After over three decades, a court in Burkina Faso has convicted former President Blaise Compaoré in the assassination of his predecessor, and revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara. The verdict was announced by a military tribunal in the capital of Ouagadougou on April 6th, following a six-month trial.
Sankara was a Marxist, Pan-Africanist icon who became the president of Burkina Faso in 1983. Under his leadership, the government implemented a progressive and socialist program of self-sufficiency, nationalization and distribution of land, education, healthcare, and the emancipation of women.
Sankara once said, “The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s liberation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph”. He was revered across Africa for his principled opposition to the imperialist policies and “aid” of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
His politics earned him the name “Africa’s Che Guevara”. Sankara condemned the debt imposed on African countries as a form of neo-colonialism, “a skillfully managed reconquest of Africa”. In his famous speech at the 1987 summit of the Organization of African Unity, Sankara called for a united front against debt. “That is the only way to assert that the refusal to repay is not an aggressive move on our part, but a fraternal move to speak the truth.” However, he warned that he would not live to attend another meeting if Burkina Faso remained alone in resisting against its debt.
A few months later, on October 15, Thomas Sankara and 12 of his aides were gunned down by soldiers outside his office. The coup was led by his friend, and comrade-in arms, Blaise Compaoré. It was also suspected to be backed by the United States and France, the former colonial power. Compaoré subsequently came to power, and remained president until he was ousted by a popular uprising in 2014. He fled to the Ivory Coast with the help of French soldiers, and has remained in exile since. In 2016, Burkina Faso issued a warrant of arrest against Compaoré, but Ivorian authorities rejected a request for extradition.
The landmark trial in the assassination of Sankara began in October, 2021 in front of a panel of civilian and military judges. Over the following months, more than 100 witnesses gave their testimonies against Compaoré, and 13 others. The former leader was tried in absentia. According to ballistics experts, Sankara was shot in the chest at least seven times. Compaoré and his former head of security, General Gilbert Diendéré, were charged with complicity in murder and the concealment of corpses, and harming state security. Both men were convicted and have been sentenced to life in prison. Diendéré is already serving a 20 year sentence in relation to a coup attempt in 2015. Compaoré’s former security chief Haycinthe Kafando, who remains at large, has also been handed a life sentence. He was accused of leading the soldiers who killed Sankara. 8 other defendants were handed sentences between three to twenty years on charges including giving false testimonies. 3 have been acquitted.
Thomas Sankara’s wife, Mariam, was present outside the courtroom when the ruling was announced on Wednesday. Speaking to the Associated Press, she stated “The judges have done their jobs and I am satisfied. Of course, I wished the main suspects would be here before the judges. It is not good that people kill other people and stop the process of development of a country without being punished.”