Mali Troops are our Brothers – Thomas Sankara

At Burkina-Mali solidarity rally

January 3, 1986


In December 1985 the government of Mali, armed by France, used a border dispute as the pretext to launch an attack on the Burkinabè revolution. Backed by tanks, armored vehicles, and jet fighters, Malian soldiers invaded Burkina Faso, starting a five-day conflict known as the “Christmas War.” The following is excerpted from a speech given to a Burkina-Mali solidarity rally in Ougadougou after the signing of a cease-fire between the two countries. It was published in the January 6, 1986, issue of Sidwaya.


      Comrade militants of the democratic and popular revolution:

     On December 25, 1985, with the year drawing to a close, our populations were bombed. They were bombed by planes, they were wounded and killed by tanks and troops coming from the other side. We then counterattacked. Confronting military superiority, confronting an abundance of weapons, we countered with collective political and revolutionary determination, we unleashed the creative genius. Our strategists have written deeds of great prowess into the pages of African military history. We protected our people. We protected them because we were victims of aggression, because we owe them liberty and tranquility day and night. We protected them, thus fulfilling a revolutionary duty.

     War is nothing other than an extension of politics. Their politics were extended and transformed into war. Our politics were extended and transformed into a generalized popular defense. Two political courses confronted each other, and one political course triumphed.

     Dear comrades, on this day, January 3, 1986, I would like us to think of all those who fell on the field of honor, Malians and Burkinabè, of all those who were wounded, of all the tearful families, of these two peoples, and of other peoples from Africa and elsewhere who have been touched by these painful confrontations. I would like each of us to make an effort to surmount feelings of hate, rejection, and hostility toward the Malian people. I would like each of us to achieve the most important victory: to kill inside ourselves the seeds of hostility and enmity toward anyone. We have an important victory to win: planting the seeds of genuine friendship in our hearts, capable of withstanding even the murderous assault of cannons, planes, and tanks. This kind of friendship is only built on the revolutionary basis of sincere love for other people’s.

     I know you are capable of this, capable of loving the Malian people and demonstrating it. We will demonstrate it. In their speech, the brothers from Mali said they favor developing relations. First of all, we answer: yes! But in addition, we are going to follow these words with deeds. For this reason, comrades, I want to tell you that as far as we’re concerned, there has never been anything but friendship and love between the Malian and Burkina peoples. Comrades! Are you or are you not for friendship between our two peoples? [Shouts of “Yes!”] The popular masses, who hold power in Burkina Faso, have spoken. On their behalf I say directly to the entire world that there are no longer any Malian prisoners in Burkina Faso. The Malian military personnel who are here are no longer prisoners. They are our brothers. They can return to Bamako¹ when and as they wish, in total freedom.

     We did not fight in order to take prisoners, but to repel the enemy. We have repelled him. Every Malian in Burkina Faso is a brother. The Malians who are here are our brothers. Starting today, arrangements will be made for them to live in complete freedom, for them to taste the joy of freedom in Burkina Faso, especially in Ougadougou. Their families in Mali should know that they can come and get them, just as they can wait for them at Bamako airport, whatever they wish.

     Comrades, let us avoid being diverged, dragged into fights that are not the people’s fights. Let us avoid being dragged into concerns that are not the people’s concerns, into the mad race toward confrontation and stockpiling of weapons. We know that in certain minds the temptation will be great, come what may, to seek military arsenals, and in so doing justify bellicose actions and thus find easy and convenient pretexts for holding the masses for ransom. This will not happen in Burkina Faso.

     The western media, the imperialist press, has often said that Burkina Faso is a country with a massive stockpile of weapons. You have often read in the papers that our country has received tons and tons of military equipment. Fortunately, this same press has admitted its error, has reversed judgement, and has recognized that Burkina Faso was militarily underequipped. We are not the ones who said this; they are the ones who wrote it. It’s true, we are underequipped. All the talk they spread about us was nothing but slanders. Today they are faced with their own slanders, faced with their own lies. We now know which country has stockpiled weapons, and which country has military scrap at its disposal. We now know which country imposes sacrifices on its people in the interests of social, political, and economic development rather than for excessive militarization.

     The events of these five days have allowed Burkina Faso to wash away the shame, to reestablish the truth. They have allowed the entire world to see us as we really are. Only those who detest the revolution, and there are many, will continue trying to spread confusion through their maneuvers. Battles await us, and we must win them.

     For 1986, which is beginning , I would like to wish all of you happiness, a happiness in keeping with the intentions we are expressing and with the efforts we are ready to make. In wishing you all a good and happy year, I would like to ask you all to pull yourselves together and look on what has just occurred as an episode, an unfortunate one, of course, but rich in lessons.

     I would like us to analyze this experience. We revolutionaries know that every day that goes by is a day of confrontation. On March 26, 1983, in this very square, we proclaimed, “When the people stand up, imperialism trembles.” Ever since that day, we’ve known that we are face to face with imperialism and its lackeys.²


¹. Bamako is the capital of Mali.

². After the hostilities, the governments of Burkina Faso and Mali asked the International Court of Justice in the Hague to resume its efforts to arrange a settlement. In a decision the following year, the court divided the contested territory between the two countries.

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