Sankara, Thomas Isidore Noël

Sankara, Thomas 1948–87, president (1983–87) of Burkina Faso. Thomas Sankara, sometimes referred to as the African Che Guevara, was an activist, military captain, and political leader. He was a proponent of anti-imperialism, Pan-Africanism, and Marxism. In 1966, he was admitted to a military academy in the suburbs of Ouagadougou, the capital of what was then the Republic of Upper Volta. During the 1970s, Sankara became politicized, in part due to his frustration with his country's political corruption and extreme poverty. On January 10, 1983, an assembly of the CSP (Council for the Salvation of the People) appointed Sankara Prime Minister of Upper Volta. He was elevated to the position of chairman of Upper Volta's Conseil National de la Révolution via a military coup, and thus became the president of the West African state.

Although his time in office was short, Sankara's government left a lasting impact on the development of his country. During his presidency, from 1983 to 1987, he changed the name of the nation to Burkina Faso and launched ambitious programs aimed at promoting health and combatting hunger and poverty. These initiatives included mass child vaccination projects, re-forestation efforts, and the construction of a railroad to connect the country's main cities. Sankara sought to create the conditions through which Burkinabè people could pursue their own ambitions and goals.

A combination of domestic opposition groups and factions within the government and army led to Sankara's assassination on October 15, 1987, at the hands of armed men commanded by Captain Gilbert Diendéré, a relative of Blaise Compaoré. In the decades since his death, Sankara became a near-mythical hero, venerated as a dedicated rebel who sought to improve the lives of ordinary people in a poor Sahelian nation. October of 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of Sankara's assassination and ceremonies were held in Burkina Faso, Canada, Italy, and the United States. While his legacy is uncertain and debated, Sankara remains popular among many young people in Burkina Faso and across Africa.

See E. Harsch, Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary (2014); E. Harsch, Burkina Faso: A History of Power, Protest, and Revolution (2017); A. Murrey, ed., A Certain Amount of Madness: The Life, Politics and Legacies of Thomas Sankara (2018); B. J. Peterson, Thomas Sankara A Revolutionary in Cold War Africa (2021).

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