A Revolutionary in Cold War Africa
Published by: Indiana University Press
Thomas Sankara: A Revolutionary in Cold War Africa offers the first complete biography in English of the dynamic revolutionary leader from Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara. Coming to power in 1983, Sankara set his sights on combating social injustice, poverty, and corruption in his country, fighting for women's rights, direct forms of democracy, economic sovereignty, and environmental justice.
Drawing on government archival sources and over a hundred interviews with Sankara's family members, friends, and closest revolutionary colleagues, Brian J. Peterson details Sankara's political career and rise to power, as well as his assassination at age 37 in 1987, in a plot led by his close friend Blaise Compaoré.
Thomas Sankara: A Revolutionary in Cold War Africa offers a unique, critical appraisal of Sankara and explores why he generated such enthusiasm and hope in Burkina Faso and beyond, why he was such a polarizing figure, how his rivals seized power from him, and why T-shirts sporting his image still appear on the streets today.
List of Abbreviations
1. Coming of Age in the Shadow of Colonialism, 1949-1966
2. Education of a Revolutionary, 1966-1973
3. A Rising Star: Soldiers and the Political Left, 1973-1982
4. From Political Prisoner to Populist Prime Minister, 1982-1983
5. The "Revolution of August 4" and the People's President
6. "This Man Who Unsettles": Confronting the Neocolonial Order, 1983-1984
7. The Struggle for Unity, 1983-1984
8. "Daring to Invent the Future": Nation-Building and the Promise of Revolutionary Change, 1984-85
9. Politics is War and War is Politics: Sankara in the International Arena, 1984-1985
10. Revolutionary Duties and Perils, 1986-1987
11. No Turning Back: The Road to October 15, 1987
A poignant, compelling account of one of independent Africa's most innovative and progressive leaders, who was assassinated in a home-grown military coup assisted by foreign powers. Through meticulous oral and archival research, Peterson reconstructs the complex historical figure who was both idolized and hated, erased from official histories and idealized in popular collective memory—and places him within the context of his people, place, and times.~Elizabeth Schmidt, Professor Emeritus of History at Loyola University, Maryland, and author of Cold War and Decolonization in Guinea, 1946-1958.
Thomas Sankara was a charismatic leader who emerged in Burkina Faso after the original promises of Africa's independence had faded amidst numerous betrayals. Although he held power for only four years (1983-87), his revolutionary vision for ending corruption and uplifting the masses generated enthusiasm and hope across Africa, and his brutal assassination made him a martyr whose legacy still lingers. Brian Peterson's meticulously researched and beautifully written biography of Sankara draws on over one hundred interviews and mines previously unused archives to paint an intimate and nuanced portrait of hopes shattered and dreams unrealized during the second generation of West Africa's independence.~Robert Harms, Henry J. Heinz Professor of History and African Studies, Yale University
Everyone who has lived in Francophone West Africa has seen taxis sporting stickers with Thomas Sankara's image. In the years since Sankara's 1983 seizure of power, he has become an icon of the virtuous coup d'état, and a symbol of political martyrdom. Brian Peterson has given us a stellar book on Sankara, one that presents the man's qualities, his errors of judgment, and the full context of West Africa in the 1970s and 80s that gave rise to his moment in power as well as the dismantling of his revolutionary program in the years after his murder. This book is required reading for anyone interested in the history of revolutionary movements in Africa.~Mike McGovern, University of Michigan
This is a well-written, thoroughly researched, clearly presented biography of Thomas Sankara that pays attention to the strengths and weaknesses of its subject and placing his attainments and failures within the broad context of Burkina Faso history, politics, and culture, as well as the larger context of African and global affairs in the closing decades of the last century. Biographies of African leaders and thinkers are few and when they are available, they barely rise above the level of hagiography or excoriation. Brian J. Peterson avoids both pitfalls.~Olúfmi Táíwò, Cornell University, author of Africa Must Be Modern