By DEMBA MOUSSA DEMBELE
Member, ILPS International Coordinating Committee
The Thomas Sankara Memorial Day took place on Monday October 15th, the day of the 25th anniversary of his assassination. It was attended by over 100 participants from Senegal and several other countries.
The agenda included several political and cultural activities, most of which are recorded in a video that will be sent later.
One should mention that all the expenses related to the preparation and holding of the Memorial were covered by ILPS and IBON International. This was publicly acknowledged during the Memorial Day and warm thanks were given to both organizations.
There were over 100 participants throughout the day. They included, comrades and colleagues from Guinea-Conakry; Ivory Coast; Mali; Niger; Cape Verde; Gambia; Guinea-Bissau; Nigeria; Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and the Philippines. Most of them participated in the Monetary Conference held one week earlier.
Colleagues and comrades from Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo who could not attend the Memorial sent their warm greetings and wishes for the success of the event.
In addition to these colleagues and comrades, representatives of several left-leaning and progressive political parties and personalities attended the event.
However, the overwhelming majority of participants were from grassroots organizations, social movements and youth organizations.
The Organizing Committee had invited representatives from the following Embassies: Cuba, Venezuela, Mali, Algeria, Niger, South Africa and Palestine. Unfortunately, they could not attend because the invitations went late and probably because the Memorial Day was on Monday, the beginning of the week. However, the Cuban Embassy sent its warm greetings through a member of the Senegal-Cuba Friendship Association.
II) The Organizing Committee
It was composed of the International League of Peoples Struggle (ILPS), of the Senegalese Social Forum (SSF) and the Pan Africanist Youth (PAY). But ILPS was the leading organization with comrade Demba as the President of the Organizing Committee and the main facilitator during the Memorial Day.
III) The Opening Session
The Memorial Day was opened by the head of the Organizing Committee (Demba), who explained the significance and objectives of the event. He observed that Sankara deserved this Commemoration from all Africans and progressive forces who oppose imperialism, foreign domination and oppression. He stressed that those who assassinated Sankara believed that they could bury the symbol he represented and that his legacy would disappear with his death. On the contrary, the assassination has contributed to enhancing Sankara’s stature as an authentic African hero, a charismatic and visionary leader, an ardent internationalist who stood by the peoples and movements fighting against oppression and imperialist domination.
Demba said that the Commemoration is particularly important for youth people who need to know more about Sankara and the values that guided his life and which made him an authentic hero of the African people. .
After this introductory note, it was proposed to listen to ILPS Chairperson’s message. As an introduction to the message, Demba told participants about the strong political, moral and financial support provided by the ILP, and especially the role played by its Chairperson.
IV) Message from the ILPS Chairperson
Demba explained the personal involvement of the ILPS Chairperson, who urged ILPS Chapters and member organizations to hold similar events in several countries. For that reason, commemorations will take place in the Philippines, Canada and the United States, among other countries.
Then, Demba proposed that ILPS Chairperson’s message be projected so that participants could get a chance to see him on the screen.
After viewing the message, the French version was distributed to participants, including journalists. This allowed them to understand the deep political content of the message and its meaning for anti-imperialist struggles in Africa.
Demba again took the floor to draw participants’ attention to the mission and objectives of the ILPS as one of the most important and broad-based international movements in support of peoples’ struggles and progressive forces and governments’ resistance against imperialist domination around the world.
After Joma’s message, participants heard several other messages from representatives of Senegalese social movements and comrades from other African countries.
Then, there was a general introduction to Thomas Sankara’s life and legacy.
V) Introduction to Sankara’s Legacy
Demba made a general introduction to the ideas and values that guided Thomas Sankara during his short life and which made him both a martyr and a hero. He stressed that Sankara epitomized the kind of bold, visionary and revolutionary leadership who dedicated his life to the people and stood up to colonialism and imperialism. Sankara restored pride in his people and instilled in them self-esteem. He strove to eradicate reactionary and obscurantist ideas in his drive to liberate women from oppression and marginalization.
Demba stressed Thomas Sankara’s anti-imperialist and internationalist stance. He illustrated this with Sankara’s uncompromising opposition to French colonialism in his country and elsewhere in Africa. Other examples included Sankara’s strong support for the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, at a time when some African leaders, like Ivory Coast President, were trying to engage in a “dialogue” with the fascist apartheid regime, with the complicity of western countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France, all staunch supporters of the apartheid regime.
Sankara’s support for peoples’ struggles was not limited to Africa. He was a great internationalist who expressed an unwavering support for all progressive and revolutionary governments and movements and for all struggles aimed at political, economic, social and cultural emancipation. This explained why he expressed his solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and the Palestinian resistance against Zionism and the terrorist State of Israel.
All these claims were illustrated with some of Sankara’s most famous quotes and speeches.
After this introduction, a questions and answers session followed, allowing young participants to learn more about Thomas Sankara and the kind of leadership he represented.
Prominent intellectuals, including writers and professors, attended the event and participated in the different panels that were organized. A prominent Senegalese writer, Boubacar Boris Diop, came from Saint Louis (300 kms from Dakar) for the occasion. He gave a moving testimony on Sankara whom he met a few weeks before his assassination.
It was during the African Film Festival, called FESPACO, held every two years in Ouagadougou. Sankara came to their hotel to greet participants and make sure they are well treated and safe. He said he was struck by Sankara’s simplicity and warmth which are in sharp contrast to most African leaders so aloof and distant from the people. He said that Sankara left him an image of a charismatic and courageous leader close to his people. .
