The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 45      December 15, 2014

Sankara at center of
DC forum discussion
(front page)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two weeks after demonstrations across Burkina Faso forced President Blaise Compaoré out of power, a Nov. 15 meeting here brought together 150 people from a broad range of political backgrounds to discuss the events and the political legacy of Thomas Sankara, central leader of the 1983-87 revolution in that West African country.

The popular democratic revolution Sankara led accomplished a great deal in just a few years before it was overthrown in a 1987 coup that brought Compaoré to power. It nationalized the land to guarantee rural toilers the fruits of their labor; organized literacy and immunization campaigns and made basic health care available to millions; launched mass tree-planting and irrigation projects to roll back the encroaching Sahara desert; drew women in large numbers into these social campaigns and political life; and built links with anti-imperialist forces around the world.

The celebratory event — titled “Revolution in Burkina Faso and the Downfall of Blaise Compaoré: Significance and Prospects for a New Burkina Faso and a New Africa” — was endorsed by nine political organizations and brought people from the D.C. area, Philadelphia and New York.

Gnaka Lagoke, founder of the Revival of Panafricanism Forum and principal organizer of the meeting, opened the program and welcomed participants, including two diplomats from the Cuban Interests Section here.

“Thomas Sankara built on the Cuban Revolution’s example,” Lagoke said. “Just think of Cuba’s contributions to Africa,” he noted, pointing to Cuba’s military aid to Angola in the fight against the invading forces of apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and ’80s and Cuba’s leadership in responding to the Ebola epidemic today.

More than a third of those in attendance were from West African countries, where millions face governments similar to that of Compaoré — “democratic” façades for de facto military rule backed by Washington, Paris and other imperialist powers.

Impact of Compaoré’s overthrow
“After Burkina Faso, the same thing may happen in Congo, Burundi, Benin or even the Ivory Coast,” said Lagoke, himself a native of Ivory Coast.

The mobilizations “will have an impact on neighboring countries,” Farida Nabourema, 24, a member of the “Faure Most Go” movement, told the Militant at the meeting. The group opposes the government of President Faure Gnassingbé in Togo and 47 years of Gnassingbé family rule. Thousands in Togo demonstrated against the regime Nov. 21.

Was the overthrow of Compaoré a revolution? What did it accomplish and what’s next? were among the central questions joined in the civil debate and discussion among the political currents present.

The mobilizations in Burkina Faso represented “a mass uprising, not a revolution,” said Mjiba Frehiwot, a member of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party and chair of the event. She was responding to participants who argued the opposite. “A revolution means total transformation. For that you have to get rid of imperialism and neocolonialism,” she added.

The army remains in control, protecting the interests of capitalist gold-mining and agricultural giants, exploiting workers and farmers in the resource-rich country of 18 million where 72 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day. The officer corps and a small layer of propertied families it serves have been working day and night to cobble together a new regime they hope can demobilize the popular unrest.

Serge “Smokey” Bambara, a leader of Balai Citoyen, a group centrally involved in building the mass protest movement that brought Compaoré down, spoke by teleconference from Ouagadougou, the country’s capital. “We don’t want power, we don’t want to be in government. Our mission is to guard democracy,” he said, expressing distrust in corrupt politicians and military officials that is widespread among Burkinabè.

“A revolutionary organization is needed,” said Bill Fletcher, a longtime leader of TransAfrica Forum and today the host of “The Global African” program on teleSUR English. Without that, he said, “somebody or something will fill in. The military can never substitute for popular organizations because they’re trained by the old regime.”

The fight to open political space and build a revolutionary party is the task before the Burkinabè toilers, said Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and president of Pathfinder Press. “Getting rid of the old is the easy part, but the class structures of power, both national and international, that kept Compaoré in place remain.”

“The unity of the ‘Compaoré must go!’ forces no longer exists,” Waters said. “What matters is not only who you are against, but what you are for, and that’s where the example of the Cuban Revolution becomes so important.”

