Thomas Sankara was an iconic figure of revolution. Referred to as the Che Guevara of Africa, he was a Marxist revolutionary, military man, a Pan-Africanist, and the President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987, when he was assassinated in a coup d’état. He is popularly known as the young military captain who seized power though a coup in a bid to eliminate corruption and power of the former French colonial master, and he launched Africa’s most ambitious social and economic programme to date. However, he was also passionate about gender equality and the recognition of the role of women in all aspects of economic and social life. In his famous speech of October 2, 1983, he stated “We cannot transform society while maintaining domination and discrimination against women who constitute over half of the population.”
Sankara followed up his words with actions, which is very uncommon with today’s heads of state, as they talk big, sign various regional and international protocols and instruments, which aim to protect and promote women’s rights, which are then ratified but never domesticated and implemented. For example, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been ratified by eight of the fifteen countries; one more country needs to ratify it before it can become law. The protocol has 28 targets to be met by 2015at this rate none of these targets will be met. This effectively means that domination and discrimination of women continues.
Sankara was one of the first African heads of state, perhaps the only one in his time, to condemn female exclusion, a position that reflected his unwavering commitment to the emancipation of women and the struggle against all forms of discrimination against women. By the way, if we look at the rate at which equality in legislatures is developing, we will have parity between men and women by the end of the 21st century at the current rate.
Improving women’s status was one of Sankara’s explicit goals, and his government included a large number of women, an unprecedented policy priority in West Africa at that time. His commitment to women’s was evident as his government banned female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and polygamy. He also appointed females to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home, and even stay in school if pregnant. Sankara also promoted contraception and encouraged husbands to go to market and prepare meals to experience for themselves the conditions faced by women. Furthermore, Sankara was the first African leader to appoint women to major cabinet positions and to recruit them actively for the military. This paved the way for the rest of Africa resulting in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi; the only two female presidents in Africa.
In Zimbabwe we have a female deputy President and a female deputy Prime Minister, but we are far from having a female president. According to Netsai Mushonga, National Director of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), speaking at a Food for Thought discussion session held at the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs auditorium in Harare recently “(It’s about) getting a woman or a clique of women who are strategic enough to position themselves to take over as the president of a country; no one will allow us. I think we simply have to take it by force. I think Zimbabwe can have a female president even as early as five to six years from now… (but now) we are still in a patriarchal state.” She said this in a response to a question from the audience. Why are we waiting five to six years, why not challenge the patriarchy now and field a candidate in the next Presidential election? We have to take it by force; no one is going to hand it to us on a silver platter. Unfortunately for us, we do not have a Thomas Sankara in our corner.