Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara was a Burkinabé military captain, revolutionary, pan-Africanist theorist, and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987.
Sankara seized power in a 1983 popularly supported coup at the age of 33, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. Sankara’s first priorities after taking office were feeding, housing, and giving medical care to his people who desperately needed it. Sankara launched a mass vaccination program in an attempt to irradicate polio, meningitis, and measles.
In one week 2.5 million Burkinabé were vaccinated, garnering congratulations from the World Health Organization. Sankara’s administration was also the first African government to publicly recognize the AIDS epidemic as a major threat to Africa.
Large scale housing and infrastructure projects were also undertaken. Brick factories were created to help build houses in effort to end urban slums. In an attempt to fight deforestation The People’s Harvest of Forest Nurseries was created to supply 7,000 village nurseries, as well as organizing the planting of several million trees. All regions of the country were soon connected by a vast road and rail building program.
Over 700 km of rail was laid by Burkinabé people to facilitate manganese extraction in “The Battle of the Rails” without any foreign aid or outside money. These programs were an attempt to prove that African countries can be prosperous without foreign help or aid.
These revolutionary developments and national economic programs shook the foundations of the traditional economic development models imposed on Africa. Sankara also launched education programs to help combat the country’s 90% illiteracy rate.