunging the effects of colonialism. A dedicated pan-Africanist, he believed that Africa could sustain itself. He rejected all foreign aid and nationalised land and mineral wealth.

This book brings us Sankara in his own words, with a selection from his writings and interviews from 1983 until his tragic and untimely assassination in 1987.

An African leader and intellectual in many ways ahead of his time, Sankara’s ideas are as current today as when first formulated.

Sankara was a military captain, Marxist revolutionary, pan-Africanist theorist, feminist, and President of Burkina Faso (1983-1987). Viewed as an iconic figure of revolution, he is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”. However, his policies alienated an array of groups. As a result, he was assassinated on 15 October 1987.


Read an excerpt from the book:

Freedom must be conquered

An excerpt from Thomas Sankara Speaks (Kwela, 2016)

I make no claim to lay out any doctrines here. I am neither a messiah nor a prophet. I possess no truths. My only aspiration is twofold: first, to be able to speak on behalf of my people, the people of Burkina Faso, in simple words, words that are clear and factual. And second, in my own way to also speak on behalf of the “great disinherited people of the world”, those who belong to the world so ironically christened the Third World. And to state, though I may not succeed in making them understood, the reasons for our revolt.

All this indicates our interest in the United Nations. We understand that demanding our rights requires from us a vigorous and rigorous awareness of our duties.

No one will be surprised to see us associate the former Upper Volta, today Burkina Faso, with that hodgepodge held in such contempt – the Third World – invented by the other worlds as many countries became formally independent in order to better ensure our intellectual, cultural, economic, and political alienation.

We want to place ourselves within this world, without lending any credence to that gigantic fraud of history, and certainly without accepting the status of “hinterland of a satiated West”. Rather, we want to assert our awareness of belonging to a tricontinental whole and, with the force of deeply felt convictions, acknowledge, as a Nonaligned country, that there is a special relationship of solidarity uniting the three continents of Asia, Latin America, and Africa in a single struggle against the same political traffickers, the same economic exploiters.

Therefore, recognising that we are part of the Third World means, to paraphrase José Martí, “asserting that our cheek feels the blow struck against any man in the world”. Up to now we have turned the other cheek. The blows increased. But the wicked-hearted were not moved. They trampled the truth of the righteous. The word of Christ was betrayed. His cross was transformed into a club. And after they put on his robe, they slashed our bodies and souls. They obscured his message. They Westernised it, whereas we had understood it as one of universal liberation. Then our eyes opened to the class struggle. There will be no more blows.

It must be proclaimed that there can be no salvation for our peoples unless we decisively turn our backs on all the models that all the charlatans, cut from the same cloth, have tried to sell us for the past twenty years. There can be no salvation without saying no to that. No development without breaking with that.

Moreover, all the new “intellectual leaders” emerging from their slumber, awakened by the dizzying rise of billions of men in rags, aghast at the threat that this famished multitude presents to their digestion, are beginning to revamp their speeches. In an anxious quest, they are looking in our direction once again, for miracle concepts and new forms of development for our countries. It’s enough to read the numerous proceedings of innumerable symposiums and seminars to be convinced of this.

Far be it from me to ridicule the patient efforts of those honest intellectuals who, because they have eyes to see, are discovering the terrible consequences of the devastation imposed by the so-called specialists in Third World development. The fear haunting me is that the fruit of so much effort may be commandeered by Prosperos of all kinds to make a magic wand, designed to return us to a world of slavery redone in the fashion of the day.

This fear is even more justified by the fact that the educated petty bourgeoisie of Africa – if not the Third World – is not prepared to give up its privileges, either due to intellectual laziness or simply because it has tasted the Western way of life. So it forgets that any genuine political struggle requires rigorous, theoretical debate, and it refuses to make the effort to think out and invent new concepts equal to the murderous fight awaiting us. A passive and pathetic consumer, the petty bourgeoisie abounds in terminology fetishised by the West, just as it abounds in Western whiskey and champagne, enjoyed in lounges of dubious taste.

We would search in vain for genuinely new ideas that have emanated from the minds of our “great” intellectuals since the emergence of the now-dated concepts of Negritude and African Personality. The vocabulary and ideas come to us from elsewhere. Our professors, engineers, and economists content themselves with simply adding colour – because often the only things they’ve brought back from the European universities of which they are the products are their degrees and their velvety adjectives and superlatives!

It is both necessary and urgent that our trained personnel and scribes learn that there is no such thing as unbiased writing. In these stormy times we cannot leave our enemies of yesterday and today with an exclusive monopoly over thought, imagination, and creativity.

Before it’s too late – because it’s already late – these elites, these men of Africa and the Third World, must come back to who they are – that is, to their societies and to the misery we have inherited. They must understand that the battle for a system of thought at the service of the disinherited masses is not in vain. They must understand too that they can only become credible on an international level by being genuinely inventive, that is, by painting a faithful picture of their people. This picture must allow the people to achieve fundamental changes in the political and social situation, changes that allow us to break from the foreign domination and exploitation that leave our states no perspective other than bankruptcy.

This is what we glimpsed – we, the Burkinabè people – during the evening of 4 August 1983, when the first stars began to sparkle in the skies of our homeland. We had to take the leadership of the peasant revolts, signs of which were visible in a countryside that is panic-stricken by the advancing desert, exhausted by hunger and thirst, and abandoned. We had to give meaning to the brewing revolt of the idle urban masses, frustrated and weary of seeing limousines driving the elites around, elites that were out of touch, succeeding one another at the helm of state while offering the urban masses nothing but false solutions elaborated and conceived by the minds of others. We had to give an ideological soul to the just struggles of our popular masses as they mobilised against the monster of imperialism. The passing revolt, the simple brushfire, had to be replaced forever with the revolution, the permanent struggle against all forms of domination.

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