The Chronicle of a Revolution’s Doing and Undoing – Burkina

The August Revolution of 1983 is to date, arguably the most successful revolution carried out on the African continent! It remains a trail blazer because of its many accomplishments within a relatively short period of time, and how relevant such substantive accomplishments were, in the lives of Burkinabes. Deep-seated issues in Burkina Faso society were tackled effectively, successfully and swiftly! The revolution was led by Thomas Sankara – a man profoundly influenced by the works of Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx. A leadership ahead of its time, Sankara’s government dedicated itself to eradicating poverty and uplifting the common man. The August Revolution’s success was founded upon its commitment to seeing the statuses of women improve, and fostering a spirit of self-reliance, in a continent plagued by a dependance on foreign aid and dubious neo-liberal development strategies – such as the IMF and its ‘Structural Adjustment Plans’ – that are known to strengthen a gridlock on poverty-eradication, while simultaneously offering loans to eradicate poverty.

Unsurprisingly, improving women’s status ranked pretty high on Thomas’ list. He opened up his government to include a large number of women – an unprecedented policy priority in West Africa! A pioneering feminist, he was the first African leader to appoint women to major cabinet positions and to recruit them actively for the military alongside men. All the policies and social programs launched by Thomas’s govt, all the ways by which he pledged solidarity with the people, were ultimately to serve the main goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of colonial powers.


The August Revolution of 1983  lasted for four years until 15 October 1987 when Burkina Faso’s hero and Africa’s blaze-trailer Thomas Sankara was assassinated – much like Lumumba and Cabral – for putting above foreign interests and the interests of elites at home, the self-determination and dignity of his country, its people, and especially its peasant class.

Immediately after Thomas’s death, the new president reversed Burkina Faso’s nationalization, overturned nearly all of Sankara’s policies and returned the country back under the IMF fold! Today UN rates Burkina as the world’s third poorest country – a far cry from the agrarian land reform, agricultural sustainability, Sahel reforestation, and health reform, amongst many other achievements; that were the hallmarks of Sankara’s government.


  • August 4, 1983  Marxist revolutionary and Pan-Africanist theorist Thomas Sankara, seizes power in a popularly-supported coup. His government has the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power.
  • June 1984 Tribute payments to, and obligatory labour for traditional village chiefs outlawed.
  • August 4, 1984 All land & mineral wealth are nationalized. Country’s name changed from colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, words from two different local languages meaning ‘Land of the Upright.
  • September 22, 1984 Day of solidarity: men are encouraged to go to market and prepare meals to experience for themselves conditions faced by women.
  • October 1984 Rural poll tax is abolished.
  • November 1984 ‘Vaccination Commando’. In 15 days 2.5million children are immunized against meningitis, yellow fever and measles.
  • December 3, 1984 Top civil servants & military officers are required to give month’s pay and other civil servants to give half a month to help fund social development projects.
  • December 31, 1984 All domestic rents are suspended for 1985 and a massive public housing construction program begins.
  • January 1, 1985 Launch of campaign to plant 10million trees to slow Sahara’s advance.
  • August 4, 1985 All-women parade marks anniversary of Revolution.
  • September 10, 1985   Mounting hostility of region’s conservative regimes revealed at meeting inYamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.
  • Feb-Apr 1986 ‘Alpha Commando’ literacy campaign in 9 indigenous languages involves 35,000 people.
  • End of 1986 UN-assisted program brings river blindness under control.
  • 1987 A major anti-corruption drive shows Thomas Sankara to have $450 a month salary. His most valuable possessions were a car, 4 bikes, 3 guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer. He is the world’s poorest president. Sankara refuses to use air conditioning in his office on grounds that such luxury is not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes
  • October 15, 1987 Sankara is assassinated in a coup d’état along with 12 aides. A makeshift grave becomes a shrine for days, where thousands pay respects. Popular feelings force new regime to give Sankara a decent grave.


Thomas Sankara

A villager’s assessment of Sankara

“I wasn’t surprised when he was killed; the Revolution took me by surprise but that didn’t. He had bad men around him, people who just wanted to get fat and drive around in big cars. Many things changed in the Revolution. Not always in the best way. But because of the Revolution we know a little more about the type of politicians we need. It taught us to work by ourselves for ourselves. But Sankara wanted everything to happen too quickly; he expected too much.
If I were President myself I would do just as Sankara did and send my ministers out to the villages to learn what it’s like there and give the peasants help. Sankara’s very best idea was to teach us that it wasn’t enough to live with what we get in wages each month; we should get by with the minimum and give the rest to the development of the country instead of always asking for aid from overseas.”

A villager’s assessment of Compaoré, the new president

” … trade unions bought off, for example … He’s our President, we agreed to that – but his policies come from France. Every order comes from France and he never asks the Assembly’s opinion. There is no real opposition. Politics here means who will give money. People who want to become ministers or deputies look to develop themselves first and the country after; they all know the Western way of life, they want everything easy. Politics is just a means of becoming rich and giving you a big car. And Blaise gives money to opposition groups so they will divide and, voilà, no opposition. Another Sankara simply couldn’t arrive out of the current democratic landscape.” 


  • October 15, 1987 Compaoré assumes Presidency, backed by Major Jean-Baptiste Lingani & Captain H. Zongo.
  • November 1987 Committees for Defence of the Revolution, the local bodies which had replaced traditional elites, are abolished.
  • 1988   Civil servants salaries are increased. The special tax that forced them to contribute to health & education projects is scrapped.
  • December 1988 World Bank report lauds unusually high standards of financial management in Burkina Faso during the revolutionary years while noting the increasing incidence of corruption since Compaoré’s takeover.
  • September 1989 Lingani & Zongo attempt to oust Compaoré in coup and are executed.
  • December 31 1989 Sankara supporters detained without trial for over a year. Lecturer Guillaume Sessouma dies during torture.

  • December 1990 Draft constitution guarantees freedom of association & expression and property rights. Provides for an elected President & National Assembly.
  • Early 1991 An IMF Structural Adjustment Plan is put in place. It involves privatization & liberalization of the market.
  • May 1991 All political prisoners are released.
  • December 1991 Blaise Compaoré wins presidential election. He is the only candidate; 73% of electorate do not vote.
  • 1993 IMF lends Burkina $67m for 1993-5 on the condition that it continues implementing free-market policies.
  • January 1994 CFA franc is halved in value in relation to the French franc, at the insistence of Paris & IMF.
  • March 1994 Compaoré sacks PM to install loyalist.
  • August 20, 2012 UN still rates Burkina Faso the world’s third poorest country. Burkina is still largely dependent on International Aid. It has in fact today, been rectified back to its former state of impoverishment and dependency, deemed approvable by neocolonial overlords.

“Thomas knew how to show his people that they could become dignified and proud through will power, courage, honesty and work. What remains above all of my husband is his integrity.” ~  Mariam Sankara, Thomas’ widow.

With love, for the memory of Thomas. Xx

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