Vol. 73/No. 14      April 13, 2009 

How imperialist 'aid' blocks
development in Africa 
(Books of the Month column)
Printed below is an excerpt from We Are Heirs of the World's Revolutions 
, a collection of speeches by Thomas Sankara, leader of the Burkina Faso 
revolution. The French edition is one of Pathfinder's Books of the Month for 
April. A popular uprising on Aug. 4, 1983, in the former French colony in West 
Africa, then called Upper Volta, brought to power a revolutionary government 
that carried out an ambitious program of land reform, reforestation to stop the 
advance of the desert and to counter famine, broad measures aimed at women's 
emancipation, and a fight against imperialist oppression and capitalist 
exploitation. Sankara was assassinated on Oct. 5, 1987, during a military coup 
that destroyed the revolutionary government. The piece below is from a speech 
by Sankara to the UN General Assembly on Oct. 4, 1984. Copyright © 2002 by 
Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. 

We represented a wondrous condensation, the epitome of all the calamities that 
have ever befallen the so-called developing countries. The example of foreign 
aid, presented as a panacea and often heralded without rhyme or reason, bears 
eloquent witness to this fact. Very few countries have been inundated like mine 
with all kinds of aid. Theoretically, this aid is supposed to work in the 
interests of our development. In the case of what was formerly Upper Volta, one 
searches in vain for a sign of anything having to do with development. The men 
in power, either out of naiveté or class selfishness, could not or would not 
take control of this influx from abroad, understand its significance, or raise 
demands in the interests of our people. 

In his book, Le Sahel demain [The Sahel of tomorrow], Jacques Giri, with a good 
deal of common sense, analyzes a table published in 1983 by the Sahel Club, and 
draws the conclusion that because of its nature and the mechanisms in place, 
aid to the Sahel helps only with bare survival. Thirty percent of this aid, he 
stresses, serves simply to keep the Sahel alive. According to Jacques Giri, the 
only goal of this foreign aid is to continue developing nonproductive sectors, 
saddling our meager budgets with unbearably heavy expenditures, disorganizing 
our countryside, widening our balance of trade deficit, and accelerating our 

Just a few images to describe the former Upper Volta: 7 million inhabitants, 
with over 6 million peasants; an infant mortality rate estimated at 180 per 
1,000; an average life expectancy limited to 40 years; an illiteracy rate of up 
to 98 percent, if we define as literate anyone who can read, write, and speak a 
language; 1 doctor for 50,000 inhabitants; 16 percent of school-age youth 
attending school; and, finally, a per capita Gross Domestic Product of 53,356 
CFA francs, or barely more than 100 U.S. dollars. 

The diagnosis was clearly somber. The root of the disease was political. The 
treatment could only be political. 

Of course, we encourage aid that aids us in doing away with aid. But in 
general, welfare and aid policies have only ended up disorganizing us, 
subjugating us, and robbing us of a sense of responsibility for our own 
economic, political, and cultural affairs. 

We chose to risk new paths to achieve greater well-being. We chose to apply new 
techniques. We chose to look for forms of organization better suited to our 
civilization, flatly and definitively rejecting all forms of outside diktats, 
in order to lay the foundations for achieving a level of dignity equal to our 
ambitions. Refusing to accept a state of survival, easing the pressures, 
liberating our countryside from medieval stagnation or even regression, 
democratizing our society, opening minds to a world of collective 
responsibility in order to dare to invent the future. Shattering the 
administrative apparatus, then rebuilding it with a new kind of government 
employee, immersing our army in the people through productive labor and 
reminding it constantly that without patriotic political education, a soldier 
is only a potential criminal. Such is our political program. 

On the level of economic management, we're learning to live modestly, to accept 
and impose austerity on ourselves in order to be able to carry out ambitious 
projects. Thanks to the example of the National Solidarity Fund, which is 
financed by voluntary contributions, we're already beginning to find answers to 
the harsh questions posed by the drought. We have supported and applied the 
Alma Ata principles by widening the range of primary health-care services. 
We've adopted the GOBI FFF Strategy recommended by UNICEF as our own, making it 
government policy.1 

Through the United Nations Sahel Office (UNSO), we believe the UN should enable 
the countries affected by the drought to set up a medium- and long-term plan to 
achieve food self-sufficiency. 

To prepare for the twenty-first century, we have launched a huge campaign to 
educate and train our children in a new kind of school, financed by the 
creation of a special "Teach our children" raffle. Through the salutary action 
of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, we have launched a vast 
program to build public housing (500 units in three months), roads, small 
reservoirs, and so on. Our economic aspiration is to create a situation where 
every Burkinabè can at least use his brain and hands to invent and create 
enough to ensure him two meals a day and drinking water. 

We swear, we proclaim, that from now on nothing in Burkina Faso will be done 
without the participation of the Burkinabè. Nothing that we have not first 
decided and worked out ourselves. There will be no further assaults on our 
sense of decency and our dignity. 


1. The Alma Ata principles of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the 
United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) emphasized 
proper nutrition, safe water, sanitation systems, maternal and child health 
care, immunization, and a reserve of basic medicine. UNICEF's GOBI FFF 
Strategy, focused on women and children, includes treating diarrhea-caused 
dehydration with an inexpensive solution of clean water, glucose, and salts; 
breastfeeding; immunization against six major communicable diseases; and 

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Kind Regards

Mduduzi Sibeko





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