Capitaine Thomas Sankara (2012) - full transcript

A portrait comprised of material from the archives of Thomas Sankara, president of Burkina Faso from 1983 until his assassination in 1987. Through his desire to liberate his country and transform his fellow citizens' way of thinking by questioning the world order and challenging the authority of those with power at that time, he made a mark on both African and world history.

"Revolutions that occur around
the world are never identical.

Each revolution has
its own originality.

And so has our August revolution."

Comrade president...

You Know…

Every day, each of you
should remember one thing:

When the people rises,
imperialism shakes.

That's why I'll show you that
I'm ready against imperialism.


And believe me,
this is not a toy.

Those bullets are real bullets.

And when we shoot those bullets,
it will be against imperialism.

What remains to be done
is Revolution.

Down with Imperialism!

Down with neo-colonialism!

Down with racism!

Down with puppet politics!

Glory to the people!

Dignity to the people!

Power to the people!

- Homeland or Death,
- We shall overcome!

Thank you comrades.

On 4 August 1983, Thomas Sankara
burst into the daily routine

of a generation
lost for orientation.

At the time in Africa,
thinking was risky,

almost forbidden.

He often used a marxist vocabulary,
for lack of better options.

He was mostly trying
"to clean out the dead wood",

according to Benin scholar


"One cannot bring deep changes
without a touch of madness.

Something that verges
on non-conformism,

the courage to turn one's back
on ready made formulas,

the courage to invent the future."

Upper Volta has hit the headlines
with a new coup

led by Captain Sankara,
former prime minister,

who has toppled the regime
of President Ouédraogo.

This is the President
who was toppled today.

Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo
was a moderate man

who favored close
cooperation with France.

- What is to become of him?
- "He will be dealt with humanely",

says his former prime minister
who toppled him, Captain Sankara.

He announced last night
on national radio

that a National Council
of the Revolution (CNR)

had overthrown the puppet regime
of Commander Ouédraogo.

People of Upper Volta,

On this day,

4th August 1983

the soldiers and officers

of all armed forces
and all units,

have decided in a patriotic surge
to sweep away the unpopular regime,

the regime of submission
and subjection

set-up by doctor commander
Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo.

People of Upper Volta,
all forward with the CNR.

This is the great patriotic fight
for the bright future of our country.

Homeland or Death,
we shall overcome!


- Where does he come from?

- He's the son of a Fulani
and a Mossi woman.

A brilliant pupil, he is noticed
by the catholic priests

who hope to send him
to the seminar.

He himself wants to become
a medical doctor

but as he doesn't get a grant, he
reluctantly chooses a military carreer.

- So it's not a calling?
- Not at all!

His destiny is shaped in Madagascar,
where he attends the military Academy

he witnesses first hand

the great Madagascar
shift towards socialism.

- And he's thrilled?
- Yes.

Let's add that this exceptional
military man is also interested

in economics, in political science,
in journalism...

- A curious mind, then?
- Very eclectic, yes.

In Madagascar,
he also perfects his French.

He would become a great
orator in our language.

After Madagascar, he spends some
time in France with the para troopers

and later in Morocco, where he befriends
his comrade, Blaise Compaoré.

- You mean, the current
president of Burkina Faso?

- Yes. He succeeded Sankara in
circumstances we'll come back to.

After Morocco,

Sankara gets back home and
distinguishes himself in a little war

opposing Upper Volta and Mali
about a few acres of land.

- What do you mean
by "distinguishes himself" ?

- This young officer displays real
qualities as a fighter, as a leader...

That gets him to lead a military school
training commando troops.

His friend Compaoré
becomes his right arm.

By then, Sankara is the most famous
military man in Burkina Faso.

Soon the Captain leads
a small group of leftist

or far leftist officers,
all resolutly anti-colonialist.

But the real personal
motivation of Sankara

is the corruption
of the Voltaic elite,

which revolts them
and guides their action.

And also the certainty that
the country has to manage by itself.

- Meaning, without depending on France?
- You get it!

We find France's African
politics very French.

- How do you mean?

Before, France was present
in an African country

either to maintain
a chief or a leader

or to fly in another one
that they brought in their luggage.

France still does the same.

- What's France's position
in your alliances?

To us, France is the country
that colonized our land.

It is responsible

for the colonial and post-colonial
system in our country.

France must understand

that we will always fight
colonialism and neo-colonialism.

What's wrong?

- She seems a little worried...
- Yes, a bit!

- Still, I find you a little bit
too enthusiastic…

- Well, this young leader
was blowing a fresh wind

over a continent plighted
by misery and corruption.

Finally, here was a man

prepared to tackle the destiny
of his country hands-on.

Remember that Sankara aroused
considerable sympathy.

He represented a new kind
of third world leadership.

Many made the trip to Ouagadougou
to meet this nice president,

who took part in cycling races and
grabbed his guitar at any opportunity.

- His friend Compaoré,
was he part of this Council?

- Of course. Compaoré became
Sankara's right hand,

his advisor, his confidant.
A true twin brother.

Thomas Sankara, 35 years old
Captain, President of Upper Volta.

He rose to power through
a coup on 4th August 1983.

He is most ardently
supported by the poor.


- Imperialism,
- Down with it!

- Colonialism,
- Down!

- Neo-colonialism,
- Down!


We must bury every
enemy of the people.

We must bury every flaw that stops
the people from freeing itself,

from being the architect
of its own happiness.

We cannot develop
without mobilizing.

We cannot develop
if the people itself

doesn't take its destiny
in its own hands

It's up to the people to build
the country. No one else.

Today, it's 20 villas…

Tomorrow it will be 20 schools,
20 health stations,

20 maternity wards and it will
go on like that every year.

- Comrades! The bad husbands,
- Down with them!

- The lazy bums,
- Down!

- The thieves,
- Down!

- The reactionary husbands
- Down with them!

- The small bosses,
- Down!

- The big bosses,
- Down!

- The embezzlers,
- Down!

- The thieves,
- Down!

- Homeland or Death,
- We shall overcome!

- Homeland or Death,
- We shall overcome!

- Long live the revolution,

- Long live Captain Sankara.

- I'd like to ask President
Sankara a question:

As the leader of a country
that is small, landlocked and poor,

no offense intended,

what do you get from this,
beyond intellectual satisfaction?

When one speaks loud,
what does one gain from it?

Our circumstances
are very difficult,

you described them fairly,
thank you.

To these difficult circumstances,
you have to add the fact

that our people is lagging far behind,
that it is very largely illiterate.

So if, despite these natural,
physical, sociological circumstances,

we still believe in development,
it is our duty to explain.

Explain and convince
requires to talk a lot,

to speak loudly,
and as clearly as possible,

We don't speak
for rhetorical effect.

We speak to lead men
and women to work concretely,

to do the work
that will close the gap

and make up
for nature's harshness.

What matters is not
that others listen to me.

What matters is that
the people of Burkina listen

and understand
that we must work.

And that if we don't work,
we will carry on falling behind.

Mr. President, I didn't need
much time to realize

that President Sankara
has to be taken very seriously.

Our objectives are limited
to very simple goals:

to feed every Burkinabé,

to educate him,

give him health care and clothing,

and also to allow him to grow
and blossom culturally.

To achieve all this,

we need economic, cultural
and political programs,

and even a security program.

For I'm sure you know very well
that not everyone

approves of Burkina Faso

and its revolutionary ways,

that is, a change from what
was prevailing before,

which everyone knows.

- Homeland or Death,
- We shall overcome!

(National Council of the Revolution)

Do not trust appearances.

This martial demonstration
in Ouagadougou

hasn't been put up
to honor some dictator.

It is celebrating production:

the decision of Burkina Faso
to overcome hunger

and to achieve
food self-sufficiency.

Our country produces

enough to feed ourselves.

We can even increase
our production.

Unfortunately, because
of our lack of organization,

we are still reaching out
and begging for food aid.

Food aid traps us.

It inscribes in our brains

the habit of assistance,
the reflexes of a beggar.

With our great production,
we must make food aid obsolete.

We must produce more,
because it's normal

that he who feeds you also
runs your life.

Let's only consume
only what we control!

Some are asking:
"but where is imperialism?"

Look in your plates when you eat:
the imported rice, corn, millet...

That is imperialism!
Let's look no further.

Let's look no further.

- Is it important to you?
- Yes it's very important.

We need to be self-sufficient
food wise.

To eat, we must produce
our own food.

In some countries,

just 4% of the population

can feed a whole population
of 200 million people.

They even export food.

They turn agriculture
into an economic power.

Here 90% of our people
are farmers,

but still,
we are not self-sufficient.

The 8th poorest country
of the world,

Burkina Faso refuses
"colonial" international aid.

"We refused 500 tons of rice
offered by Moscow.

That aid is pathetic and humiliating.

Such a small quantity cannot
save us from starvation"

When I was in Moscow,
in the Soviet Union

We visited

many historical sites,


but also

"Star City".

"Star City" is where the soviets
train their astronauts.

We saw the rockets.

It's impressive,
I have to agree.



Mir, etc.

They know lots of things.

They don't talk to the earth any more
they already talk to the moon…

Then, as always, I was asked
to sign the guest book.

I signed, of course.

I was asked to congratulate
the astronauts,

I did, of course.

We were asked to admire
this and that.

We admired, of course.

