Thomas Sankara

Since last January 15 a vast operation called the People’s Harvest of Forest Nurseries has been under way in Burkina with a view to supplying the 7,000 village nurseries. We sum up all of these activities under the banner of the "three battles."

Ladies and gentlemen:

I say all this not to shower unrestrained and unending praise on the modest, revolutionary experience of my people with regard to the defense of the forest and the trees, but rather to speak as explicitly as possible about the profound changes occurring in relations between man and tree in Burkina Faso. I would like to depict for you as accurately as possible the deep and sincere love that has been born and is developing between the Burkinabè man and the trees in my country.

In doing this, we believe we are applying our theoretical conceptions concretely to the specific ways and means of the Sahel reality, in the search for solutions to present and future dangers attacking trees the world over. Our efforts and those of all who are gathered here, the experience accumulated by yourselves and by us, will surely guarantee us victory after victory in the struggle to save our trees, our environment, in short, our lives.

Excellencies; Ladies and gentlemen:

I come to you in the hope that you are taking up a battle from which we cannot be absent, since we are under daily attack and believe that the miracle of greenery can rise up out of the courage to say what must be said. I have come to join with you in deploring the harshness of nature. But I have also come to denounce the one whose selfishness is the source of his neighbor’s misfortune. Colonialism has pillaged our forests without the least thought of replenishing them for our tomorrows.

The unpunished destruction of the biosphere by savage and murderous forays on the land and in the air continues. Words will never adequately describe to what extent all these fume-belching vehicles spread death. Those who have the technological means to find the culprits have no interest in doing so, and those who have an interest in doing so lack the necessary technological means. They have only their intuition and their firm conviction.

We are not against progress, but we want progress that is not carried out anarchically and with criminal neglect for other people’s rights. We therefore wish to affirm that the battle against the encroachment of the desert is a battle to establish a balance between man, nature, and society. As such, it is a battle that is above all political, one whose outcome is not determined by fate.

The establishment in Burkina of a Ministry of Water, in conjunction with our Ministry of the Environment and Tourism, demonstrates our desire to place our problems clearly on the table so that we can find a way to resolve them. We have to fight to find the financial means to exploit our existing water resources — that is to finance drilling operations, reservoirs, and dams. This is the place to denounce the one-sided contracts and draconian conditions imposed by banks and other financial institutions that preclude our projects in this area. These prohibitive conditions bring on traumatizing indebtedness robbing us of all meaningful freedom of action.

Neither fallacious Malthusian arguments — and I assert that Africa remains an underpopulated continent — nor those vacation resorts pompously and demagogically called "reforestation operations" provide a solution. We are backed up against the wall in our destitution like bald and mangy dogs whose lamentations and cries disturb the quiet peace of the manufacturers and merchants of misery.

This is why Burkina has proposed and continues to propose that at least 1 percent of the colossal sums of money sacrificed to the search for cohabitation with other planets be used by way of compensation to finance the fight to save our trees and life. While we have not abandoned hope that a dialogue with the Martians could result in the reconquest of Eden, we believe that in the meantime, as earthlings, we also have the right to reject an alternative limited to a simple choice between hell or purgatory.

Explained in this way, our struggle to defend the trees and the forest is first and foremost a democratic struggle that must be waged by the people. The sterile and expensive excitement of a handful of engineers and forestry experts will accomplish nothing! Nor can the tender consciences of a multitude of forums and institutions — sincere and praiseworthy though they may be — make the Sahel green again, when we lack the funds to drill wells for drinking water just a hundred meters deep, and money abounds to drill oil wells three thousand meters deep!

As Karl Marx said, those who live in a palace do not think about the same things, nor in the same way, as those who live in a hut. This struggle to defend the trees and the forest is above all a struggle against imperialism. Imperialism is the pyromaniac setting fire to our forests and savannah.

(From the Feb. 5, 1986 speech "Save Our Trees, Our Environment, Our Lives)