Thomas Sankara trial in Burkina Faso: Who killed ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’?


34 years, nearly to the day, since the stunning killing of Burkina Faso’s then President, Thomas Sankara, 14 men are going being investigated, blamed for complicity in the homicide of the man known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”.

The magnetic Pan-Africanist was shot dead matured 37 by troopers during an overthrow on 15 October 1987, which saw his dear companion, Blaise Compaoré, come to control.


Four years beforehand, the pair had organized the takeover which saw Sankara become president.


Mr Compaoré is among the 14 blamed however he is right now in a state of banishment in adjoining Ivory Coast, where he escaped subsequent to being compelled to leave during mass fights in 2014. He has over and over denied association in Sankara’s passing and is boycotting the preliminary.

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” the former president’s widow Mariam Sankara told the BBC. “I want to know the truth, and who did what.”

Sankara remains something of an icon across Africa – stickers emblazoned with his face adorn taxis across West Africa, while across the continent in South Africa, radical opposition leader Julius Malema cites him as one of his inspirations.

Why is Sankara seen as such a hero?

As far as we might be concerned, Sankara was a loyalist. He cherished his kin. He cherished his country. He cherished Africa. He gave his life for us,” said Luc Damiba, secretary general of the Thomas Sankara Memorial Committee.

It was under his standard that the nation was renamed – from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, signifying “Place where there is Upright People”.

Sankara himself drove a grim way of life. He decreased his own compensation, and that of every single local official. He likewise prohibited the utilization of government drivers and five star carrier tickets.

Training was a key need – while he was in power, the proficiency rate expanded from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987, and he likewise regulated a monstrous public immunization crusade.

He additionally rearranged land from primitive property managers and gave it straightforwardly to helpless ranchers, which prompted an immense expansion in wheat creation.

A man holds flowers next to an image of Thomas Sankara, in front of the headquarters of the National Council of the Revolution (CNR), in Ouagadougou in 2019. The former leader was killed at the site in 1987.


Image caption,Thomas Sankara was killed outside the headquarters of his revolutionary council, where this plaque has been erected

Sankara called for a united Africa to stand against what he called the “neo-colonialism” of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

He was once quoted as saying: “He who feeds you, controls you.”

He adopted an anti-imperialist foreign policy which challenged the dominance of France, which retained huge influence in many of its former colonies in Africa, such as Burkina Faso. His widow Mariam has accused France of masterminding his assassination.

“He remains my president. What he did for the population encourages us young people to do as he did,” a student at the Thomas Sankara University in Ouagadougou told the BBC.

An imposing six-metre high bronze statue at the Thomas Sankara Memorial Park in the capital, Ouagadougou, was unveiled in 2019, and then reworked last year following complaints about the first version.

People pose for photos with the second bronze statue of Burkina Faso's former President Thomas Sankara on 17 May 2020.


Image caption,The park and statue are popular tourist spots

Mr Damiba says that plans are underway to expand the park, including an 87-metre high tower overlooking Ouagadougou.

There will also be a mausoleum for Sankara, a cinema hall and a media library named after him. These facilities are expected to pass on Sankara’s revolutionary ideas to future generations.

What about his critics?

Sankara’s radical left-wing policies have been criticised by human rights organisations as draconian.

A 1986 report released by Amnesty International revealed that alleged political opponents were detained without trial and severely tortured.

Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore in 2014 during his presidency.


Image caption,Blaise Compaore was Sankara’s close friend and denies any role in his death

“I think he was too slow to accept the idea of pluralistic democracy and those who opposed him couldn’t talk to him and be heard,” said Serge Theophile Balima, who served as the minister of information in Sankara’s government.

Prof Balima added: “He wanted to give power to the people, so he delegated power to proletarians who were heading the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution [CDRs], who were recruited to moralise public and private life. In fact, they found themselves committing abuses which discredited his power.”

In an interview with the Africa Report website in 2020, former President Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo, who was ousted by Sankara, described him as having “a share of cynicism and political Machiavellianism”.

Why has the trial taken so long?

His brother, Paul Sankara, said: “We’ve waited a long time, all along the 27 years of Blaise Compaoré’s regime. Under his rule we couldn’t even dream of the possibility of a trial.”

People stand next to graffiti that reads "justice for Sankara".


Image caption,Sakara’s supporters have long demanded justice

His widow filed a criminal complaint in 1997 over the murder of her husband, but it took 15 years for the Supreme Court to rule that the investigation could continue.

However, little progress was made until Mr Compaoré was overthrown in 2014.

The following year, remains presumed to be his were exhumed but DNA analysis was unable to confirm they were his.

In 2016, the Burkina Faso authorities officially asked the French government to release military documents about Sankara’s assassination.

Those archives were declassified and transmitted to Burkina Faso in three stages – the final one in April 2021.

Who else is on trial?

Mr Compaoré’s former chief of staff General Gilbert Diendéré and 11 others are expected to be in the military tribunal. They face charges of “attacking state security”, “complicity in assassination” and “concealment of bodies”.

Diendéré is already in prison, after being sentenced to 20 years for his role in a failed coup in 2015.

People wear T-shirts commemorating Che Guevara and Thomas Sankara in Ougadougou in 2007.


Image caption,Sankara is known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”

Among the accused is Diébré Jean Christophe, the doctor who signed the death certificate, saying the former president had died from natural causes. He is charged with falsifying a public document.

The other man being charged in absentia is Hyacinthe Kafando, Mr Compaoré’s former security chief, for whom an international arrest warrant has been issued. He is accused of leading the group which carried out the killing of Sankara and 12 others.

What impact will the trial have?

There were fears that the trial could further destabilise Burkina Faso, which is already grappling with frequent attacks by jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

Mr Compaoré still retains considerable influence in the country and some analysts have warned parts of the military who remain loyal to him could stir up trouble.

But there is little sign of this.

On the contrary, President Roch Marc Kaboré hopes the trial will ease tensions and boost national reconciliation.

“I do not believe that such a trial can foster instability,” Mathieu Pellerin, a Sahel analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), told French magazine Jeune Afrique in April 2020.

“Reconciliation is rarely achieved without justice,” he added

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