Thomas Sankara was born on December 21, 1949, in Yako, French Upper Volta, into a poor family. His father was a groundnut farmer and his mother was a homemaker. He was the youngest of nine children. Sankara attended primary school in Yako and then attended secondary school in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s largest city. During his time at secondary school, Sankara became increasingly interested in revolutionary politics and became a member of the Voltaic Revolutionary Youth (JUVENTO). He was also an accomplished athlete, representing Upper Volta in soccer and running competitions.

Thomas Sankara's parents
Sakara’s Parents


Sankara’s Education 

In 1966, Sankara’s father died, leaving him responsible for supporting his mother and several younger siblings. Unable to afford the school fees, Sankara enlisted in the upper echelon military training program at Kamboinsé Military Academy (now Ouagadougou Military Academy). He completed the two-year program in just over a year and was later admitted to the École Interarmes service school in Annecy, France.

Military Academy 

Sankara graduated from the Military Academy as one of only four upper-echelon cadets in his class of 40 and was immediately commissioned as an officer upon his return to Upper Volta in 1968.  He completed his compulsory two-year military service as an armoured officer in the upper echelon of the armed forces.

Sankara acquired a profound military ability as well as an excellent mastery of strategic doctrine. He practised what he preached, making sure that he and his confidants were always well trained in analytical techniques and spiritual values by organizing workshops and conferences with foreign lecturers to train upper army echelons. These workshops focused on strategic thought and planning, economic issues, notably that relating to state enterprises, labour law (to help him put into practice in the future), essential elements of success in political affairs, rural development studies, and third world issues.

Sankara’s Family 

He married Mariam Sankara (née Kindo) that same year. The couple had four children: Issa, Zoé, Anne, and Claire.

Sankara’s Political ideology was a revolutionary one. He was the first to introduce the idea of “liberated man” in the third world. The idea is that man is not born in bondage, but can be free and liberated from all forms of oppression. In his philosophy, Sankara placed great emphasis on self-reliance, economic development, and social justice. He was a firm believer in the need for an equitable distribution of wealth and resources. He was also an ardent opponent of caste discrimination and advocated for the empowerment of women and other marginalized groups. Sankara’s ideas were strongly influenced by the Marxist thinker Mao Zedong. He was also influenced by the African-American leader Malcolm X. Sankara’s political ideology has been described as “a blend of Marxism, Leninism, and African nationalism”.

Thomas Sankara revolutionarism / Sankaraism
Rise up Burkinabe people

Sankara was a Marxist-Leninist who believed in the need to overthrow imperialist forces in order to liberate oppressed people. He argued that the only way to achieve this was through armed struggle. Sankara’s ideology was based on the belief that the people must be mobilized in order to overthrow the imperialists.

President of Burkina Faso(1983)

Sankara became the president of Burkina Faso in 1983 following a military coup.

While in office, Sankara implemented a number of social and economic reforms in Upper Volta. In 1986 as president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara renamed his country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso meaning “land ruled by honest men or liberator” after short-lived revolutionary forms established by Steve Biko (1977) South Africa and Félix Houphouët Boigny (1958) former Ivory Coast. ‘Burkina’ comes from the Mooré language. Sankara also instituted a number of changes in the government, including abolishing the death penalty and torture. He also nationalized all land and forests and redistributed them to peasants.

Thomas Sankara policy on climate change
Sankara Reforms

Government Reforms 

Under Sankara, Burkina Faso made great strides in education and health care. He emphasized gender equality and placed a ban on polygamy. Sankara also worked to improve infrastructure and agriculture in the country.

He lowered the salaries of all public servants, including himself, and prohibited the use of government vehicles for personal use. He reined in the auctioning of top posts to the highest bidders, effectively ending corruption among leading members of the administration.

He ordered honest and transparent public bidding for all public projects. Under his rule, irrigation projects were undertaken to make the country more drought-resistant. He founded a state-owned agricultural company to boost crop production.

Agricultural Sector 

Sankara backed a revolution in production relations. He has been described as a “Marxist Leninist” leader who had close links with Cuba and its radical socialist transformation from devastating colonial decline. How? The following examples provide insight into how Marx’s capital-labour theory of surplus value created new leverage points for transformation: For example, instead of producing coffee/cacao or cotton in large concentrated farms owned by foreign companies — using African local labour paid (under) minimum wages — Sankara organized small scale coffee/cacao family farms growing organically in partnership with farmers; goats were introduced to create natural fertilizers used on the land so that farmers would not have to buy grade A fertilizers that they could not afford while growing their crops. Goat slaughter also supplied much-needed protein.

Education Sector 

Schools were built at each farm location giving all children access to primary education as Sankara wanted them versed in the history of Africa and its African heroes. The national health system provided free vaccinations, performed regularly in all villages. Women’s rights were also on the agenda. Twelve women were appointed to the cabinet and 30% of government posts were given to females, something unheard of at that time in West Africa. Sankara maintained that women could now only acquire passports with their children; previously the husband had full control over the woman taking his name when they married, which meant she no longer had her own identity except through him.

