Thomas Sankara: A Revolutionary in Cold War Africa (Indiana University Press, 2021) by Brian J. Peterson is a thoroughly researched biography of Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso. Peterson sketches Sankara’s rise to power in the early 1980s and focuses specifically on how his military experiences, educational background, and community of mentors, family, and friends shaped his radicalism. Peterson frames Sankara within a second-generation of anti-colonial radicals who both admired anti-colonial luminaries like Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere, but also refined their anti-colonial perspective to critique the limits of their leadership. We learn that during this moment of late-Cold War and decolonization, Sankara used his international platforms to resist and condemn neo-colonialism, imperialism, and European-American networks of surveillance and subterfuge while tackling corruption, poverty, gender discrimination, and environmental issues in Burkina Faso. Sankara’s fierce commitment to revolutionary politics intimated the U.S. and French governments, Western-aligned African nations, and Burkinabé officials who ultimately conspired to assassinate him in 1987. Peterson’s Thomas Sankara examines the powerful legacies of an incredible revolutionary figure and offers a foundation for understanding contemporary anti-imperialist politics in Burkina Faso and beyond.
Amanda Joyce Hall is a Ph.D. Candidate in History and African American Studies at Yale University. She is writing an international history on the global movement against South African apartheid during the 1970s and 1980s. She tweets from @amandajoycehall.