To bow in front of…
Gagarin's statue.

We bowed, of course.

we were going to depart.

But I said: "No, comrades!
this isn't over, wait".

It's all fine.
We are happy.

this is progress,

and when all this
will get back to the people,

it will really be good.

But I want to ask you one thing:
"Two seats!"

You have to train
two Burkina astronauts as well.

We too want to go to the Moon.

So let's start our collaboration.
And we mean it.

We want to send people
to the Moon.

So there will be Americans,

a few other countries,

and there will be
Burkina Faso too…

Mir space station
October 1987

You have said that 1%
of space research funding

should be invested in the fight
against deforestation.

Where do you get
this figure from?

How did you calculate that?

Beyond the figure,
we want to raise awareness

about the serious
problem of desertification.

- Let's see a few images
of your country.

The responsibility for the drought

doesn't only lie
with the Burkina people.

but also with all those who,
far from us,

provoke climate
and ecological changes.

Who can be sure that those vessels
we send into space

don't disturb the balance of nature?

- You said that the struggle against
desertification is anti-imperialist?

Yes. Because we know
that for imperialism,

exploitation of humans
is perfectly normal.

That's even more true
for exploitation of forests,

be it directly or indirectly.




"Reforestation campaign
10 million trees planted"

One essential question remains
for this african country:

It needs cultural development
to reach its goals.

But for now only 6%
of the children are educated,

and they represent
50% of the population.

The struggle for development

also requires to fight
against illiteracy.

"Even 100% of our budget
wouldn't be enough

to send all the country's
children to school.

Soon there will be a campaign:

whoever can read will have
the duty to teach a few people

otherwise we will prevent him
to further educate himself."


- Reactionary pupils,
- Down with them!

- Lazy pupils,
- Down!

- Incompetent teachers,
- Down!


- The slimy eyed owls,
- Down with them!

- The puffed up guinea fowls,
- Down!

Down with them!


Thank you, comrades.

"In 4 years, the percentage of children
going to school jumps from 6% to 22%"

Let's build Upper Volta.
Let's not betray it.

Let's work our fields,
in our factories,

Let's raise our cattle.

That is our dignity…

In schools, how do we recognize
the girls' emancipation?

At schools, if a girl gets pregnant,
she gets expelled, right?

She gets excluded.

But we never try to find out
if the partner who got her pregnant

is maybe right there,
in the same classroom.

And even if he's found there,
he's left alone, the boy.

So a boy can have
as many babies as he feels like,

from 5th grade through to high school,
He'll never get expelled.

But the girl, even if she's only
one day away from her exams,

There you go - Expelled!

- Imperialism,
- Down with it!

- Husbands who beat their wives,
- Down with them!

- Husbands who torture their wives,
- Down!

- Homeland or Death,
- We shall overcome!

Without women's education,
there's no salvation.

At least that's what
Sankara's regime believes,

as it multiplies actions
to change mentalities

on subjects such as
salary and excision.

Women from Upper Volta
present us with a great challenge

because their liberation
isn't easy.

They are dominated by men
who are themselves dominated.

So they are doubly dominated.

Imperialism dominates
the Upper Volta man

who then dominates
the Upper Volta woman.

We want the Upper Volta woman
to become in charge,

and this starts
with her liberation.

To free her from the feudal domination
of the Upper Volta man…

That is not easy. The whole mindset
has to be questioned.

You have to be brave enough

to challenge some aspects
of our culture which alienate women.

So we believe that we must
challenge particular mutilations,

sexual mutilations.

We see these sexual mutilations
as a way to belittle women,

to brand women with their
permanent inferiority.

Because you are a woman,

you must be branded
with this sign of defect forever.

Daily 14 hours of work,
a life expectation of 32 years.

The african woman performs 80%
of the field work

and half of the activity needed
to meet food needs.

These women take care of:
children, housework, gathering wood,

fetching water miles away,
feeding the family,

cultivating their husband's field
as well as their own.

A far cry from an idyllic
life in the bush…

We have taken steps to show
how important women are to us.

The fulfilment of the couple leads
to the fulfilment of the family,

which leads
to national development.

So we have declared the market
to be closed to women.

Only sellers would be
allowed in.

And the men who wanted
the meals to be ready,

they had to go
to the market themselves.

Men here don't go to the market,
that would be humiliating.

It's not easy to challenge such
prejudice and preconceptions

Each of us here has been raised
to think that just because he is a man

he is automatically superior
to anything female,

whatever her age,
her physical strength, her intelligence.

In our government
we have 3 women ministers:

Family development
& National solidarity,

Sports and culture, Finance…

So women start to think:
"The National Revolution Council

does really take women's
liberation seriously."

They are now the ones suggesting to us
the women they consider capable.

