Thomas Sankara on the Power of Solidarity

In his 1984 speech before the UN General Assembly, Thomas Sankara spoke out on behalf of all those suffering racism, colonialism and exploitation. To mark the anniversary of his death, we republish his remarks.

Sankara speaks in front of the United Nations on 4 October 1984. Credit: Getty Images

We swear that in future in Burkina Faso nothing will be done without the participation of the people of Burkina Faso themselves, nothing that has not been decided by us, that has not been prepared by us. There shall be no more attacks on our honour and dignity.

Strengthened by this conviction, we want our words to cover all those who suffer, all those whose dignity has been crushed by a minority or a system.

Let me say to those who are listening to me now that I speak not only on behalf of Burkina Faso, my country which I love so much, but also on behalf of all those who suffer, wherever they may be.

I speak on behalf of those millions of human beings who are in ghettos because their skin is black, or because they have a different kind of culture, those whose status is hardly higher than that of an animal.

I suffer, too, on behalf of those Indians who have been massacred, trampled on and humiliated and who, for centuries, have been confined to reservations, so that they do not have any aspirations to any rights whatsoever, so that their culture cannot become enriched through contact with other cultures, including that of the invader.

I speak out on behalf of those who are unemployed because of a structurally unjust system which has now been completely disrupted, the unemployed who have been reduced to seeing their lives as only the reflection of the lives of those who have more than themselves.

I speak on behalf of women throughout the entire world who suffer from a system of exploitation imposed on them by men. As far as we are concerned, we are willing to welcome all suggestions from anywhere in the world that will help us to promote the full development and prosperity of the women of Burkina Faso. In return, we will share with all countries the positive experience we are now undertaking with our women, who are now involved at all levels of the State apparatus and social life in Burkina Faso, women who struggle and who say with us that the slave who will not shoulder responsibility to rebel does not deserve pity. That slave will alone be responsible for his own wretchedness if he has any illusions whatsoever about the suspect indulgence shown by a master who pretends to give him freedom. Only struggle helps us to become free, and we call on all our sisters of all races to rise up to regain their rights.

I speak on behalf of the mothers of our poor countries who see their children dying of malaria and diarrhoea, unaware that to save them there are simple methods available but which the science of the multinationals does not offer to them, preferring to invest in cosmetics laboratories and engage in cosmetic surgery to satisfy the whims and caprices of a few men and women who feel they have become too fat because of too many calories in the rich food they consume with regularity. That must make even members of this Assembly dizzy – not to mention the peoples of the Sahel. We have decided to adopt and popularize the methods that have been advocated by WHO and UNICEF.

I speak on behalf of the child, the child of the poor man, who is hungry and who furtively eyes the wealth piled up in the rich man’s shop, a shop that is protected by a thick window, a window which is defended by an impassable grille, the grille guarded by a policeman in a helmet with gloves and a bludgeon, the policeman placed there by the father of another child, who comes there to serve himself or rather to be served because these are the guarantees of capitalistic representativeness and norms of the system.

I speak on behalf of the artists – poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, actors and so on – people of good will who see their art being prostituted by the show-business magicians.

I cry out on behalf of the journalists who have been reduced to silence or else to lies simply to avoid the hardships of unemployment.

I protest on behalf of the athletes of the entire world whose muscles are being exploited by political systems or by those who deal in the modern slavery of the stadium.

My country is the essence of all the miseries of peoples, a tragic synthesis of all the suffering of mankind but also, and above all, the synthesis of the hopes of our struggles. That is why I speak out on behalf of the sick who are anxiously looking to see what science can do for them – but that science has been taken over by the gun merchants. My thoughts go to all those who have been affected by the destruction of nature, those 30 million who are dying every year, crushed by that most fearsome weapon, hunger.

As a soldier, I cannot forget that obedient soldier who does what he is told, whose finger is on the trigger and who knows that the bullet which is going to leave his gun will bring only a message of death.

Lastly, I speak out in indignation as I think of the Palestinians, whom this most inhuman humanity has replaced with another people, a people who only yesterday were themselves being martyred at leisure. I think of the valiant Palestinian people, the families which have been splintered and split up and are wandering throughout the world seeking asylum. Courageous, determined, stoic and tireless, the Palestinians remind us all of the need and moral obligation to respect the rights of a people. Along with their Jewish brothers, they are anti-Zionists.

Standing alongside my soldier brothers of Iran and Iraq, who are dying in a fratricidal and suicidal war, I wish also to feel close to my comrades of Nicaragua, whose ports are being mined, whose towns are being bombed and who, despite all, face up with courage and lucidity to their fate. I suffer with all those in Latin America who are suffering from imperialist domination.

I wish to stand side by side with the peoples of Afghanistan and Ireland, the peoples of Grenada and East Timor, each of those peoples seeking happiness in keeping with their dignity and the laws of their own culture.

I rise up on behalf of all who seek in vain any forum in the world to make their voices heard and to have themselves taken seriously.

Many have already spoken from this rostrum. Many will speak after me. But only a few will take the real decisions, although we are all officially considered equals. I speak on behalf of all those who seek in vain for a forum in the world where they can be heard. Yes, I wish to speak for all those – the forgotten – because I am a man and nothing that is human is alien to me.