The discourse of independence and neocolonialism in Africa is incomplete without mentioning Thomas Sankara (1949-1987) and Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) – revolutionary luminaries from Burkina Faso and the Democratic of Congo (DRC) respectively. They envisioned total emancipation of the mind so that Africa could attain economic emancipation to genuinely liberate the masses.
But such attempts were derailed by Western neocolonial interests and they met a similar ending – assassination. And that is not the only thing they had in similar. Despite the enormity of contradictions in their countries due to capitalist bases set by the colonizers, these two leaders crusaded brave revolutions that the rest of Africa should emulate.
1. Economic Independence
The two leaders understood that without true economic independence, they would remain forever tied to the whims of Western capital. They were resolutely firm in their denial of neocolonial domination as they were determined to free their people from economic shackles. For Lumumba, he understood that Belgian corporate interests (which were tied to American and other Western corporate interests), would continue to play against his people.
He understood that all the country’s minerals would be meaningless if they were not put in control of the Congolese. What he desired more than anything else as soon as his country attained independence was to put the country’s resources in the hands of the Congolese. The colonial industrial and political elite continued to benefit at the detriment of the Congolese, and this is precisely what Lumumba was fiercely opposed to.
For Sankara, he knew that neocolonial domination would be continuously wielded in the form of foreign aid and foreign debt. As long as these two vices were present on the African continent, no progress was to ever take place. His attempt towards a borderline Socialist revolution proves this – what he considered the foremost priority for Burkina Faso (whose name he had changed from Upper Volta) was the attainment of true autonomy and self-sufficiency.
Both Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara were firm Pan-Africanists. They believed in the re-unification of all African peoples if the continent were to realize its full potential. Lumumba’s political vision was not confined to the DRC only – in 1958, he was invited by Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah to attend the anti-colonial All African People’s Conference. It was this conference that fueled his drive to fight not only for Congo’s independence, but for Africa in its entirety. The same applied for Sankara. He believed that the whole of Africa had to be extricated from the tentacles of foreign debt at the behest of global gatekeepers of private capital such as the IMF and the World Bank. If the whole of Africa was under the bondage of debt, then African postcolonial independence would continue being meaningless.
3. Both Were Assassinated
Thomas Sankara and Patrice Lumumba’s revolutionary ideas were so frightening to Western elite interests, and also to local bourgeois interests to the extent that the only way to neutralize such were to kill them. Belgium sought the help of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assassinate Patrice Lumumba. At that time, the U.S. was also concerned with its uranium interests in the Congo, as well as fearing that Lumumba would turn into a die-hard Communist. Lumumba was assassinated in 1961 on the orders of American president Dwight Eisenhower and the Belgian government, with the help of rebel forces from Katanga.
Sankara was ruthlessly and callously assassinated in 1987 in a move that saw his close ally Blaise Compaore rising to the presidency. The latter was ousted from power in 2014 following a popular uprising that resurrected Sankara’s ideals. Compaore cited how Sankara had increasingly become hostile to France, hence his killing. France has since shared the documents surrounding Sankara’s killing but has not made these public.
4. Impact in the Afterlife
Although their mortal bodies departed from the planet, the revolutionary spirits of Sankara and Lumumba continue to be ever-alive not only on the African continent but across the whole world. This explains why the youth in Burkina Faso were able to be at the forefront of the popular uprising in 2014 that ousted Compaore from power. As it stands, Compaore is under trial (in absentia) for the murder of Sankara. Lumumba’s ideals on national sentiment (he was opposed to the Katanga secessionist movement) and progressive-populist proposals made him an endearing figure to the masses in the Congo. He came to view European colonial racism as the sole reason for the immiseration of the Congolese despite being richly endowed with infinite natural resources.
5. Both Were Fine Orators
Both Sankara and Lumumba were some of the most charismatic leaders the continent has ever seen. Their brave revolutions may have gone sideways but they knew how to navigate their way when speaking to the masses.
In his speech on the Congo’s proclamation of independence in 1960, Lumumba declared, “The Congo's independence is a decisive step towards the liberation of the whole African continent. Our government, a government of national and popular unity, will serve its country. I call on all Congolese citizens, men, women and children, to set themselves resolutely to the task of creating a national economy and ensuring our economic independence. Eternal glory to the fighters for national liberation! Long live independence and African unity! Long live the independent and sovereign Congo!”
Sankara on debt declared, “Debt has to be seen from the perspective of its origins. . . . Those who lend us money are those who colonized us. They are the same ones who used to manage our states and economies.”
Their speeches will forever remain an inspiration for those who believe in Pan-Africanist unity, and those who firmly reject neocolonial whims.