Little money in Burkina,
but plenty of ideas.

After Woman's week, compulsory
market day for men, family charter,

the local TV launches
"the Doves of the Revolution".

Let's hope the government
doesn't let them down.

Which means that we must
give each woman a job.

We must give each woman the means
to earn a living honestly and decently.

It can't wait.

Now, we have to think
about the roofing.

They need to have
the materials here.

Don't forget to put a lot
of green spaces along the road,

little concrete benches,

public benches...

- Mister President, do you think
this fervour will last?

In the beginning there were
only words, and euphoria.

Today it is clear that
through this building...

This building, constructed
with support of the population,

is the proof that the revolution
brings something real.

- Thank you
- Thank you too,

In order to encourage
the workers' spirits,

Capt. Sankara regularly visits
the building sites and mucks in himself.

"1 year free rent,

and home construction program"

"All-out mobilization to build dams"

Launch of a "Railway Battle"

"100 km of railways built bare hands"


"2,5 million children
vaccined in 15 days"

Launch of the "Revolution
Defence Committee"

"People's Revolution Tribunal"

Saye Zerbo,

our court condemns you
to 15 years of prison,

including 7 years suspended.

It condemns you to pay back
to the Voltaic state

the sum of
61 million 838 thousand 101 francs.

When the people becomes
the supreme magistrate…

then corruption is restricted.


The fight against corruption began
in Ghana with Captain Rawlings.

In Burkina Faso, the People's
Revolution Tribunals are now in session.

Former heads of State
are confronted,

hundreds of corrupt
civil servants unmasked.

"I spent 10 millions..."
That's the problem!

Everyone helps himself
and then says:

"General Lamizana told me
to draw the money".

Corruption does play
a certain role in our country.

But we have fought

it not so much because
of it's negative economic impact,

but because of it shaping
a negative kind of man,

and a mind that leads
to bribing, to nepotism,

to mess, to incompetence.

"My net monthly salary amounts to
138'736 CFA francs.

I also own three guitars.

I mention them because
they are worth a lot to me."

One of the Captain's decisions
met with surprise:

the closure of the night clubs

which were blossoming
in the two main cities.

I made this decision against
my own will

as I'm a musician myself.

But we wanted to confront our
petty bourgeois class head-on.

We wanted to demonstrate
that there are sacrifices

that have to be made
for the Revolution.

Sacrifice on privileges, tastes etc.

We have chosen
the night-clubs because

they are meeting points
for the bourgeoisie,

who practices discrimination
by upping prices.

A bottle of coke there can cost

the monthly salary of a farmer,

if not even half a year's salary
of some farmers of Upper Volta.

A single bottle of coke.

So People's Ballrooms
have replaced the night clubs.

A people's ballroom
is a large dancefloor,

an orchestra,
very reasonably priced drinks

50 CFA for a coke,

when in a night club
it could be 1000 or 2000 CFA.

And in those ballrooms, you meet
workers, peasants, ministers,

everybody - the boss...
All together.

- Do you go there yourself?

- I do! But as a musician,
not as a customer.

Opening of "People's Ballrooms"

"Man is a total being.

Culture is an expression
that liberates him."

"10th Panafrican Film and Television
Festival of Ouagadougou"

Unveiling the
"monument to Film makers"

"NYAMANTON, A lesson from garbage"
by Cheick Oumar Sissoko

"Ouagadougou People's Theater"

Lauching a
"National Culture Week"

- As I visited a "Revolution Defence
Committee" office yesterday,

I notice a poster saying
something like:

"Secret Ballot is
the greatest swindle"

Is that your opinion?

Yes it is our opinion.
Because, in our case...

What does a secret ballot mean?

Firstly, the ballot,
this piece of paper,

what does it mean for 98%
of Burkina's population?

They don't know
how to read or write.

They never held
a paper in their hands.

Over 98% of our population
is illiterate. How could we...

Well, it's not good for us.

And then,

there are all those manipulation,
even when people can read.

The computers, you know,

sometimes they can be made
to say all sorts of things, right?

So, taking all those very valid
fears into account,

we have preferred,
for the elections...

You climb onto a table

or anything that
can raise you a bit,

and your followers
just line up behind you.

Then they get counted:
they are 1200.

The other one has only 800,
so he's beaten.

Plus this has the advantage
to show who has voted for you...

With the secret ballot,
how many…

In short, the merits of that method
are so numerous

that we can export that progress.

We can export our progress...

No. In truth, with a very
illiterate population

it would be very difficult
to talk about a secret ballot.

That would make no sense.
It doesn't mean much, really.

And note that wherever people can
read, there is a lot of abstentionism.

So where they don't know
how to read, almost 100% do vote.

And where they can read,
they abstend.

Which means that paper is no good.
But others don't know that.

