Sankara replaces General Charles de Gaulle as Burkina Faso decolonises street name

By Alison Hird with RFI

Burkina Faso's military rulers have officially renamed one of main streets in the capital Ouagadougou, replacing the country's former colonial ruler with its pan-africanist father of independence, Thomas Sankara. The move follows similar trends in Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal.

As part of the commemoration of 36th anniversary of Sankara's assassination on 15 October, Boulevard Général Charles De Gaulle in the capital Ouagadougou was officially renamed Boulevard Thomas Sankara.

Daouda Traoré, retired colonel major and vice-president of the international Thomas Sankara Memorial Committee, was delighted that the boulevard would now carry the name of "the world's most famous Burkinabé citizen".

This is a "name that drapes this boulevard with the seal of dignity and sovereignty of our people, in keeping with our history, our spirit and our soul marked by anti-imperialist convictions," he said.

While Burkina Faso has seen a swell in anti-French sentiment, the affirmation of sovereignty through renaming streets and monuments is by no means particular to the Sahelian state.

"The debate began in Cameroon with the awakening of civil society," says Kalvin Soiresse, a Belgian MP of Cameroon-Togolese origin, and former coordinator of the Mémoires Coloniales collective.

"In Africa and among the diaspora we see a new movement of appropriating political identity based on [notions of] sovereignty,” he told RFI.

“We find it in Burkina Faso, which has been very impacted by Sankara's legacy, but also in Cote d'Ivoire … and Senegal,” he said.

'Offence to national dignity'

In Cote d'Ivoire Soiresse points to stadiums named after the former Ivorian prime minister Charles Konan Banny or current president Alassane Ouattara; and streets named after former president Laurent Gbagbo.

French presidents Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and François Mitterrand have lost streets, and been replaced respectively by the first Ivorian president Félix Houphouet-Boigny and writer and politician German Coffi Gadeau and First Lady Dominique Ouattara.

In Senegal, opposition leader Ousmane Sonko began renaming streets after anti-colonial figures shortly after becoming mayor of Ziguinchor in February 2022.

Deeming that streets named after French figures was “an offence to national dignity” Rue du General de Gaulle became Rue de la Paix (street of peace) while Avenue du Capitaine Javelier was renamed Avenue du Tirailleur Africain in tribute to African soldiers who fought for France during the two world wars.

Sonko's preferences were shortlived however, with the Supreme Court declaring them invalid in December 2022.

Nevertheless, Soiresse says the name-changing is a movement.

"A new circle has opened," he argues, "and I don't think we'll have much choice," but to follow.