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An obstinate myth that refuses to die: Africa is incapable of producing responsible leadership. Really?
No African country has experienced genuine democracy after decolonization. Without exception, African leaders were autocratic, corrupt, bloodthirsty tyrants out for one thing only: their own personal enrichment. That’s Africa in a nutshell. At least that’s what the former colonial powers like you to believe.
Examples abound: Mobutu fled Zaire (Congo) with a fortune of half the national debt, there was the grotesque Bokassa in the Central African Republic, gruesome Idi Amin in Uganda, Siad Barre in Somalia, Houphouet-Boigny in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Compaore in Burkina Faso and many more.
These men (they are all “men”) had quite a few things in common: coming to power by military force, full support and unlimited military supplies from their former colonizers, lavish funding by IMF and World Bank, brutal repression and exploitation of their own people … And, yes, all of them were dropped like rotten fruit once they didn’t suit Western interests any longer. Actually, one of them is still in power: Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso is hanging on.
He came to power by a coup d’etat 24 years ago this week, on 15 October, 1987. On that day he killed his predecessor (and former ally) Thomas Sankara. Only 38 years old when he died, Sankara became president of Upper Volta in 1983, also after a military coup against another classic military dictator. He is the one who renamed the country Burkina Faso (literally “Land of upright men” meaning “men of integrity”).
His rule only lasted four years, but what an amazing period it was: in three years’ time he managed to make the famine stricken and aid dependent country food self-sufficient; he was the first African leader to appoint women as ministers – and not just for “Women’s Affairs” or “Family Planning” – forbade polygamy and decreed laws against domestic violence; he redistributed land to the farmers owned and unused by tribal lords; he was the first African leader to recognize the scourge of AIDS; he undertook a countrywide infrastructure program, while refusing foreign aid for it; he publicly condemned IMF and World Bank as neocolonial instruments of domination and spoke out against odious debt.
He also enraged the tiny pro-French wealthy elite by slashing salaries of top branch officials, sold the government’s Mercedes fleet, reduced his own salary to $450 a month, drove a tiny Renault 5, ended the African-wide practice of large billboards all over the country with the president’s picture on it, abolished first class travel for officials and started a campaign against corruption – not just in words, like his colleagues in the rest of Africa, but in deeds – and most of all, he openly criticized his colleagues in the rest of Africa.
Houphouet-Boigny, dictator of neighboring Ivory Coast didn’t like it, for exposing him as the bloody dictator he was, but most of all, because he had a direct interest in keeping Burkina Faso poor. The blooming cocoa trade in Ivory Coast depended on cheap migrant labor from Burkina Faso.
With full logistic support from France, he convinced Sankara’s second man, Blaise Compaore, to overthrow him. Today Compaore still is France’s strongest ally in the region. He also is one of the richest men in Africa and Burkina Faso one of the poorest African countries, deeply indebted to IMF and World Bank.
Would Sankara have stayed the course he was on beyond those four years? We will never know. We will also never know whether Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of independent Congo would have fulfilled his promises. But one thing is for sure, they never stood a chance to prove themselves, for one reason only: the West did not like what the likes of Sankara stood for. They did not suit our interests.
Come next October 15, European media will not waste any headlines on Sankara, perhaps a few words on the back pages with some demeaning comments. For ordinary Africans however, Sankara is a hero, the African “Che”.
Lack of African responsible leadership is a myth. The West preventing responsible African leadership is reality.
Sankara, Lumumba, Cabral are true African leaders. If we were sincere about helping Africa to develop itself, they are the ones we would support.