Two years after the revolution: Thomas Sankara on Franco-African relations

Feb 27, 2023

Liberation School introduction

This is the first English translation of an interview with Thomas Sankara, originally published here in French under the title, “We vote for Le Pen too much in Ouagadougou.” The interview took place on August 5, 1985 and was first printed in Le Matin de Paris (a publication close to the French Socialist Party).

This is the fifth installment in Liberation School’s Thomas Sankara translation project. This series is the result of a collaboration with, an online platform dedicated to archiving work on and by the great African revolutionary. We would like to express our gratitude to Bruno Jaffré for allowing us to establish this collaboration and providing us with the right to translate this material into English for the first time.

The contentious Franco-Burkinabe relationship (as framed by Le Matin de Paris)

Relations between Thomas Sankara and the French government have been “heated” since 1983. France, the principal provider of funds in the Upper Volta, has often been annoyed by the “anti-imperialist” speeches made by Prime Minister Sankara, which have called its status into question.

Arrested at the time by the president Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo, Thomas Sankara accused the advisor of the President of France, Guy Penne, then present in Ouagadougou, of having overseen his arrest. In June 1984, following the execution of seven people in Ouagadougou for “conspiracy,” the French Socialist Party refused to receive the Burkinabe Minister of State, Blaise Compaoré, in Paris.

Finally, there was the Sigué Affair: Sankara’s Head of Security, who was of French descent through his mother, was arrested by the French police while he was traveling through Roissy for common law crimes that he had been blamed for in France. France is, moreover, accused by Burkina Faso of backing opponents to their regime.

“We vote for Le Pen too much in Ouagadougou:” Interview with Thomas Sankara by Etienne Gingembre

Le Matin: You have applauded the measures taken by France against Pretoria [1]. Do you think France, whom you qualify as an imperialist power, is going in the same direction as you?

Thomas Sankara: If there is one fundamental critique that has to be leveled against the French Socialist Party’s African policy, it is that they continue to use the same ways of thinking for Africa. However, these ways of thinking are outdated and only misunderstanding can come about. Each time France makes a decision that does not seem just to us, we will firmly combat it. People with bad intentions call this systemic obstruction, or an anti-French politics. We think that it is the most sincere way to establish a healthy rapport with the people.

However, we do not hesitate to support France when it takes a position that we believe to be just. For example, when France withdrew from Lebanon, we were the first and the only Africans to send them a message. And when France decided to boycott Pretoria, we not only made a declaration but we asked our ambassador in New York to mobilize the non-aligned, which allowed the French measure to pass.

Le Matin: So you are no longer “disappointed with socialism”?

Thomas Sankara: In the left project, there were some courageous options that we have appreciated.

Unfortunately, because the power of the Left has let itself be carried away by some predictable political contradictions, it is today bound hand and foot and is incapable of fulfilling a certain number of promises. This power compromised itself in France, and it compromised itself outside of France.

Le Matin: You have just received Bernard Stasi [2]. Do you have good relations with certain French personalities?

Thomas Sankara: Stasi told me that he had a very positive impression of his stay and had noted the big changes that were made in the country. I appreciated the man. Otherwise we have relationships with non-governmental organizations that are sometimes very positive (just recently, by the way, we decorated a French progress volunteer). Unfortunately, for a very long time, a French oligarchy came here to reach agreements with a Burkinabe oligarchy on the backs of the people. You’ll understand that our people have ended up throwing back on the French people the negative actions committed in Africa by French leaders. This is what provokes sectarian and ultimately racist rejections. Our two people have no interest in harming one another, quite the contrary, but the French government must take another approach today.

Le Matin: Which one, for example?

Thomas Sankara: As long as your representatives think that Burkina Faso is its exclusive territory or that its voice must go through certain African capitals or through men who have been fossilized in institutions by several decades of power… 

Le Matin: Because these men no longer represent their people?

Thomas Sankara: A group of African leaders can ask France to intervene in Chad, but if you do a poll, you will see that the African popular masses totally reject, as a whole, this intervention. This is why France will always commit an error when they neglect the masses by saying: “It was your presidents that asked us to do this.” Tomorrow, the socialists will need to answer for these acts, in perfect agreement with the African leaders but in disagreement with the masses. Let’s not repeat what happened in Algeria.

Le Matin: But if tomorrow the Right replaced the Socialist Party in power in France, don’t you fear that this would make your relations with France more difficult?

Thomas Sankara: I would not be honest if I said that we did not dread this. We will take on our responsibilities. But you know, the Right, we are already living with it here: we vote for Le Pen too much in Ouagadougou. Every day the right strives to harm the revolution here, to poison our relations with France, to make it so that foreigners think that Ouagadougou is a cordoned-off city where all it takes is white skin to be rounded up. When we take note of this bad faith, we understand what the situation could be like if these people had more power.

