The 20th century was a defining one for the human race. It was a century that was witness to great technological and science advancements, but one that was also devastated by wars and other human-driven atrocities. Class struggle also reached its peak with the advancement of productive forces, and others rose to fight this. Che Guevara has been named as one of the most influential people of the 20th century. His ideas permeated many dimensions of freedom struggles, and in Africa, Thomas Sankara has been referred to as "Africa's Che Guevara."
Che Guevara's ideas, beliefs and principles were very powerful, and addressed the monstrosities of capitalism. He fought alongside Cuba's Fidel Castro in deposing the Batista dictatorship that was unashamedly sponsored by America's CIA. Even though Guevara was assassinated in Bolivia by a soldier named Mario Teran under the dictates of the Bolivian president at that time, Rene Barrientos, his ideas have been immortalized. It is not surprising that just a week before Sankara died, he said, "While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas." Moments before he was gruesomely murdered, some soldiers asked Guevara if he was thinking about his death. He replied, "No, I'm thinking about the immortality of the revolution." And because of such boldness, such conviction and charisma, his ideas still echo in today's 21st century.
Guevara's ideas have inspired many revolutionary wars for independence in Africa. They have inspired many leftists not in Africa only but across the whole world. Justice, equality and liberation of the oppressed. That was all he wanted. These were the same principles that Sankara's actions as president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987 were premised on. Guevara was born in Argentina but he was a committed internationalist. He studied to become a doctor, with his studies taking him on visits in the region. His studies were also interrupted by visits he took on his own, and these visits were the underlying factor that contributed to his sharp political consciousness. Guevara was repulsed by the biting plight of the peasants, the working class and other poor people of the Americas. In him was evoked a fight-back culture in order to right these glaring disparities, ostensibly brought by the unfairness of the world, a feature of capitalism.
In Guatemala, democratically-elected and reformist president Jacobo Arbenz was ousted from power through a coup, which Guevara witnessed. It drove him to the conclusion that imperial powers would not stop at anything to disrupt peaceful change. It pushed him into joining the war against Cuba's dictator Fulgencio Batista who was backed by the United States of America. He met Castro in Mexico City and the two formed a bond that was of great importance in the guerrilla struggle against Batista. Che was an enthusiastic fighter who quickly rose through the ranks of Cuba's military and with the victory of the Cuban Revolution, he began rolling his Marxist principles to life. He served as Minister of Industry and supervised a massive land reform process on the island. He worked diligently in his post and made an effort to embody the qualities that he wished to see from the Cuban people, the notion of the “new man” that a strongly believed a socialist society would require.
Parallels also stand out with Thomas Sankara, a soldier who got power through a popularly-supported coup with the help of his colleague and friend, Blaise Campaore in 1983. Sankara has not been spared from the fact that he tended to be autocratic in pursuit of his ideals but now he is widely viewed as a revolutionary who changed Burkina Faso, and whose principles and symbolism were also instrumental in the popular uprising against Blaise Campaore in 2014. Campaore had ruled for 27 years following the assassination of Sankara in 1987, in which he is widely believed to be complicit in. Sankara died when he was only 37 and had only ruled for four years. But his policies, and his vision, are still cherished both by some locals who were around when he was in power and, significantly, by many young people who were born since his death.
During military school, Sankara imbibed the principles of Karl Marx, and had studied closely the American Revolution and the French Revolution. He simply saw himself as a revolutionary, and had been inspired by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Che Guevara's social policies lay a firm foundation for the work done by Thomas Sankara for his Burkinabe people. He regularly quoted Guevara and said it on many occasions that he was inspired by Guevara. Sankara dealt with a seemingly insurmountable 90% illiteracy rate by building many schools. His nationalization policies alleviated the pinching poverty in Burkina Faso. Sankara always wanted Burkina Faso to be self-reliant and he strongly believed that no one was going to come and build Burkina Faso for them. To instill a sense of pride in people, and to free their mindsets, he changed the name of the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, the latter meaning "The Land of the Upright."
Sankara was a determined pan-Africanist, whose foreign policies were largely centred on anti-imperialism. His government spurned foreign aid and tried to stamp out the influence of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the country by adopting debt reduction policies and nationalizing all land and mineral wealth. Self-sufficiency and land reform policies were designed to fight famine, a nationwide literacy campaign was launched, and families were ordered to have their children vaccinated. Sankara's goal was to improve the lives of people living in the countryside, which was the vast majority of Burkinabes. During his reign, village clinics and community centers received much greater support. In 1984, more than two million children were vaccinated by mobile health teams in just two weeks.
The two men will never be forgotten by history. The socialist principles of Guevara and Sankara have left an indelible imprint in the world. They will continue to inspire many, and people will always look at their mistakes to even come up with more sound ideas.