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Sankara: ‘Better One Step Forward with the People’

February 10, 2023
Thomas Sankara: ‘Better One Step Forward with the People Than Ten Steps Without!’
The following historic speech by President Thomas Sankara was delivered in 1983 in New Delhi, India. Sankara, the leader of a popular revolution in the West African country of Burkina Faso, was assassinated 45 years ago in a foreign-backed coup d’etat. The text of his speech and the introductory paragraphs are reproduced from The Internationalist, a publication of the “Progressive International.”

Sankara was a socialist revolutionary and pan-Africanist. Inspired by the worker-led Madagascan uprising he had witnessed as an officer, Sankara launched programs for social, ecological and economic change…..

His government vaccinated 2,500,000 children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles in just a few weeks. His literacy campaign increased the number of people who could read from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987. His land redistribution programme was so successful that wheat production increased more than 200% during his presidency.

In 1983, four years before his assassination, Sankara took the stage at the 7th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in New Delhi and delivered a speech that is widely regarded as a seminal moment in his presidency. This Special Issue of The Internationalist translates Sankara’s speech from its original French and reproduces it in abridged form.

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Madam President, Excellencies, Heads of State and Government, Honourables, Delegates, ….

From the first summit in Belgrade in 1961 to the second in Cairo in 1964, from the one in Lusaka in 1970 to the one in Algiers in 1973, from the one in Colombo in 1976 to the one in Havana in 1979 and now to the one in New Delhi, our movement has never ceased to confirm and expand its audience, to clarify itself and to assert itself in the world through its objectives and its noble ideals as a force of peace, as a force of reason, as finally the deep and courageous conscience of a world that imperialism would like to see eternally subjected to its domination, to its plunder and to its blind massacres.

For born in the middle of the cold war, the non-aligned movement was intended first of all as a force representing the profound aspiration of our countries for freedom, independence and peace in the face of hostile blocs, as a force affirming our right to a country and as a sovereign people to choose freely and without subservience our own paths towards progress, to freely choose our friends in the world on the basis of their concrete attitude towards the aspiration of our peoples to liberate themselves from the colonial, neo-colonial or racist yoke towards independence, security, peace and socio-economic progress.

Contrary to the restrictive and simplistic interpretation that imperialism wants to impose on us as a definition of non-alignment, this has nothing to do with an arithmetical equidistance of the two blocks that dominate the world or a ridiculous equilibrium of the traumatised between these two blocs, all of which are obviously meaningless and deny our freedom to appreciate sovereignly and in all independence the attitudes and actions of one another in the world. We will never be able to put on the same footing one who oppresses a people, plunders and massacres it when it fights for its liberation, and another who helps in a disinterested and constant way this people in its struggle for liberation. We cannot stand in equidistance between the one who arms, strengthens, supports diplomatically and economically a racist clique that has been coldly murdering a whole people for decades, and the other who helps this people to put an armed end to the racist regime that massacres them.

We cannot put on the same footing and keep at equal distance, on the one hand, those who support through all their powerful military, political, diplomatic and economic means regimes and governments whose only obsession is to subjugate and terrorise all the countries around them, including by direct military aggression, assassinations organised by their secret services, and on the other hand, those who provide concrete support to these attacked countries to ensure their defence and security on their own soil.

Of course, the non-aligned movement is not a military power and fortunately so, even if this is cause for derision by some powers who prefer to use force over the right of peoples to dignity and independence.

Our movement is first and foremost a moral force that brings together countries that are diverse in terms of geography, size, population, economy and social systems to promote the democratisation of international relations based on equal rights and obligations instead of the current unjust and unequal international relations, to finally promote the progress of countries and peoples instead of the continued impoverishment of poor countries and, on their backs, the enrichment of the richest.

To promote a collective peace between non-aligned member countries and between all countries, for this first great objective, our movement must never abandon its persevering efforts to bring its members to respect one of our great principles, which is to seek, through negotiation and peaceful means, solutions to divergences or conflicts that can arise between them and which are, moreover, often sharpened or ignited by imperialistic manoeuvres.

But we believe that on this issue of peace and security and people’s right to self-determination and independence, the non-aligned movement is entirely correct to stick to its consistent position of supporting those who are fighting for their freedom and independence and their national liberation movement, no matter how the fury and pressure of imperialism exerts on one or another of our members to try to weaken the voice of our movement.

We cannot stand in equidistance between the one who arms, strengthens, supports diplomatically and economically a racist clique that has been coldly murdering a whole people for decades, and the other who helps this people to put an armed end to the racist regime that massacres them.
Promoting the democratisation of international relations is simply to align these relationships, established in an increasingly bygone era, with the current situation of our world. It is to take into account the undeniable emergence of colonised or subjugated peoples on the international stage, who naturally aspire to progress and well-being, to be masters of the resources of their soil and subsoil so that they are used first to satisfy their own needs, to participate with equal rights and obligations in the development of international exchanges of all kinds: economic, commercial but also technological and cultural.

Our countries no longer want the old economic order built on uncontested supremacy and the dictate of the strongest, organised around the one-way exchange of our raw materials, commodities or barely processed products against their manufactured goods, their technology and their way of life.

The objectives of our movement for peace, the independence of countries and peoples and the democratisation of international relations may appear ambitious, but the growing audience of the non-aligned movement, the fact that more and more countries are joining us as full members or as observers, the regular participation in our meetings of high-level personalities such as the Secretary General of the Organisation of African Unity and the Secretary General of the United Nations, whose presence we wish to acknowledge here, underline the growing impact of our movement. We must therefore pursue our action with perseverance.

In spite of the obstacles and momentary failures, constantly seeking to strengthen our cohesion, because peace, the independence of peoples and the democratisation of international relations for humanity’s global progress deserve more than anything else – and particularly at a time when the gigantism of nuclear arsenals poses a permanent threat of insane self-destruction – that we dedicate all our efforts, all our intelligence and all our courage to them.

In our world gripped by multiple convulsions, the constant search for peace must be the major imperative of our movement because without peace, none of the objectives we seek can be attained.

Madam President, Heads of State and Government, honourable delegates, allow me before leaving this historic podium to reaffirm that for us, the people of Upper Volta under the leadership of the People’s Salvation Council, non-alignment must be understood first as our permanent autonomy of decision and for non-interference in the internal affairs of states, but that we do not confuse non-alignment with the complicity of passivity amid the crimes of imperialism against the independence and freedom of peoples, nor do we confuse non-interference with blindness before the crimes of reactionary forces against the freedom of their people and the respect of their rights.

Our membership in the non-aligned movement demands, among many tasks, that we block all forces that aspire to align other peoples. South Africa is one such force. Responsible non-alignment forbids us to remain silent when men, women and children are murdered for no other crime than thinking about the notion of freedom, which is so far away for them.

Since November 7, 1982, in the name of the just and progressive principles that the People’s Salvation Council outlined when it took power, the Voltaic people have felt closer to all those who fight for justice, freedom and democracy. They are no longer the people to whom racists presented euphemisms without commitment. The people of Upper Volta feel cruelties suffered by others geographically far from them in their bones, but now so close to them because of their common determination to denounce racism, another form of fascism.

We want to say to all those who are victims of the harassment of the bandits in South Africa that we fully support their struggle.

I would like to end my speech with a question. When will there be a real condemnation of all those who, in the shadows as well as in broad daylight, provide Pretoria with financial, economic, diplomatic and military support?

Long live international cooperation, long live the solidarity of the peoples of the non-aligned countries, long live peace, security and the independence and progress of all peoples.



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