Compaoré, who has now fled to Morocco, should be arrested and tried, said several participants during the animated discussion period that lasted for well over an hour. But differences over how that should be accomplished were part of the debate on imperialist domination of Africa today and how to fight it.

Yves Bambara, from Balai Citoyen in New York, called for pressure to be mounted on Washington and Paris to arrest Compaoré and try him in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Lagoke strongly and clearly disagreed. The ICC is an arm of imperialist power over African people, he said. “I’m tired of seeing African leaders brought to European cells — he should be tried in Africa.”

Unity in anti-imperialist struggle
“There are two struggles in Africa,” said another participant from the floor. “First there is the fight for the federation that Nkrumah talked about. We’re going to have a United States of Africa of 1 billion people. But if you don’t capture the federation’s state power,” he said, addressing the Africans in the room, “the capitalists will be in charge.”

Kwame Nkrumah, leader of Ghana from its independence in 1957 until 1966, along with Ahmed Sékou Touré, president of Guinea-Conakry from its independence in 1958 until 1984, put forward the perspective of a united federation of African nations to stand up to imperialist domination. Several currents that were part of the meeting trace their political roots to the pan-Africanist outlook of the two leaders.

African unity in itself does not advance the interests of the exploited, argued Fletcher. “The uprising in Burkina Faso may inspire other movements in Africa, but revolutions can only be fought for and decided based on the specific set of conditions in a given country,” he said.

Paul Sankara, a member of the Committee Against Impunity in Burkina Faso and brother of Thomas Sankara, said the Burkina Faso Revolution went beyond Africa and Africans. “Thomas said we are the heirs of all revolutions. We don’t just work with Blacks, we work with Indians, whites, Chinese and whoever else we share goals with.”

“Lasting unity can only be forged in the course of revolutionary struggles by the toilers,” Waters said. “It will not precede them. Unity can only be based on common class interests.”

“Those fighting U.S. imperialism are also on the streets of Ferguson,” said Heather Benno, representing the ANSWER Coalition and the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “Our struggle is to take action against the U.S. war machine from Ferguson to la frontera to Gaza to Baghdad to Ouagadougou — we must be free.”

Addressing the large portion of the audience who were West African immigrants now working in the U.S., Waters said, “It’s important to understand that your contributions to the class struggle here are part of strengthening the combativity, capacity and resistance of working people in the U.S. and broadening the historical and cultural horizons of us all.” The best way to prepare for the future, whether in Burkina Faso or the U.S., Waters said, “is to work together to build the conscious, fighting, disciplined, political working-class movement necessary not only to destroy the old but to transform ourselves as we fight for that new world Sankara led the way toward.”

Sankara’s revolutionary legacy
“Sankara taught us to trust ourselves, to fight for justice and to reach out in solidarity to others,” said Windbaley Dawouda, 37, a recent immigrant from Burkina Faso who joined the Pioneers youth group at age 10 during the revolution.

What distinguished Sankara among other African leaders, Waters noted, “was that he was a Marxist and a communist. He did not reject Marxism as a set of European ideas alien to Africa. He understood it as a course of struggle that drew on the lessons of successes and failures of past revolutions worldwide.”

A good number of participants were carrying books of Sankara speeches published by Pathfinder Press — Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution, 1983-1987; We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions; and Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle — from which Frehiwot quoted frequently as she chaired the gathering.

The meeting was endorsed by the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, ANSWER Coalition, Friends of the Congo, Institute for Policy Studies, Le Balai Citoyen-USA, Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progres-USA, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Revival of Panafricanism Forum, and the Socialist Workers Party.

During the discussion period and at the dinner after the program, many said they would like to see more such activities in the future. “Hearing about the meeting from those of us who attended has inspired Balai Citoyen members in New York to do more,” Arouna Saniwidi, U.S. organizer of the group, told the Militant a few days later. The D.C. meeting was an important first step.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home