I was nervous.
Not the butterflies-in-my-stomach but thinking-of-the-ocean-will-calm me down kind of nervous, No,not that one. This was a dizzy feeling. the anxiously chomping at my almost non-existent fingernails and quizzing my sanity when I even agreed to this rendezvous with a ship of doubt firmly anchored in my abdomen – kind of nervous.
Yup! that about covers how I felt.
As I strode purposely toward the restaurant, the Restaurant de la Révolution nestled between (Upper Volta House and 1984th street), i was giddy with excitement, almost gliding along the sidewalk in a reverie. I still couldn’t believe it. I was about to meet HIM. My favourite African, the numero uno on my list. I know I’m Ghanaian so you will automatically assume it should be a Kwame, my numero uno had to be Thomas (Sorry Kwame, you could be second place though)
I tried peering in from across the street to see if Thomas was already there, but I guess the waiter sensed my presence …..and just then, he pulled the curtains together shut and I was confronted with stark, glaring darkness behind the clear glass windows.
“Don’t be ridiculous girl, it’s just ONE meeting.” I mumbled halfheartedly to reassure myself, totally not convinced still. So I mustered up the courage and finally started to cross over. Just then I heard the blare of sirens and turned to see flashing lights heading my way, I jumped out of it’s way and in a split second I thought that could be Thomas with a police motorcade. “ That’s impossible!” quickly dismissing the thought as fast as it had occurred to me. Thomas is not the showy kind and I was right because it was just an ambulance. Then I turned back towards the entrance of the restaurant, took in a deep breath, breathed a quick sigh of relief and pushed the door open.
Light flooded my vision…and the warmth and richness of human bodies. Wafting aromas assailed my nostrils.
I entered to see the restaurant filled with people, but they were all staring at one corner and listening enraptured to a man speak. Before I heard his voice, I knew that was HIM. It had to be Thomas. I followed their lingering gaze, and there he was.
He was speaking passionately about social change and fighting neo-colonialist forces. He said, that rich baritone voice of his reaching a crescendo, assertive yet firmly caressing your ears,
“Our country produces enough to feed us all. Alas, for lack of organization, we are forced to beg for food aid. It’s this aid that instills in our spirits the attitude of beggars”
in his lovely French accent- a man accustomed to charisma.
I couldn’t take my gaze off him. His voice continued to trail off.
He who had inspired so many with his humble approach to life, his Pan – Africanism and African unity, his commitment to African values and his candid ability to speak his mind regardless of the ramifications. He really was a vision to behold and everyone in Burkina Faso revered him. Okay, obviously not the corrupt elite and those who were benefitting from neo-colonialism and spoils of a skewed economic system but at least those that mattered did; the poor, average and working class Burkinabe. Even Fela agreed that Thomas was an inspiration and made him a friend for life conferring on him this honour by holding audience and inviting him- the only African president to visit the African Shrine in Lagos.
Thomas turned in my direction mid-sentence and he smiled… the lingering fire of his passion simmering down in his eyes as he held my gaze. He quickly wrapped up his speech and strode purposefully towards me in a deafening roar of applause. In a few strides he was standing right in front me.
Larger-than-life, then he extended his right hand and said in mellifluous French “Ah you have arrived…now we can eat.” I nodded eagerly, then he guided me to one of the tables, got me seated then followed suit. “Mademoiselle, I hope you’re good” he enquired again in French. I responded in the affirmative in my halting rustic French and he added “So what exactly would you like to know?”
I was so overwhelmed with nervousness that I fumbled to take out my notepad and a pen and mumbled inaudibly in response to his question. He smiled… and encouraged “Go on, ask away.”
With that, I took a few deep breaths, heady with excitement and asked the questions I had always longed to ask.
“ I know what the politicians and social commentators everywhere are saying about you. I know about your passion for female empowerment, for effective and accountable leadership, your fight against exclusivity, your promotion of an Africa for Africans and your intolerance of neo-colonialism. But I just want you to give me in a few sentences, what best describes your vision for Burkina Faso and Africans as a whole. Tell me who REALLY is Thomas? ”
He nodded and replied
That’s simple. I believe that Africans are enough. That our values are enough and we can be self-sufficient. We don’t need any external or internal forces trying to convince us that we are any less.
I believe in the power of ideas. Ideas go beyond the death of any man. Remember what Che Guevara said when he was being attacked?- I know you’re here to kill me. Shoot coward, you’re only going to kill a man. This just shows that while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas. Ideas are eternal. Why else do you think we changed our name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, the land of upright men?
I believe in change by word, by deed and by a revolution of ideas. And who better to cultivate this code of honour and uprightness than the masses. Whenever the masses are mobilized for development, true self-sufficiency is possible.
My vision is quite simple my dear. I want to spread these ideas of self-sufficiency across Burkina Faso and the entire African continent. You do know that he who feeds you, controls you right? Whoever said Africans can’t feed themselves are our true enemies. They are those who want to keep the people in ignorance. You see it’s all in the mind. It’s our mentality that holds us back. We have to recondition our people to accept themselves as they are, to not be ashamed of their real situation, to be satisfied with it and to glory in it, even.
He paused to let that sink in, the conviction is his eyes so poignant – willing you to believe in every single word he uttered.
Then he added
That’s why ideas are so powerful. They bring both the mental change necessary for a revolution and the madness to sustain that change. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future. And even if I perish or my blood is spilled during that mission, I want people to remember me as someone whose life has been helpful to humanity. I hope that answers your question…..
winking conspiratorially at me…an act seeming almost charming in itself.
Inviting you to agree with him – seemingly hinting, that of course, we strode around everyday starting revolutions and political movements for the betterment of our people.
“Those were a lot of sentences” I replied, still struggling to put everything down. “With policies such as the day of solidarity for housewives and the replacement of the government’s fleet of Mercedes-Benzes with more economical Renault 5s, I doubt you will ever be forgotten Mr. President.” I added, “Especially by those men that now have to do the market shopping and take over household duties on that day. I also doubt that those government officials who lost their ‘luxuries’ might ever forget your pragmatic leadership. People have already began referring to you as Africa’s Che Guevara. how does that make you feel?
“Africa’s Che Guevara?” He replied,
That’s an honour. Che Guevara taught us we could dare to have confidence in ourselves; confidence in our abilities. He instilled in us the conviction that struggle is our only recourse. He, was a citizen of the free world that together we are in the process of building. This just shows Burkina Faso is on its way to becoming a pillar of the free world. I hope the world is ready for that – that and my red beret, my fashion style i owe it all to Che
– with a soft self-deprecating humour.
He glanced at his watch and added. “We have been sitting for over 20 minutes and we still haven’t ordered. Honestly when you first asked about this dinner, I thought you were going to ask me about my favourite meal, car model, or all those other ridiculous stuff I usually see in other presidential profiles. But here we are talking about my vision for Burkina Faso. You journalists are full of surprises. Now who knows, If more journalists turn out to be more like you, I might actually consider lifting that ban on free press. Now honestly Mademoiselle, we must eat. You must try the babenda. I assure you, it’s almost as good as my mother’s.
Now shall we order?…”
And that what a night that was… the night I dined with Thomas Sankara.
P.S. JJ Rawlings expression here sums up how I felt…
Learn more about Sankara here: