Thomas Sankara ceased power in 1983, and became the president of the Republic of Upper Volta now Burkina Faso. His policies were aimed at avoiding famine, promoting reforestation, fighting corruption and making education and health a real priority. On the first anniversary of his inauguration, he changed the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “land of the upright people”. He also gave it a new flag and composed a new national anthem, Une Seule Nuit. Providing of food, housing and medical services to those in urgent need were his first target as a president. Thomas initiated a mass vaccination program to try to eradicate measles, meningitis and polio. Factually speaking, 2 million people in Burkina Faso were vaccinated from 1983 to 1985.
Before Thomas’ term of office, Burkina Faso’s infant mortality rate was approximately 20.8%, which declined to 14.5% during his administration. Amazingly, the Thomas government was the first African government to openly recognize the AIDS epidemic as a major threat in Africa. Large-scale housing and infrastructure projects have also been carried out. In order to do away with urban slums, he established brick factory which was used to build houses for the citizens. To combat deforestation, the “People’s Harvest Forest Nursery” was created to supply 7,000 village nurseries and organized the planting of millions of trees. All regions of the country were quickly connected through a huge road and rail construction program. Wonderfully without any foreign aid or external funding, the then good Burkina Faso installed more than 700 kilometers (430 miles) of railroad to facilitate the extraction of manganese in the “War of the Railways” or “The Battle of the Rails”. These projects attempted to show African countries can prosper without foreign aid or assistance.
Purposefully, educational programs were launched to assist in eradicating the country’s illiteracy rate of 90% which increased access to education from 6% to 20%. These plans actually met with some success in the early years. However, large-scale teacher strikes and Thomas reluctance to negotiate had led to the emergence of “revolutionary teachers.” To replace the nearly 2,500 teachers who were laid off due to the strike in 1987, anyone with a college degree was invited to teach through the Revolutionary Teachers Program. The volunteers only received a 10-day training course before starting teaching.
Shortly after taking office, Thomas established a judicial system called the “Popular Revolutionary Tribunal.” The courts were originally designed to try former government officials in a simple way so that ordinary Burkina Faso could participate in or supervise the trial of revolutionary enemies . They sued the prosecutors for corruption, tax evasion, or “counter-revolutionary” activities. The penalties for former government officials are light and they are often suspended. Under the Thomas administration, the rights of women were seriously taken into a consideration with equal access to jobs and education.
His revolutionary plans for self-reliance in Africa has made him an idol for many poor Africans. Thomas continued to be popular with most citizens of his countries. However, his policies had alienated and confronted various groups, including small but Burkina Faso powerful middle class, tribal leaders were deprived of the traditional privileges of forced labour and payment of tributes, and the France government and its ally Ivory Coast. Opposition parties and trade unions were banned, and media freedom was restricted. High-profile teachers were fired and replaced by inexperienced youth.
On October 15, 1987, Thomas was assassinated by an armed group and 12 other officials in a coupe organized by his former colleague Blaise Compaoré, his friend and a top associate of his government yet he sent him to grave unbelievably. His Assassination incidence occurred when he was having a meeting with his aides in the formal headquarters of Conseil de l’Entente which once served as the National Conseil national de la révolution (CNR) for some time. At about 4:30 in the afternoon, there were shootings occurring in the small outer courtyard which made the meeting short. His driver and his two bodyguards were the first to be killed. Hearing the gunshots, everyone in the conference room hurriedly hid. He then got up and told his assistants or aides to stay inside for their own safety. ”It is me they want.” He raised his hand and left the room, facing the attackers. They fired shots at him and he died without saying anything. He taught leaving the room will prevent them from been killed but then they were fired as well except Alouna Traoré. That brought an end to Thomas’ brief and unfaltering ‘revolutionary’ moment.
Though Blaise Compaoré denied that he was not the one who assassinated him, it was his men who murderered Thomas. Blaise Compaoré became the new president on the night of the assassination. In explaining the reason for his overthrow, Compaoré claimed, Thomas endangered diplomatic relations with the former colonial power France and neighboring Ivory Coast, and accused his former partner of plotting to assassinate his opponents.
Immediately, he rejoined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to bring in “urgently needed” funds to restore the “bankrupt” economy. In 2014, the Compaoré dictatorship which lasted for 27 years was overthrown by popular protests due to his bad and cruel leadership which nearly collapsed the nation.