Mrs. Aminata Traore, former Malian Minister of Culture, well-known essayist and a prominent figure of the African Social Forum, spoke about Thomas Sankara’s policies aimed at promoting the well-being of his people. She chose the example of cotton, of which Burkina is one of the main producers. She explained that Sankara had called on his countrymen and women to transform their cotton domestically in order to boost their economy so that they can live within their means and in dignity. Sankara understood that depending on exports of raw materials would only exacerbate his country’s economic and social problems.
This example showed how far-sighted Sankara was. In fact, a quarter century after Sankara’s death, the African cotton is suffering from the huge subsidies provided by the United States and Europe to their cotton producers that contribute to bringing down cotton prices in world markets, with dire consequences for African countries, such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Senegal, among others
Mrs. Aminata Traore concluded by saying that Africa needs other Thomas Sankara’s, especially in these troubled times when African leadership has failed to grasp the dangers confronting the continent, with imperialist forces trying to recolonize Africa under the pretext of “democracy” and “human rights”, illustrated by NATO’s imperialist aggression against Libya and the assassination of President Gaddafi. She observed that what is happening to her country, Mali, is a direct consequence of that cowardly aggression. .
In addition to Boris Diop and Aminata Traore, a prominent Senegalese rap singer, Didier Awadi, was in attendance, with several of his friends coming from France and other African countries. Didier is an internationally-acclaimed progressive singer who has been working with us on several issues (debt; trade) in the African Social Forum and the World Social Forum. He has a recording house in Senegal, named after Thomas Sankara (Studios Sankara). He explained how Sankara’s life and actions had inspired him and contributed to his political consciousness
VII) Panel on Sankara’s vision of development
One of the most remarkable and enduring aspects of Thomas Sankara’s legacy is his vision of Africa’s development. Throughout his Presidency, he had urged Africans to live within their means. This is most illustrated by his famous quote” to live free and in dignity, let’s live as Africans”. This is why he advocated the policy of self-reliance by transforming locally his country’s resources for the benefit of the people. He had urged a strong solidarity among African countries against external domination in the form of debt and unfair trade agreements. He was a staunch proponent of African economic integration. There was no coincidence that Burkina Faso was selected as the headquarters of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).
So, to revisit Sankara’s vision of Africa’s development, three economists from Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Uganda exchanged their views on this topic. They said that Sankara’s management of public resources is in sharp contrast to what is observed almost everywhere in Africa where corruption and waste of public resources are the main characteristics. Then, they compared his call for self-reliance with the attitude of most African leaders who keep begging loans from the IMF, the World Bank and western countries with the crippling and humiliating conditions that come with them. Furthermore, they compared Sankara’s call for debt repudiation and challenge to the devastating IMF and World Bank policies with the total surrender of economic policy formulation to these institutions by many African governments.
They said that by trusting his people, Sankara was able to create “miracles” in a “poor” country, according to capitalist standards. All this led them to insist in their conclusion on the necessity for African progressive forces to promote Thomas Sankara’s ideas and vision of development in order to serve current struggles for Africa’s economic emancipation. And it is of utmost importance to contrast Thomas Sankara’s leadership with much of the current African leadership which tends to take orders form Washington, Paris, Brussels and London.
VIII) The Dakar Declaration
To Memorial Day was concluded by the Dakar Declaration, which was issued in French and distributed to all participants.
The main message of the Declaration is to call on progressive and revolutionary African forces to take inspiration from Thomas Sankara in the struggles for economic and social transformation and in the resistance to imperialist domination.
The Declaration aims to serve as a roadmap to unite and mobilize progressive political and social movements against foreign domination and imperialist attempts to recolonize Africa. In this regard, the Declaration singled out AFRICOM, the United States project aimed at militarizing Africa, as one of the greatest threats to the continent’s security and independence. This is why the Declaration calls on all African movements and political forces to pay attention to this mortal threat and mobilize public opinion against it.
The Declaration warmly thanked ILPS and its Chairperson for their strong support and for the Chairperson’s powerful message of solidarity with the African people’s struggles against imperialist domination. It urged African anti-imperialist forces and movements to link up with international anti-imperialist movements, such as the ILPS.
IX) Cultural Activities
Even though political activities were the bulk of the activities during the Memorial, nevertheless, the cultural aspect was not forgotten. There was an exhibition of photographs of Thomas Sankara. Unfortunately, the organizers were not able to get photographs of other prominent African leaders and intellectuals, such as Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko, among others
A progressive poet, Thierno Seydou Sall, read several poems dedicated to the memory of Sankara and other heroes. A poetess read poems in Wolof (the major local language spoken in Senegal). Both were accompanied by a popular African musical instrument, typical of the Senegambia region, called Cora.
The Memorial Day was a great political success. It had allowed high-level debates on the legacy of Thomas Sankara and how it can serve today’s struggles for social and democratic change and against imperialist domination. The Memorial has provided ILPS a platform through the message by the Chairperson, which was highly appreciated. Some Senegalese newspapers quoted some paragraphs of the message.
So, the ILPS was exposed to organizations, social movements and progressive intellectuals in the so-called “Francophone” Africa. This will provide opportunities to expand membership in Senegal, in other West African countries and beyond.
It is worth mentioning that other activities took place in Dakar to commemorate the anniversary, some of them sponsored by grassroots organizations. This illustrates Thomas Sankara’s popularity with not only progressive organizations but also with ordinary citizens.