"- What is democracy for you?"

"Democracy cannot be imagined
unless all forms of power

are put in the hands of the people.

Economic, military, political,
social and cultural power."

He came to Vittel in fatigues,
with cap, revolver,

and his sharp tongue.

Capt. Sankara was one of the stars
of the 10th Vittel summit.

He is seen as a young lion of Africa
a troublesome character,

but who also wants to build
a different future with France.

France doesn't understand Africa,
it's high time it did.

Stop seeing Africa
as a mere commodity

which has to follow instructions.

Accept a grown-up Africa which
understand its own interests,

and legitimately defends them,

who claims the right
to be different.

And there already has been
a hiccup in this summit.

President Sankara, a military man
who has links with the Libyans,

refused to attend last night's dinner
offered by the President MItterrand.

Capt. Sankara is a Marxist,
but also an admirer of Libya's No 1

I remind you that Capt. Sankara
is a Pro Libyan.

- Mr. President, could you specify

what relations you intend
to have to Libya?

Those relations with Col. Gaddafi
been much talked about,

but I think there's
nothing to worry about

when you deal with responsible people.
And that's our case.

Ambassador of Libya,
Stand up!

I'll tell him
you want water wells.

Let him tell Gaddafi.

Shall I tell him?

The people demand wells!
Let Gaddafi know!

If there are no wells,
the people will judge you.

If there are no wells,
the people will judge you.

"I think people are trying
to find an pretext against us

by presenting us as helpers
of Libyan politics."

Sankara tended to help himself
with other countries.

For example one day,

he told us how after giving
an interview to Libyan TV,

he asked the cameraman to take
the tape out of the machine,

then he seized the camera,

"Since Libya has promised to help us,
I'll take the equipment right now."

Col. Gaddafi said:
"No, we'll send it to you properly."

But as Sankara had got sick of waiting,
he decided to help himself.

He also stole a car
from Col. Gaddafi,

who had come to Ouagadougou

in his armoured Alfa Romeo,
crammed with gadgets.

While Sankara and Gaddafi
were conferring,

Sankara's chauffeur was
asking Gaddafi's driver:

"how does your car work,
how does this and that work?"

and he ended up
nicking his car...

Then a few weeks later the most
incredible thing happened:

Sankara tried to steal
a Boeing 727 from Libya

by stopping the pilot of Libyan
Airways to fly back to Tripoli.

For a whole week, Sankara blocked
the Boeing to Ouagadougou airport,

trying to find pilots in Burkina
who could fly that plane.

But his pilots had been
trained to fly

the few Fokker prop planes
that Burkina owned,

and finally, for lack of pilots,

Sankara had to give the Boeing
back to Libya.

Plus, Gaddafi had declared
the plane stolen,

and no airport would have
given it landing authorization.

I would like to salute
the people of Cuba,

the Cuban Revolution,

and our great Comrade
Fidel Castro,

for his sharp understanding,

and the internationalist sense
of Cuba's engagement.

That's why in Cuba,
like here, we say:

"Patria o muerte, venceremos."

- What's Burkina Faso's position
on the fight against apartheid?

- Apartheid is a form
of modern nazism.

Apartheid is an active element
of the imperialism of our time.

We must fight apartheid
not because we are black,

but simply because
we are men and not beasts.

And also because within class
struggle, we have chosen

the class of the future:
the class of the workers.

Although in prison,
Nelson Mandela

is a thousand times
freer and happier

than those outside

who serve the interests
of the peoples' enemies,

and of the arrogant
imperialism of our time.

For French-Burkina friendship!

Down with Pieter Botha!

Mr. François Mitterrand,

gangsters like
Jonas Savimbi,

killers like
Pieter Botha

have had the right to visit
beautiful and clean France.

They have stained it with their
blood drenched hands and feet.

And all those who have
allowed them to do so

will bear the entire responsibility,
here and elsewhere, today and forever.

President Thomas Sankara
is trouble!

He always stirs things up,
he asks questions…

With him you cannot rest in peace,
you can't have a clear conscience.

Some of his judgements show
the sharpness of his youth,

and his total dedication
to his people as a state leader.

I praise these great qualities,
but he is too inflexible.

I think he is going too far.
If I may talk to him from experience.

Our country never had
good ties with Sankara.

- Why? Did he scare us?
- Let's say he worried us,

because he was out to challenge
the very basis of the relationships

between France
and African countries.

- In short, neo-colonialism?
- Or "Françafrique", as it's been called...

A complex network of lobbies
and vested interests

which has kept French speaking
Africa in a state of dependence

and turned it
into a money pit.

Moreover, Sankara didn't worry
our leaders only,

the old leaders of other African
countries didn't welcome him either.

