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The Poorest President, The African Che Guevara

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The Poorest President, The African Che Guevara

Translated from Russian; Originally appeared in Valerongrach blog

Thomas Sankara, like many African presidents, came into power thanks to a coup in Burkina Faso in 1983. The coup was not organized by him but by his friend Blaise Compaoré, however it was Thomas who was elected president as a charismatic leader. And Thomas, a steadfast marxist, tried transforming Upper Volta into a communist society, the Cuban way.

For starters, the country got renamed from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso in order to get away from the colonial past, and things got going fast. Sankara was a hardcore marxist and thought that a personal example may and should inspire people.

His family and he lived for capitan’s wages (about $450), with the $2000 Presidential salary given to charity. When his story will come to an end, it will turn out that the “poorest president” only had an old Peugeot he had bought before becoming president, four bikes, three guitars and a refrigerator with a broken freezer compartment.

Sankara forbid installing air conditioning in his office as he would “feel bad towards the people who can’t afford such luxury.” The governmental motor pool, which included several Mercedes-Benz automobiles, was sold off  and replaced entirely by the cheapest alternative at the time — the Renault 5. Then Sankara decreased the ministers’ salaries, forbid employing personal drivers, and forbid wearing clothes not made in Burkina Faso. On the New Year eves the ministers were expected to contribute a month’s salary worth to social funds. Sankara even laid off half of the government once and sent them to work on collective farms. The World Bank reported, to its own surprise, that Burkina Faso had no corruption by 1986.

The building of communism in Burkina Faso did not last long. On October 15, 1987 another coup had taken place, organized by the very same Blaise Compaoré who had been best friends with Sankara just a few years back. The president was assassinated, his wife and two children managed to flee the country.

Blaise Compaoré learned from his mistakes, and did not let his charismatic marxist friends become president, electing himself to be the ruler. His first presidential decree was to buy a personal Boeing that he bought for money Sankara gathered for developing the capital’s outskirts. He then cancelled the nationalisation process, and restored the ministers’ pay. Everything went back to the way it had been before, only the new name was kept. Communism in a certain African country did not come to fruition.

Blaise Compaoré proved that he was able to manage power much better than his predecessor, staying in charge of Burkina Faso until 2014, when he was overthrown in a new coup.

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