BURKINA FASO. 28 years after the assassination of the African leader of Burkina Faso: Sankara, our debt and the end of the third world

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By Huáscar Sologuren/ Source Rebelion.org / The Dawn / October 17, 2015 – With the piercing cry of “La liberté ou la mort” the Third World was born. In an unthought-of Caribbean island, the black slaves of Saint-Domingue, led by Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, began a revolution bathed in blood and fire, that ended in 1804 with the abolition of slavery in the French colonies, the proclamation of the first former colonial Nation of the South of the world, the Republic of Haiti, and the consolidation of a black consciousness as a shared feeling among the oppressed people of the world. Thus, the “Black Jacobins” would start a trend that would spread throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. The National Freedom Movements fought against the logic of the modern colonial system, and would have a profound impact on the concept of human freedom and democracy.


The Third World as a political project


While nations liberated from the colonial ruling widened the narrow world throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not until 1952 that French sociologist Alfred Sauvy gave them their very famous name. In his article “Three Worlds, One Planet”[1], Sauvy pointed out the emergence, due to the process of decolonization of African and Southeastern Asian countries, of underdeveloped nations, which were exploited and left out of the new international order —governed by the polarity between capitalist and communist powers, that is, between the First and Second world.

The use by the French sociologist of the concept “Third World” was not accidental, as he intended to compare it with the context of the French Revolution, where a large mass, the Third Estate, was facing a minority who had an absolute power, the First State.

In the new context of international relations of the mid-twentieth century, there was a Third World faced with a First World. These new “dark nations”, as Professor Vijay Prashad called them, seemed condemned to the margins of history, but the strong will of its people managed to achieve recognition within the UN in an historic resolution of the General Assembly 1514 (XIV) in 1960[2], which was intensely anti-colonialist, and declared that “all peoples have the right of self-determination to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

Their impulse launched a wide decolonization process. From that moment on, “the Third World was not a place. It was a project”[3]. The liberated nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America would embark in a common struggle channeled through organizations such as the G77, UNTAC, ECLAC and especially by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Their leaders were Nehru (India), Nasser (Egypt), Tito (Yugoslavia), Sukarno (Indonesia), Nkrumah (Ghana) and Castro (Cuba). From the 60s to the 80s they would hold press conferences in Bandung, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Belgrade and Havana. Their goals: the recognition of human rights for all peoples of the world, the fight against inequality and oppression between rich and poor countries, recognition of the equal dignity of all humans and necessary satisfaction of basic needs for life: land, peace and freedom.

It would seem that, through the sixties, the “dark nations” became aware of themselves and embraced this awareness in order to start their struggles within international forums. Expressed in Hegelian terms, the Third World went from being a consciousness in-itself to be a conscience for-itself. The 60s and 70s were two decades of high hopes and victories, new peoples asserted their recognition in the world and consistently voted together in the UN General Assembly in favor of resolutions that would guide them to dignity. In 1979, 95 countries were members of NAM and after its sixth conference in Havana, Fidel Castro, in his role as a NAM representative, delivered a historic speech at the forum of the General Assembly[4]. The message was clear: the poor nations of the world can no longer tolerate “a speculative international economic order that nobody understands”, that “unequal exchange ruins our peoples and must cease” and that “the debts of poor countries are unbearable and have no solution; debts must be cancelled”.  The Third World seemed to be on a firm path to the conquest of complete dignity.

The neoliberal counterrevolution


Just as, in the early nineteenth century, the French Revolution had its counterpart in the

absolutist restoration against the Third Estate’s will, in the 70s of the twentieth century a financial counter-revolution was initiated against the will of the Third World. The crisis of the Fordist system, the abandonment of the gold standard by the US Federal Reserve in 1971 and the inability of states to manage stagflation (product of the Oil crisis in 1973) with traditional Keynesian policies, created a growing need for a radical change in the international economy.

The new stars in the economic firmament, Friedman and Hayek, lit by the glare of the Nobel Prize in Economics, would push the planet to the neoliberal model. The traditional policy of full employment would be abandoned to meet the need to maintain low interest rates, the IFIs (International Financial Institutions, such as World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) would mutate obediently in the 80s from their Keynesian policies to neoliberal ideas, and market liberalization would become the greatest goal. “The Keynesian revolution had passed away. In Economic History, the John Maynard Keynes era was followed by the era of Milton Friedman”[5], or, as Harvey wrote: “Neoliberalism arose as a political project to restore the conditions of capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites”[6].


The restoration against the Third World seemed firm. The IFIs were guided by neoliberal criteria, more and more ‘prestigious’ universities were becoming fans of the “Chicago Boys” and the hegemonic states of UK and the US had the most diligent learners of their “new economic order” in the figures of Thatcher and Reagan. This modern “Holy Alliance”, would innovate with financial weapons: dollar indebtedness of poor countries through the recycling of petrodollars and loans through the World Bank[7], deliberate rise in interest rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve[8] and commodity speculation which caused a drop in the price in international markets. The final Claudication would happen in 1982, when Mexico declared default, followed by Argentina and Brazil.

The crisis of Third World debt had broken out. What would follow would be the sad predicament of Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) and the IMF policies; finally, the eulogy of the “lost decades” for the countries of the South.

“The report of the South Commission, published in 1990, stated that the structural adjustment strategies of globalization, driven by the IMF, weakened the Third World as a political force. The UNCTAD, G77, NAM and other international forums and organizations would fade out to insignificance. Not a single political force,that advocated for abolition of the debt or a strategy of social support for the planet as a whole would remain standing. The South lacked control over the North and was not capable of introducing and activating collective demands. The Third World, as it were, had dissolved”[9].

“We are the heirs of all the revolutions of the world”


In the twilight of the Third World as a political project, one last desperate echo of rebellion would be felt in the voice of Thomas Sankara, revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso. Within the forum of the 25th Conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa on July 29, 1987, Sankara delivered a strong speech against the external debt of African countries[10]. “The debt is a neo-colonial mechanism”, “Third World countries are not responsible for their debts”, and payment of debt will mean the death of the people of the south. To conclude, debt should not and can not be paid. For this, Sankara, proposed to the Assembly the creation of the Addis Abeba Club, in opposition to the Washington Consensus, as he preached words that later seemed prophetic: “If Burkina Faso stands alone rejecting the debt, I will not be present at the next conference”. Sankara left alone that night. Sankara was assassinated two months later in Burkina Faso, on October 15, due to a treacherous coup organized by his “brother in arms”; Compaoré, supported by the Western powers.


The end of the Third World? The End of History, as secured  by Fukuyama after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989?


Not so long ago,in 1984, Sankara was standing the 39th Assembly of the UN, saying he was speaking on behalf of all the “abandoned”, because nothing human was foreign for him. He spoke of wanting to be a “heir of all revolutions of the World”, of being aware that the oppressed peoples of the world have learned from the American Continent and the French Revolution, and all processes of national liberation. And therefore, “only struggle can free us”[11].

The “darker nations” can never be defeated, because their peoples’ freedom cry, the same that the “Black Jacobins” delivered at the birth of the Third World; “La liberté ou la mort!” can never be silenced.

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