Thomas Sanka gender parity
Equity for women

Sankara established schools and health care centres, ensuring that all citizens had access to basic education and health care. On his first day in office, he issued an executive order banning smoking in all public places and limiting alcohol consumption to a maximum of two drinks after hours.

social transformation

On October 15, 1987, Thomas Sankara launched a revolution to initiate social transformation. In order to remove the legacy of French colonialism and underdevelopment in exploitative economic modes of production (exchange), he instituted radical changes towards self-sufficiency in land and agricultural development. When the governor of the region where Burkina Faso is situated in 1983, Sankara started to organize his administration along non-ethnic lines to overcome tribal divisions. He nationalized regional communication networks and set up other industries that were mostly owned by foreign national companies, launching self-reliance policies which he termed “Stan” (stop stampede II).

Government Opposition

Sankara’s drastic changes in the economy and in government caused many members of the government and upper class to view Sankara as a threat.

Sankara’s government was plagued by human rights abuses. His critics accused him of using violence and intimidation to silence dissent.  His regime was opposed by the conservative establishment and he faced multiple attempted coups.

Thomas Sankara Assassination 

In October 1987, he was assassinated in a coup led by his close friend Blaise Compaoré. The official story is that Sankara was killed by his bodyguard while trying to escape capture, but many believe that Compaoré was behind the assassination.

Sankara’s body was dismembered, and his remains were not identified until almost two decades later.

Following Sankara’s death, Compaoré reversed many of his policies and ushered in an era of corrupt rule. He faced repeated protests and was ousted in a 2014 revolution.

Sankara’s legacy is controversial; he is praised by supporters as a brave leader who initiated bold social reforms, while critics accuse him of authoritarianism and human rights abuses.

Pan-Africanist Hero 

Sankara’s ideological contribution was not limited to Africa. His ideas influenced many Latin American revolutionaries, including Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Rwanda’s recent centennial commemoration of its independence from Belgium, before it was once again ravaged by violence, featured a giant portrait of Sankara.


His supporters, who refer to themselves as “sankaristes”, point to his legacy and role in African independence as the reason he should be regarded as an indigenous hero.

To see Sankara’s legacy in action, there are plenty of places to visit in Burkina Faso. These include museums and monuments dedicated to Sankara, his former home and his burial plot. For a more comprehensive understanding of the man and what he did for his country, the best place to start is the Thomas Sankara Museum.

Thomas Sankara Museum

Located on Avenue Thomas Sankara (of course!), this museum offers visitors insight into every aspect of his life – from photos to recordings of speeches by the late president.

The room dedicated entirely to his assassination shows what appears to be the exact car that was used in the attack along with shrapnel-riddled panelling torn off during the explosion.

If you visit his former home at Hédié Zindaoulma Conseil, you will find it has been turned into a library with documents about him as well as information informing people from all over Africa about him and his outstanding political achievements. Finally, make your way out of Ouagadougou to Koudoukousi which houses both Martyrs Cemetery

Present day African Challenges 

Interestingly, many of the problems that Sankara sought to solve in his country are still relevant today in other African countries.

Government Corruption 

For instance, Sankara made it a top priority to eradicate corruption, and this is still a major problem in many African countries today. He also worked to improve the status of women and promote education and economic self-sufficiency, all of which are still major issues across Africa.

Foreign Debt 

Sankara was a strong critic of foreign debt, viewing it as a tool of imperialist domination. He argued that Africa’s economic problems could not be solved by borrowing money from rich countries, as this would only perpetuate the cycle of poverty and dependence. Instead, he advocated for a self-reliant development strategy based on African resources and manpower. This would help Africa to break free from the shackles of imperial domination and achieve true economic independence.

Land Reforms 

on land reforms, Sankara’s ideology is based on the principle that all people are equal and that private ownership of land is unjust. He believed that the state should own all land and that it should be distributed equitably to all citizens. This would ensure that everyone had access to land and that they could use it to support themselves and their families.

Sankara also believed that land reform would help to reduce poverty and inequality in society. While Sankara’s ideology on land reform was controversial, it did have a significant impact on society. His ideas helped to inspire other countries to implement their own land reform programs. This, in turn, has helped to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

Environment & Natural Resources 

Sankara’s ideology on mineral resources was that they should be used for the benefit of the people and not for the profit of a few. He believed that the exploitation of mineral resources should be done in a way that is sustainable and does not harm the environment. He also believed that the people who work in the mining industry should be paid a fair wage and have decent working conditions.


Sankara was a strong advocate for Pan Africanism, the political and economic unification of the African continent. He believed that African countries needed to work together to end the exploitation of the continent by outside forces. Sankara toured African countries to spread his message of unity and self-reliance. He encouraged African leaders to adopt socialist policies and to nationalize their countries’ resources. Sankara’s efforts helped to create a new wave of African nationalism in the 1980s.

Thomas Sankara's Full  Military Regalia
Sankaras Full Military Regalia

The Sankara ideology of the State is based on the principle that the State exists to serve the people. This means that the government should be based on the will of the people and should be accountable to them. The Sankara ideology also holds that the State should be transparent and efficient in its operations.

Sankara’s ideology on African currency is that it should be a symbol of unity and not a source of division.

He believed that the central bank should be in charge of issuing the currency and that it should be used to develop the country’s economy.

In short, Sankara’s political ideology is still very relevant today and has application in a wide range of political structures, whether developed or underdeveloped. Its emphasis on self-reliance is particularly significant at a time when African nations are striving to achieve greater autonomy and independence from the West.

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