Thomas Sankara, Marx and ecology

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 9 18:20:26 MST 1999

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

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

Louis Proyect
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