Thomas Sankara

Blacks Must Take Responsibility for Their Own History
and Contribute To Universal Civilization

Source: This article was originally published on Liberation School on December 14, 2021. Also published on
First Published: "International Symposium for the Creation of the Institut des peuples noirs" [Black Institute or, literally, the Institute of Black People], Ouagadougou, April 21-26, 1986.
Translated: by Maxime Delafosse-Brown, Gabriel Rockhill, and Hope Wilson from Liberation School.
HTML Markup: by Zdravko Saveski, 2023.

Honorable guests!

Honorable seminarians!

Militant comrades of the RDP![1]

First and foremost, I would like to pay a much deserved tribute to Cheikh Anta Diop.

At the time when we were working to organize this symposium, when he was on our list in the place that he deserves, among the personalities of the Black world, the great defender of African people, of Black people, the eminent man of culture, the professor Cheikh Anta Diop passed away in Dakar. All of fighting Africa mourned him and still mourns him. All of intellectual and cultural Africa laments his death, and the scientific world observes with a deep bitterness the void he leaves. If it is normal and fair to pay all the venerable tributes that this great African, Cheikh Anta Diop, deserves, it would hardly be enough to mourn him. One does not cry for great men. Cheikh Anta Diop was a giant. The best tribute that we could give him is to commit ourselves to continuing with the same courage, the same sincerity, with the same skills the work he undertook with so much love and respect for Black people and Black civilizations. And, we sincerely think, in this solemn moment of the symposium that we will begin soon, that the Black Institute, through its ideals, is the perfect place to pay homage to him, to preserve him from being lost, from transfiguration, and from forgetting-the image that the modern world must keep of him.

An additional pledge and bet for the total success of the undertaking for which you, we, have come together here. For this new commitment, for this determination, for this challenge that we are setting for ourselves, to protect the work of Cheikh Anta Diop for the benefit not only of Black people, but of humanity, I invite you to observe a minute of silence in meditation and to contemplate the form of combat which must be ours.

Parties of our continents, of our countries, of our respective islands, we agreed to gather together today in Ouagadougou, capital of the free land of Burkina Faso for a reason, a goal which will perhaps finally bring to blow on our heads, on their heads, on those, like Aimé Cesaire said, "who never invented either gun powder or the compass. but who know the depths of suffering well, the wind of hope."

In effect, today we gather to try together, as a whole, to reflect on the idea, on the project of creation of the Black Institute. A daring project, a formidable bet, as you might expect!

Ladies, Gentleman, dear guests, honorable seminarians, male and female supporters of the democratic and popular Revolution of Burkina Faso!

When the idea came to us of creating a meeting place for all Black people on the planet, we did not underestimate for a minute the audacity of the task. But we also had in our hearts and in our minds, like a leitmotif, the slogan of our youngest militants, the pioneers: "Dare to fight, to know, to overcome." So we had seen that we can move mountains in order that, finally, all the Black people of the world can get to know one another in a place, a site where they can rejuvenate themselves.

In our opinion, it had become imperative that in the face of history, Black people, Africa, and what is called the Black diaspora, respond all together to this question-and in my opinion this is the question which grounds the BI [Black Institute] and its mission: What have Black people done, what can or must they still do, to take responsibility for their own history and in that way contribute to Universal civilization [la civilisation de l'Universel]?

Indeed, Ladies, Gentlemen, honorable guests of this symposium, male and female militants, what are we for ourselves, Blacks and for others? The cliché is all drawn out: suffering people, harassed and humiliated people, people who are still experiencing the inner explosion of their personality as a result of the outrage that cracks their conscience as a human being, as a result of the curse, of the pigmentation - forever black - of their skin.

This is how we hear that the Black people in question, who are in Africa or who have left, have a common origin, a common background, which constitutes for them the original cultural patrimony towards which their struggle against slavery, against colonization, against apartheid, for civil rights, for political and economic independence, leads them. But today, and I address myself especially to you gentlemen, the guests, honorable seminarians, Black people are watching you. The whole world is turned toward you, toward the symposium for which you have come, often traveling a great distance. Because history has finally proved that Black people are right to organize and develop their active solidarity around already existing shared initiatives, both in Mother Africa and in the countries of the Diaspora. It is within this framework that the BI should be in the conscience of Black people geographically dispersed in a fragmented space, a reunifying symbol, the symbol of their shared will to preserve their cultural identities, their creative genius, and their dignity.

This is why the Black Institute will not be confined, neither to itself, nor to its object, that is Black people. It will be open to other people. This is the essential condition for Black people to reassess their historical patrimony, to redefine their whole identity in the contemporary world. In our opinion, the Black Institute - its objectives - will always be to affirm itself and participate in cultural dialogue, which for us is the understanding between peoples regardless of their color.

Confident in the rich and fruitful reflections that will emerge from your work during your symposium, which I hope will be frank and fair, honored guests, honorable seminarians, it is important to never forget that the egg that will hatch must be the crucible of meetings, of exchanges, and of loyal cooperation between people around the world.

To do this, you must, during your present meetings, divest yourself of the enthusiasm and passion that would discover all the good causes and intentions of the project. You should rather be inspired by prudence, by precautions, to take into account only the interests of Black people and of other people for the Black Institute, for its prefigurations which must necessarily be backed by principles and orientations formulated, agreed to and accepted by as many as possible.

Honored guests, honorable seminarians, Burkina Faso is only the humble initiator of a project, of a collective idea which is above all democratic, even universal, and therefore denationalized, depersonalized, in order to become the battle horse of all those who have always maintained, by whatever means, the hope of seeing the cultural unity of Black people through a framework of shared reflection. To this end, we should pay homage to the martyrs, to the political, artistic, scientific, literary struggles of all those who believed and believe in the dawn of "Universal Civilization," that is, in love and solidarity.

Honored guests, honorable seminarians, it is to this reflection that you are invited, you who have accepted, despite the distance, despite often very busy schedules, to bring your priceless assistance - I am already convinced of this - to the building of a shared ideal.

While wishing you every success in your work, I declare the international symposium for the creation of the Black Institute open.

Homeland or death, we will win!



[1] RDP stands for the Democratic and Popular Revolution or the Democratic and Popular Republic [Révolution démocratique et populaire / République démocratique et populaire], which lasted from 1983 to 1987 in Burkina Faso. - Trans.