Good dictator? More like benevolent dictator.
Meet Thomas Sankara, Africa’s best leader in recent history. From the years 1983–1987, he transformed the French imperialized West African country “Upper Volta” into one of Africa’s most progressive nations, Burkina Faso.
Sankara came to power through a coup in 1983, and was the president for 4 short years. Under his “dictatorship”, these things were achieved:
- 2.5 million people were vaccinated for meningitis, yellow fever, and measles. In just one week!
- He increased the national literacy rate from a dismal 13% to 73% by 1987
- To combat deforestation, he had ten million trees planted
- Outlawed female genital mutilation and forced marriage, along with appointing females to government positions
- He sold the government’s fleet of Mercedes for the cheapest type of car at the time
- He forbade himself and government officials from riding first class on airplanes
- He guided the country to food self-sufficiency by redistributing farm land to peasants. Wheat production increased from 1700 kg per hectare to 3800 kg per hectare
- He lowered his presidential salary to just $450 a month, and refused air conditioning in his office, saying if nobody could have it, he wouldn’t
- Opened the country’s first supermarket
In addition, he renamed the country from its colonial name to Burkina Faso, meaning “Land of the Upright Man”. He also refused aid to his country, saying “Who feeds you, controls you”. And in an effort to “Tie the nation together”, he had railroads laid down all around the country.
And he did all of this with zero foreign aid.
He was an authoritarian, though. He banned labor unions, and abolished freedom of the press, because he thought that it would stand in the way of his goals. To counter opposition, he tried “lazy workers” and counter-revolutionaries, and imprisoned them.
Despite all his good doings, Sankara was assassinated in a coup in 1987, led by his Vice President and close personal friend Blaise Compaoré, backed by Ivory Coast and France, whom his presidency angered.
And from there, the country was in a downward spiral, as Blaise reversed most of Sankara’s policies. He remained the president until 2014, when he was ousted.
Sankara was a symbol for Africa’s potential, free of imperialism and poor, corrupt leaders. A pan-African theorist, he dreamed of a United Africa. Who knows what he could’ve accomplished in four more years? Ten more years! Twenty more years?
Our world might look very different…