- Risk of contagion?
- Of course…

Our revolution can only triumph,
succeed and bear a meaning

if the other peoples,
in their own countries,

struggle to get rid of the same
evils we fight against.

Who are Africa's enemies & allies?
What ideology for Africa?

Africa needs revolution
and Africa will get it.

Above all Africa needs unity, and
African unity will be reached by force,

because the peoples demand it.

"25th summit of the countries
of the Organisation of African Unity"

Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, 29 July 1987

The President of Burkina Faso

is now talking about the issue
of African countries' debt.


The debt cannot be paid back.

The debt cannot be paid back,
firstly because,

if we don't pay, our debitors
won't starve to death.

Be sure of that.

But if we pay,
we will starve to death.

Be sure of that as well.

Mr President,

My proposal is not aiming
at provocation or showing off.

I want to say here
what all of us think and wish.

Who doesn't wish
the public debt cancelled?

He who doesn't, may go out,
board his plane,

and go straight
to the World Bank, and pay.

If only Burkina Faso
refuses to pay,

I won't be here next time.

But with support from all of us,
which I need,

with support from all of us,
we can avoid to pay.

When we say the debt
cannot be paid

it is not that we are opposed
to morality, dignity,

respect for the given word.

It is that we don't abide
by the same morality.

For the rich and the poor,
morality means different things.

The Bible, the Coran,
cannot serve in the same way

he who exploits the people
and he who is exploited.

We should print
two editions of the Bible

and two editions of the Coran.

Mr. President,

Let's start, right now,

a United Front against the debt.

Let's decide here in Addis Abeba

to limit the arms race
between poor and weak countries.

The sticks and knives
that we buy are useless.

I'm a soldier and I carry a gun.

But Mr. President,
I want us to disarm.

Because I wear
the only weapon that I own.

While others hide
the weapons they possess.

So with everybody's support,

we will manage
to make peace amongst us.

And let's also ensure
that the African market

becomes the market
of the Africans.

Produce in Africa, transform
and consume in Africa.

Let's produce what we need,

and consume what we produce,
rather than importing it.

Burkina has come
to display its cottonware,

produced, woven and sewn
in Burkina Faso

to dress Burkina people.

My delegation and myself
are dressed by Burkina weavers.

There's not one thread that comes
from Europe or America.

I'm not doing a fashion show,
but I just want to say

that we have to live
as Africans.

That's the only way
to live free and in dignity.

Thank you Mr. President.
Homeland or Death, we shall overcome!

Ouagadougou, near the city center,
opposite the Republic's presidency.

This man in yellow is Thomas Sankara,
38 years old, president of Burkina Faso.

As every Friday
between 5 and 6 pm,

he plays handball
with the civil servants.

- When did you decide to take over
in Burkina, in Upper Volta?

- Actually, I never decided...

to step forward as a leader.

Because I think it is the people
which steps forward,

not an individual
in this or that position.

But unfortunately, or fortunately,
I'm not sure,

events have led me to serve
and become president.

- So you didn't feel a calling
to become a politician?

- Militant, yes.

But to be in charge,
at any level... No.

I never identified with that.

And even today, I am ready
to occupy any position,

as long as I can remain
in the revolutionary struggle.

"UN General Assembly, 39th session"
New York, United States, 4 October 1984

Mr. President,

Mr. Secretary General,

of the international community.

Allow me to say this:

I am not only talking in the name
of beloved Burkina Faso,

but also for all those
who are in pain.

I speak in the name of the millions
who live in ghettos

because their skin is black,
or they have a different culture.

I suffer for the Indians,
massacred, humiliated,

stuck in reservations
for centuries.

I speak in the name
of the women of the world

who suffer under an exploitative
system engineered by the males.

I speak in the name
of our poor countrie's mothers,

who see their children die
of malaria or diarrhaea,

unaware that there are
simple means to save them.

I also speak in the name
of the poor man's child, who hungers

and hiddenly peeks at the riches
piled up in shops for the rich.

My thoughts go to all those affected
by the destruction of nature,

the 30 million people
who will die each year,

killed by
the scary weapon of hunger.

I speak in the name
of the artists,

poets, painters, musicians,
actors, etc.

Good people who see their art

being prostituted
in the tricks of show-business.

I protest in the name
of the world's sports people,

whose muscles are exploited
by politicians

or merchants of modern slavery.

I scream in the name
of journalists,

condemned to silence or to lying
to avoid losing their work.

I shout in the name
of the jobless,

who can glimpse life only through
the reflection of the richer.

I naturally tremble
in the name of the ill,

who anxiously
scan the limits of a science

dominated by weapon dealers.

As a Military man,

I cannot forget the one who obeys
orders, finger on the trigger,

knowing that the bullet he shoots
only carries the message of death.

Finally, I express outrage
about the Palestinians,

whom an inhumane humanity
decided to swap for another people,

itself tortured in the past.

"I want to speak in name
of all the Outcasts,

because I am Man, and nothing
which is human is foreign to me."

Down with international reaction.

Down with colonialism
and neo-colonialism.

Down with puppet regimes.

Glory to the people
who fight for their freedom.

Glory to the people who choose
to decide for themselves in dignity.

Victory to the struggling people
of Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Homeland or Death,
we shall overcome! Thank you.

- According to you,
what are the main changes

since the "Popular Democratic
Republic" took power?

- I don't really like that question,

because I'm involved,
so I don't know.

Here we say:

"a dancer cannot know
whether he dances well or not"

Only others can say:
"you dance well, or you dance badly".

But I think that the main achievement
is the transformation of the minds.

Now the Burkina people
are self-confident.

They know that they can change
their reality and their environment.

Of course it's not automatic,

but still, I think
that's the most important bit.

Forget the schools, health centres,
dams, roads, buildings…

But don't forget one thing: Burkinabé
people are now aware, self-confident.

That's the first and main victory.

"We declare that from now on,
nothing in Burkina Faso will happen

without the involvement
of Burkinabé people.

Nothing that won't previously have
been decided and developed by us.

No longer will our decency
and our dignity be assaulted"


- What does it mean for you
to be a head of state?

- A lot of reponsibilities.

You have to be
responsible for everything.

You have to steer and sustain
your people's joy,

make sure that every day,
minute and second

no one is ever sad.

Very difficult.

We have a saying,

I knew it, but now
I see how true it is:

"to lead his herd, a shepherd
just needs a single stick,"

he can lead a herd of
100, 1000, 10'000 oxen.

but to lead people, you need
a different stick for each one.

Some want a long stick,
some a short one.

To each one, you have to talk
the talk he wants.

My objective should be 8 million
different talks,

for each person.

Not easy.

- Were there also failures, and
have you made personal mistakes?

- Oh yes!

We have had many, many
failures and so many mistakes.

But the difference is that before,

we would make 100 mistakes,
and we had zero victories.

But now, we may make
10'000 mistakes,

but we have maybe
2, 3 or 4 little victories.

We go forward!

Our mistakes are so numerous
that I can't be specific.

All these mistakes
make me sad.


I take the responsibility
because I'm the president.

All the mistakes, they're mine,
so that make me sad, often.

- Those seven men shot
for the Burkina Revolution,

do you regret their execution?

I think about it and I regret.

- Some people talk about
political prisoners in Burkina Faso,

what do you answer them?

I answer, yes, we had some,
but we don't any more.

- What is, for you,
the main political quality?

To believe in the people.

In a way,
I'm a bit like a cyclist,

climbing a steep slope,

who has a precipice
both on his right and on his left,

he has to pedal, to keep on pedaling,
otherwise he falls.

So, to remain myself
and to feel myself,

I too have to forge ahead.

- Do you feel isolated within Africa?
- Misunderstood, in any case.

- Misunderstood? Misjudged?
- Misjudged, yes.

- Does Sankara realise he must react,
and correct the excesses?

- Yes, from mid 1987 onwards,
he publically acknowledges

the mistakes that were made.

He declares that some citizens
suffered injustice.

"We must rectify", he says.

- Is it a form of self-criticism?
- Certainly. But it is too late...

- Why? His assassination
has already been decided?

- For sure. And forgive the pun,

but it is Sankara himself
who is to be rectified.

Don't take everything!

- No, President,
We'll just take what's right.

- It's symbolic!

See? he's fatter than me.


it's going to burst,
that's too much.

Blood Donor.

- Homeland or Death,
- We shall overcome!

The red sun of the rainy season
is slowly setting

behind the palm trees of the
"Entente" compound in Ouagadougou.

The breeze is soft
on this late afternoon,

It's October 15, 1987, 4:30 PM

A column of small cars - black
Renault 5 - leaves the main road,

gets onto a red mud street,
and enters the compound.

An extraordinary session

of Burkina's National Revolution's
Committee is about to begin.

Killers are hidden in the first houses,
next to the entry barrier

and in the bushes
nearby the path.

A hand grenade tears
the front vehicle apart.

Paulin Bamouni,
the Presidency's press officer

and Frederic Ziembé,
law advisor, are killed.

Sankara and 9 guards
manage to hide in a nearby pavillion.

Crouched in the corridor,
they shoot back.

But the pavillion
is surrounded.

An offensive grenade
is thrown inside.

Wounded, Sankara says:
"It's useless. It is me they are after".

"It's useless.
It is me they are after".

He stands up,
walks towards the door.

A Kalashnikov flurry
tears his body apart.

