Segments in this Video

An Idealistic Leader (02:56)


Thomas Sankara led a popular coup in Burkina Faso in 1983. He became known as the "African Che Guevara". Inspired by Marx, he sought independence from France and died young defending his political vision.

A Fairer State (02:10)

At the beginning of the 1980s, although technically an independent nation, poverty stricken Burkina Faso was still under French colonial control. Sankara launched a successful revolution based on a platform of social and economic equality.

Pioneers Movement (01:44)

Sankara educated his people through communist slogans and encouraged them to participate in creating their own country. Young people were trained to perpetuate revolutionary ideals.

Educating the Military (01:41)

Sankara thought it important to instill his revolutionary ideals into the soldiers of his new republic; believing an ignorant army trained to fight was a recipe for criminal behavior.

Challenging Patriarchy (03:56)

In 1984, after one year of structural reforms a cultural revolution began in Burkina Faso. Sankara questioned the traditional gender roles and promoted women's rights; he was the first African head of state to do so.

Keeping Promises: A Healthy Mind and a Healthy Body (01:38)

Sankara worked on providing food, housing and medical care for his poverty stricken people. He launched a vaccination campaign to eradicate common diseases as well as a mass sports program, taking part as a role model.

Campaign Against Desertification (01:16)

As Africa emerged from a massive drought in the early 1980s, Sankara launched public works to repair ecosystem health, including planting millions of trees—educating the people of Burkina Faso about environmental issues in the process.

Infrastructure Improvements (01:05)

Sankara oversaw public housing, highway and railroad projects. The people of Burkina Faso helped with construction rather than rely on foreign investment.

Burkina Faso Grows its Own Food (02:49)

Sankara wanted to free his country of foreign imports and aid which he saw as imperial. He encouraged local production and the population became agriculturally self-sufficient within 4 years.

Governmental Uniform (01:51)

As part of a project to gain national self-sufficiency, Sankara required public officials to wear traditional clothing made from local cotton.

France's Concern over Former Colonies (03:15)

Many puppet West African heads of state felt threatened by the spread of Sankara's revolutionary ideas outside Burkina Faso. Sankara attended an African conference to challenge French domination.

Challenging French Neo-Colonialism (02:42)

At the Vittel Conference Sankara alienated France and her West African allies by revealing he was open to partnering with communist states for development projects in Burkina Faso.

Africa for Africans (03:48)

At the Organization of African Unity meeting Sankara brought up foreign debt and dependence on foreign aid and imports. He encouraged all heads of state to unify and demand political and economic autonomy from the Global North.

Revolutionary Tribunals (03:29)

By 1986 Sankara faced corruption within the Burkina Faso government. He brought offenders to justice without a guarantee of defense or respect for individual rights, alienating parts of society and fomenting opposition.

Reaching the Limits of Power (01:36)

Since Sankara forbade oppositional parties and unions, some teachers gathered to organize a strike. He dismissed the protest and replaced the educators with untrained revolutionary teachers.

Revolutionary Defense Committees (03:37)

Sankara gave young people military training to uphold the Burkina Faso revolution. Many joined for romantic reasons and were assigned responsibility without psychological preparation—resulting in abuses of power.

A Threat to French Neo-Colonialism (03:21)

Sankara's revolutionary ideas were becoming popular outside Burkina Faso, alarming the French government who wanted to retain power over former colonies. France plotted with the Ivory Coast to overthrow him.

Preparing a Coup d’état (01:01)

In 1987, Sankara ignored demands from his people for greater political freedom. Sankara's army chief Compaoré capitalized on the situation—secretly supported by the Ivory Coast and France, whose neo-colonial regime was under threat.

An Isolated Revolutionary (01:56)

Refusing to take the advice of a loyal friend to arrest military commander Compaoré before his plot could be carried out, Sankara sealed his fate. He wouldn't concede his ideals, even though he knew he was in danger.

A Great Man’s Downfall (01:55)

On October 15, 1987 Sankara was assassinated by his army commander Compaoré with support from France, ending the short era of autonomy in Burkina Faso. A friend believes he accepted death for his revolutionary ideals.

Revolution’s End (01:54)

People mourned Sankara's death throughout Africa. His former best friend and executioner Compaoré named himself president of Burkina Faso and returned the country to French control and exploitation.

Sankara's Legacy (02:09)

The new regime systematically erased records of his leadership in Burkina Faso, but he remains an inspiring figure throughout Africa. His death is seen as a lost opportunity for African economic and political autonomy.

Credits: Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man (00:41)

Credits: Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man

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Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man

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After Thomas Sankara rose to power in a popularly-supported coup in 1983, he changed the name of his country from the colonial-era Upper Volta to Burkina Faso—Land of Upright Men— and launched an ambitious program for social and economic change. This program provides a detailed account of Sankara’s four-year rule and explains why, despite his many tragic flaws, he is still venerated by some as the “African Che Guevara.” (52 minutes)

Length: 53 minutes

Item#: BVL49792

Copyright date: ©2006

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Great for use in an African Studies class, especially one focusing on political theory. Those who shout slogans of black unity will see from this film some of the many complexities involved in practicing what you preach in society. It is clearly required viewing if you are serious about African advancement and development.”  —Prof. Johnetta Richards, San Francisco State University    

“Mixing extensive research in archival footage with a taut and gripping narrative, this documentary is an instant classic—in short, a masterpiece.”  —Prof. Gerald Horne, University of Houston

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