The restoration of Thomas Sankara’s Legacy

Sankara is immortalized along with the busts of 12 of his comrades who were also murdered in the 1987 coup
Ghana’s former President Jerry Rawlings (R) and Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (L) poses under the bronze statue of Burkina Faso’s former President Thomas Sankara who was killed on October 15, 1987, on the sidelines of the inauguration of his memorial at the Conseil de l’Entente in Ouagadougou on March 2, 2019. (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

In Burkina Faso: Thomas Sankara’s legacy restored with a bronze statue

A little over three decades after his assassination, Burkina Faso celebrates Thomas Sankara with a new monument. Two years ago the revolutionary leader once again became the face of a popular movement, and the new statue unveiled over the weekend in Ouagadougou rubber stamps his place in a new political era.

Ghana’s former President Jerry Rawlings (R) and Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (L) pose under the statue of Burkina Faso’s former President Thomas Sankara (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

The five-meter bronze statue, which stands on a four-meter base, depicts Sankara in his army weariness, ready to take a step forward with his arm raised and his face to the skyline. It is exactly the kind of leadership Sankara has come to represent to a new generation of Burkinabé and across the continent of Africa.

Sankara is immortalized along with the busts of 12 of his comrades who were also murdered in the 1987 coup. The monument was designed by Burkinabé sculptors who reacted to a public call for artists and architects to contribute to the project and was led by renowned artist Jean-Luc Bambara.

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The statue will form part of a gallery, mausoleum, museum, and conference space, all of which are the result of a national effort to revive the legacy of Thomas Sankara.

How much the statue cost is still uncertain, but the memorial project leaders’ invited donations, crowd-funded, and offered memberships of 15,000 CFA ($26) to the memorial committee.

On the 30th anniversary of his death, Burkinabé officials made public a plan to create a memorial to restore Sankara to his rightful place in the history books.

With former Ghanaian president and a close friend of Sankara’s, Jerry Rawlings as the honorary president, the International Memorial Committee for Thomas Sankara was founded in 2016. It is, according to the founders, an effort to bring together the various projects that have already started to restore Sankara’s legacy

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After taking over in the 1987 coup, former president Blaise Compaoré suppressed Sankara’s legacy. Before his death, Sankara used his brief presidency from 1983 to institute bold reforms, renaming the country, composing a new anthem and creating left-leaning policies of economic self-reliance that are still popular today. Sankara was also one of the earliest examples of a feminist leader who understood that empowering women empowered the whole country.

All of this, along with his self-abnegating lifestyle and rejection of neocolonialism made him the ideal symbol for the 2014 uprising that removed Compaoré after 27 years in power. Now banished to Côte d’Ivoire, Compaoré is wanted in Burkina Faso to answer questions for his role in the demise of the father of the revolution. With Compaoré gone, Sankara’s ideas and imagery have again become a popular movement in Burkina Faso.

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Yet, commemorating Sankara’s legacy has not deflected from the political factionalism of then and now. Current president and Sankara champion, Roch Marc Christian Kabore was an ally of Compaoré’s and once served as his prime minister before they fell out.

In addition to the questions centered on Sankara’s assassination, there are also uneasy questions about his political leadership and isolation. There’s a belief that in sanctifying Sankara, a new generation risks overlooking the realities of political leadership. After all, it was Sankara who said, “I am neither a messiah nor a prophet. I possess no truths.”

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