The killers enter the shelter,
shooting on all that's alive.

After : "La victoire des vaincus"
by Jean Ziegler, January 1988

When you have a weapon that can kill,
and you can receive orders

while standing attention under a flag,
without knowing

who benefits from these orders,
who benefits from this gun,

you become a potential criminal

only waiting for the trigger
to spread terror around you.

A soldier without a political
education is a potential criminal.


Thomas Sankara
among the 100 dead of the coup.

Burkina's ex-leader
is already buried.

It is his former friend, Blaise
Compaoré, who has seized power.

He promises democracy
and continuation of the revolution.

Africa is shaken once more
by a coup d'Etat,

Thomas Sankara, president of
Burkina Faso, former Upper Volta,

was killed yesterday during
the assault of the presidential palace.

The coup was led
by the regime's number 2,

personal friend of Sankara's,
captain Compaoré.

Blaise Compaoré, new leader
of Burkina Faso, former Upper Volta,

speaks on TV
for the first time

since the coup that lead him
to power last week.

Martine Laroche-Joubert talks
with him about Burkina's future,

and also about the motion after
the assassination of his former friend,

Thomas Sankara…

- Do you feel regrets?

Of loosing a friend, of course...

And also, I regret that
at one point in his life,

he thought of eliminating us.

That's a pity.

Yeah, it's a pity.

Blaise Compaoré, president of
Burkina Faso, since 15 October 1987


Sankara was a soft hearted president,
an idealist, an amazing character,

probably the most surprising
head of state in the world.

So let's listen to some
music by Ray Lema

because Sankara was also
a president who danced.

Last Saturday
he was dancing with us

at an anti-apartheid forum
in Ouagadougou

and with him danced
his best friend Blaise Compaoré.

"5 days before being killed,

Sankara was dancing with
his best friend Blaise Compaoré."

The most incredible
is that Sankara's best friend,

Blaise Compaoré, was the one
who stirred up the coup.

By the way in sunday's
"Le Monde",

there is an interview with Sankara
that goes back a few months

in which Sankara said
the following about Compaoré.

"One day, some men
came to see me, in a panic."

They said: "We've heard Blaise
is preparing a coup against you."

"They were seriously panicked."
This is what I answered...

The day you hear about a coup being
prepared by Blaise against me...

Don't even try to stop it,
or even to let me know.

It will be too late,
there will be no way out.

He knows so much about me…

Nobody can protect me from him,
if he wanted to attack me.

Against me, he has weapons
you know nothing about.

If he prepares a coup,
you have to accept fate.

You have to let go,
nothing can be done.

- But you cannot imagine
that he could do that?

- No. No!

It's so good to have a man
you can tell everything, or nearly.

And he guesses what you
haven't dared tell him.

It's good!

- And rare?
- Very rare.

And it's also painful.
Because it implies, for him,

such effort to play a role
be receptive.

When I call Blaise at 4:00 AM,

he has to accept to spend
the whole night with me,

to relax me, make me laugh,
so I can carry on working.

We spend night after night,
after night...

Which means, he can never
have a problem.

He has to live to look after
an ill man, or… I don't know…

It's unique.
When I think about it…

Because he too needs
somebody to lean on.

Who will bring him a balance.

It makes me happy.

I have at least that to make
me feel better.

He finished that interview saying:

"I know that noone
will ever say about me:

This is the former
Burkina Faso president.

They will say: This is the former
Burkina Faso president's grave."

Dagnoen graveyard
Ouagadougou, October 1987

Thomas Sankara's shadow
weighs upon Ouagadougou today.

Around his grave, the grief is tainted
by a growing suspicion.

Amongst the population,

the suspicion of a premeditated
assassination is spreading.

Mistrust is growing
in regard to the new power.





Thomas Sankara, President of
Burkina Faso, former Upper Volta

4 August 1983 - 15 October 1987

Thomas Sankara,

a simple captain who unbaptised
his country, Upper Volta,

calling it Burkina Faso,
i.e. Land of Upright People.

"The Land of Upright People" still lives
within the memory of this mythic figure.

Why was this young
revolutionary eliminated?

Who decided to make him

The proceedings,
still in progress,

haven't provided answers
to these questions.

But it is obvious that the fiery captain
bothered many people in the world,

and not only in his country.

- Captain Thomas Sankara:
why Burkina Faso?

Why change the name
of Upper Volta?

Because "Upper Volta"
didn't mean anything to anyone

especially to us,
Burkina people.

It's a name that only refers back
to a colonialist past.

Whereas Burkina Faso
is a local name

which has a meaning
in our language.

- Which is?
- Land of honest men.

Thank you, President.

English version: Philippe Ciompi,
Sylvie Bringas, Katia Berger