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Mindset Change: The need for the Thomas Sankara philosophy

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Reforms, reforms and greater reforms is what Malawi needs. The reforms Malawi needs are to a greater extent more of a revolution. We should no longer be doing business as usual. If need be, heads have to roll to instill a culture of hard work, discipline, pride and patriotism. History is awash with people that did things differently and their countries improved. Rwanda has an amazing story of Paul Kagame and possibly the most exciting figure in Africa was the youthful Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso.

We can only move forward as a country if we decide to take the road not taken, to break some normally expected ideas and ideals, to practice our own model of economics that is in tandem with the development of a poor country like Malawi. It sounded almost stupid in the text book thinking and more of an insult to international lending institutions when Sankara opposed aid, saying that ‘he who feeds you, controls you.’ Even decades before talk of the cancellation of Africa’s debt became acceptable in world banking circles, Sankara called for a united front of African nations to repudiate their foreign debt. He argued that the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay to the rich and exploiting.

We need to be visionary as a people and as a country. We need to be proud of what we have and utilize them to the benefit of all. Sankara said of Burkina Faso, ‘our country produces enough to feed us all. We can even produce more than we need. Unfortunately for lack of organization, we still need to beg for aid. This type of assistance is counterproductive and has kept us thinking that we can only be beggars who need aid.’

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Malawi has the lake and perennial rivers that we can utilise to become the bread basket of Africa. It is only that we talk what we do not practice. We have the robust and well decorated green belt project which is only better on paper. Up and only until we stop being patient as to procrastinate, then we will never develop. I t s h o u l d always be hurting us that millions of the people of our motherland can go without food in the land of plenty. We have to change the way we work, we have to double our input in production be it in the public or private sector.

We need the Sankara-philosophy reforms to really practice austerity on paper and in practise. In contrast to most African leaders who exploit their meager resources for their national benefit, Sankara launched a series of measures unheard of in the continent. He reduced the salaries of ministers and chief public servants starting with his own. From then on, public servants had to no longer be driven around in expensive Mercedes Benz but in cheaper cars. Not a single priviledge remained to government officials. His office did not even have an air conditioner calling it the priviledge of a few.

This is the trend Malawi has to take. Our complaints over and again are over the posh vehicles we have to buy for CEOs of parastatals, district commissioners, senior police officers, cabinet ministers, judges, principal secretaries, leader of opposition, speaker of parliament and deputies and many directors in the public service. How come that the poorest country on earth has the luxury for opulence? This is what we have to change as we are embarking on a journey to transform our motherland. The current beneficiaries may not be happy that such benefits are scraped off but this country is for all Malawians and the common good should be supreme.

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We need the Sankara vision that we stop abusing resources by flying business class . Whether one flies business class or not, as Sankara observed, when the plane takes off you all take off together and when it lands you all land together. We need to be gate keepers of our meager resources. Each and every public servant should take ownership of the country’s resources and guard them jealously.

Sankara has more to off e r us in wisdom and is a great manifestation of what patriotism and pride can do to a nation. He was one of the first to recognize that key to the development of Burkina Faso and Africa was improving the status of women. He was the first African leader to appoint women to major cabinet positions and to recruit them actively for the military. He outlawed forced marriages and encouraged women to work outside the home and stay in school even if pregnant. He launched a nation-wide public health campaign vaccinating over 2.5 million people in a week, a world record. He was also one of the first African environmentalists, planting over 10 million trees to retain soil and halt the growing desertification of the Sahel. He promoted local cotton production and even required public servants to wear a traditional tunic, woven from Burkinabe cotton and sewn by Burkinabe craftsmen. He redistributed land from the feudal landlords and gave it directly to the peasants. Wheat production rose in just three years from 1700 kg per hectare to 3800 kg per hectare, making the country food self-sufficient. He started an ambitious road and rail building program to tie the nation together, eschewing any foreign aid by relying on his country’s greatest resource, the energy and commitment of its own people.

If we are to develop we need a new age in terms of our thinking, we need what we can perceive to be the age of Thomas Sankara whereby our public servants will put the interests of the nation at heart than theirs, whereby we will work with pride towards the achievement of our dreams, whereby our people, our citizens and their commitment will become the fulcrum of development in our motherland. We can no longer keep on with business as usual. The policies we have been living and implementing are the very same ones that have been failing our nation. Now is the time to change, with a bit of pain though.

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