We hope for our part that those who will have the power to guide the destiny of France, whether they are on the Right or the Left, will be committed to not provoking an international coalition against France as a result of the racist and colonialist behaviors of their compatriots in Africa. In Burkina Faso, we will not remain idle with our arms crossed in the face of these repeated provocations.

Le Matin: Does this mean that you will take action?

Thomas Sankara: For now, I will only stand by this declaration. But we will fulfill our responsibilities to the end: those who attack our people, we will attack them.

Le Matin: Does this mean that your patience is reaching its limits?

Thomas Sankara: It’s starting to reach that point…

Le Matin: Amnesty International has reproached you for human rights violations: arbitrary imprisonments, torture, disappearances. Is this disinformation?

Thomas Sankara: This reaction on the part of international opinion is normal because it’s founded on the information to which it has access. Unfortunately, this is conditioned information. You cannot know the number of plots we have foiled in the last two years. At first, we weren’t taken seriously. However, we do what we say. And what we do is assessed from the outside, to the point that a demand is formulated. Then they decide to slaughter us. And they recount all kinds of things to international opinion. In other African countries, people disappear into dungeons without any protest in France. Better yet, France celebrates and congratulates some of these countries. I’ll cite for you the case of the Agence France-Presse, whose representative in one country keeps coming to write in Burkina Faso…

Le Matin: That of Niamey?

Thomas Sankara: I did not want to name the country. He keeps coming to write about what he sees as negative in Burkina Faso, but he never writes about other countries, even the one where he resides. This is a double standard. It should come as no surprise, therefore, if today international opinion is more interested in what happens in Burkina Faso.

Le Matin: But do you nevertheless accept criticisms?

Thomas Sankara: Yes, but these criticisms do not correspond to reality. You are told that some people were arrested, tortured and even killed. We have, several times, heard talk about people killed, while they are here and they are playing cards with their guards. We are in a very politicized country, so our opposition focuses international opinion on things done here that they judge to be negative. Because they can no longer speak publicly due to the risk of being properly put back in their place by whoever is concerned, our opposition calls international opinion to its aid in order to spread claims against the Burkinabe.

Le Matin: But does your opposition still have legal rights in Burkina Faso?

Thomas Sankara: We really do not fight this opposition as firmly as we say we do. Even when we are pushed to the limit, and we arrest certain people, we do not fail to release them. And this opposition itself is falling apart because it is no longer credible. This is why, from the Left as from the Right, these people do not hesitate to plot against us. And most of these plots are remote controlled from abroad…

Le Matin: By who?

Thomas Sankara: For now, we choose not to disclose this information.

Le Matin: Do you think, like it has often been said here, that France and the United States have supported these plots?

Thomas Sankara: We reaffirm that powerful support has come from these countries. But we will catch these thieves red-handed.

Le Matin: Are all measures for national reconciliation currently excluded?

Thomas Sankara: No, and the people know that we do not hesitate to extend help and support to those who want to take us up on them.

Militants find this to be sentimentalism, while our detractors take it to be weakness. They are trying to discredit us by engaging us in an escalation of violence. They manipulate people who provoke us. A provocation that, if repeated, would drive us to commit extremely violent acts, as a last resort.

Le Matin: What do you have in mind?

Thomas Sankara: I am thinking, for example, of death sentences.

Le Matin: Do you envision carrying them out today?

Thomas Sankara: No, I don’t want us to have to do that. But we are being pushed in that direction so that we can then be denounced. Either you kill your adversaries, in which case you are condemned for violating human rights, or you do not kill them, in which case your opponents overthrow you.

Le Matin: Last year, you said that you committed one error per day. Is that still the case?

Thomas Sankara: This year, we are committing more than three per day, because we are doing even more things, and we are making more decisions. If, out of 3,000 decisions, 2,800 are bad, there are nonetheless 200 that are good. And if, out of 9,000, we only have 500 good decisions, then this progression has not improved the ratio, but, all the same, that makes 300 more good decisions. This is why we are still committing more errors.


[1] In July 1985, the South-African President Pieter Botha, an outspoken opponent of communism and democracy for Blacks, declared a state of emergency in certain districts as a purported response to mobilizations on the part of the Black community. The French government responded by recalling its ambassador, enacting a moratorium on new French investments in South Africa, and submitting a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Pretoria (which was ratified). – Trans.
[2] Stasi was a French politician generally affiliated with the Christian democratic Right or center Right. – Trans.


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In celebration of International Workers Day or May Day Liberation School is republishing "Socialism an integral part of U.S. history" by Eugene Puryear. Originally published in 2010 as a response to the mobilization of anti-communist propaganda against Obama to paint...