Love London Love Culture spoke to writer and director Ricky Dujany about his latest play about Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987, playing at the Cockpit Theatre until 14 April 2018.
Hi Ricky, thank you so much for talking to Love London Love Culture. Could you tell me a little bit more about what Sankara is about please?
The Bard’s Julius Caesar inspires the unforgettable story of the African hero Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Sankara brought an unprecedented change in the mentality of his country, refused foreign aid and consequent debt (with the slogan “he who feeds you controls you”) and promoted work for everyone to build the first international railway.
How did the idea for the play come about?
I’ve always been fond of revolutionary men’s challenges throughout history. Men that tore apart the veil of lies perpetrated by the Power and changed the political conscience of people or the scientific knowledge of humankind forever. Human beings ahead of their times, very often not understood by their fellow countrymen or colleagues and always attracting the hatred of the men in power.
What I love about them is that despite all these difficulties and oppositions, these revolutionary men never stopped believing in their vision in order to achieve their dream, maybe never knowing in their lifetime that time would have proved them right. These men and women often paid with their lives the price of being what they were born to do.
After reading everything I could about Thomas, his courage and all his mesmerising and passionate speeches (still groundbreaking and dangerously revolutionary for the current political status quo), I was shocked to find out that almost no one knew about his existence. I think he has been the greatest President that ever graced the soil of Africa, because of his staunch fight in claiming Africa back and motivate his people in re-discovering the “Africanness” inside their souls, in opposition to the invading Western ideology of consumerism. “Africa to the Africans” was one of his mottos. To him, imperialism wasn’t just a bag of rice or a money loan but also a mentality, which is only interested in creating “standardised consumers” and not human beings with traditions, memory and sense of belonging.
What did you most want Sankara to achieve? I want Sankara to become one of the household names of Pan Africanism and freedom along with names such as Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Martin Luther King. It’s a shame that his history and legacy are not known among the younger generations. I maintain the unshakable confidence that this show will give justice to Sankara’s idealism, humanity and hope for a better society. A society where the ugly truth of its injustices will be finally unveiled, to learn from the mistakes that human beings have been inflicting to each others from the beginning of time.
Why would you say that people should come along and see the show? Because Thomas Sankara’s message of refusing to be subjugated by the debt dictatorship and succumb to globalisation is more relevant today than anythime in history. Globalisation is offered to us as somehow a great achievement, but what it all amounted to is, in Sankara’s opinion, a huge market to kill the less “competitive” and create “global brands”. Competitive to do do what? To have 27 different brands of toothbrushes? Producing stuff at no price paying awful wages in Asia and then reselling it increasing the price tenfold? What does “global means”? Having cities with lookalike high streets offering the same brands, from London to Abidjan? With the same standardized “consumer” (the former “Human being”) to line up and just consume? The fight for the rediscovery of the unicity of every culture and country is more relevant today than anytime in history and not only in Africa.
It’s a striking coincidence that along with the run with the “David” Sankara, the “Goliath” Hamilton will be playing in the West End. “Hamilton” recounts the birth of the Federal Reserve system (the mother of all current debt systems) depicting it as a “good and reasonable thing” to implement in the US and in the world. The “David” Sankara instead explains why and by which mechanism this debt system wound up to enslave the whole world, from the US to Africa and Europe. The people should come and see the show to understand why Presidents like Lincoln and Kennedy were assassinated: just like Thomas Sankara, they dared to question and reform the debt system we’re living in.
What would you like for audiences to take away from Sankara? A message of dignity and empowerment. “The slave alone is responsible for his own misfortune, if he harbours the illusion of a master to set him free.” Thomas used to say. We’re living in a world of “masters” and Ministers of Truth, that tells us what is to be considered as “real”, “true”, “good”, “bad”. The lesson I would love for the audience to take away from the story of this great man is to listen to the master inside their souls, to trust it and to follow it. Just like Thomas did. It’s the only way for us to stand up against the Man.
In terms of research – did you discover anything that particularly fascinated you about Thomas Sankara? There are many episodes in the research process where I understood that Thomas’s vision of life would have stayed with me for a long time. But one in particular stayed with me. When Chief of the Army Boukary discovered the intention of a mutinous part of the Army to overtrow his good friend Thomas Sankara, he ran like a daredevil to warn Thomas that he was targeted for assassination. Boukary told Thomas that, if Thomas had given him the authorization, he would have arrested the mutinous components of the Army, which included Thomas’s intimate friends. Thomas firmly said no and said it was “for them to betray, not us”.
How many of us would have reacted like this? This profound trust in the value of principle, belongs to a person who is simply… beyond.
It seems he was a leader who was ahead of his time – what do you think that people in 2018 can learn from his example?
The “civilized” Western World of 2018 is still struggling with the “taboo” of equality between men and women, in terms of salaries, discrimination and mutual respect. Thomas Sankara urged his countrymen to understand and accept that women “hold up the other half of the sky” and he did it when this topic wasn’t “cool” or “politically correct”, especially in Africa, a continent where genital excision and forced marriages were the norm.
Another topic he overtly denounced when it wasn’t “cool” or “legitimized” was the mechanism of debt (created on purpose by those we let to retain the power of creating money out of thin air) that enslaves the First, Second and Third World to this day.
Sankara thought that we are the ones who give the power. We shouldn’t be afraid of the consequences, because the Man always counted on our fears to endure their reign, blackmailing our souls with the fear of death and he fear of becoming poor.