One speech in particular, the famous “Speech of Political Orientation” Discours d’orientation politique, or DOP given on October 2, 1983, is an important policy document. Just before he was killed Sankara referred to the DOP as a major landmark in the history of Burkina Faso, if not the world. He was clearly very proud of the speech, which was apparently written by Valère Somé. The lengthy exposition defines the revolution as defiantly against imperialism the word is used thirty-eight times in the text. Enemies of the revolution are branded with communist vocabulary. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the new state machinery, are identified and exhorted to do their work well, though their powers and responsibilities are not enumerated. The listener unfamiliar with Lenin’s concept of democratic centralism, invoked deliberately by Sankara, would have had little idea of the practical intentions of the junta in terms of governance of the countryside. An interesting part of the speech is the emphasis on self-education and moral self-reform through reading, reflecting a modernization ideology of material prosperity that relies on transformation of the self. There is no doubt that Sankara’s heart was in the right place. But the DOP speech and others illustrate three features of Sankara’s rule that I find troubling: 1 a readiness to substitute abstraction and jargon when specificity was called for; 2 an impatient and wishful understanding of the world; and 3 a tone of false modesty. For example, in one speech Sankara discussed the state’s nationalization of land. There was no entertaining the prospect that perhaps the regime had little idea of the effects of such a hasty and broad-stroked legal change. In another speech, Sankara derided the formal legal system of Upper Volta, proposing an informal and possibly oral-based people’s justice. But he did not explain how this justice was to be applied without written rules, or how such written rules would not once again quickly become the mechanism by which the powerful evaded the law.
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