Parallelisms: Sankara, the hero who defied his creditors

  • February 16, 2012

Capitalism & Crisis

Resounding from the anti-austerity protests in Greece, we can hear the echo of Sankara — Africa’s own Che Guevara; the hero who defied his creditors.

To Eduardo Galeano

It happened in 1987.

The Organization of African Unity assembled in Addis Abbeba, Ethiopia, in the last days of that hot July. And there he was. With his khaki uniform and his bone-breaking humor, Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso, Africa’s own Che Guevara, gave his last speech and stole the hearts of the world’s poor and exploited. Para siempre.

“The debt cannot be repaid, first because if we don’t repay, lenders will not die. That is for sure. But if we repay, we are going to die. That is also for sure,” he said. And he continued: “Those who led us to indebting ourselves had gambled as if in a casino. As long as they had gains, there was no debate. But now that they suffer losses, they demand repayment. And we talk about crisis. No, Mr President, they played, they lost — that’s the rule of the game, and life goes on.”

Yet Sankara knew all too well that he could not stand alone in his resistance. And so he pleaded with the other African heads of state to follow his example: “If Burkina Faso stands alone in its refusal to pay the debt, I am not going to be here at the next Conference,” he said, prophetically. And everyone laughed…

It’s happening today.

The Greek Parliament assembled on Sunday night (in the early hours of Monday, to be more specific) to vote on a new memorandum that would impose further austerity on the already struggling middle and lower classes of the country. This in return for yet another loan, at least 70 percent of which will be spent on servicing previous debts. The session was orchestrated by an appointed (non-elected) government — led by an (equally non-elected) banker Prime Minister — within which reside, among others, extreme right-wing elements.

The new measures include a 22 percent cut in the minimum wage (32 percent for those under 25), 15.000 public sector layoffs within 2012 and 150.000 by 2015 (and that in a country with an unemployment rate of over 20 percent already!), cuts in public services (health, education, social welfare), the privatization of (profitable!) state assets, plus a guarantee that the new measures will be implemented no matter what the people’s mandate in the elections of April will be — as was recently decreed by “His Highness” Wolfgang Schäuble.

Outside of Parliament, hundreds of thousands of people (amongst them Greek resistance heroes Manolis Glezos and Mikis Theodorakis) gathered to demonstrate their opposition to the memorandum, the Troika, the dominant economic paradigm, and the country’s political class itself. Their voice, an echo coming from Addis Abbeba and the depths of time: “If we stop paying the debt, the banks and the Troika, will not die. That is for sure. But if we repay, we are going to die. That is also for sure.”

It does not matter, it seems. The memorandum was passed by Parliament, yet the Troika are now scared of it being overturned by the people’s mandate in the April elections. Therefore, the creditors are shifting the goalposts for the Greek government, in a pathetic attempt to delay the payment of the next bailout until the new Greek government pledges allegiance to the memorandum as well, after the elections.

Fear of the people. Great times for democracy!

Thomas Sankara, the man who believed that revolutionaries can be murdered but their ideas cannot, did not make it to the next Conference of the Organization of African Unity. He was assassinated three months after his famous Addis Abbeba speech.

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