A trial that began today in Burkina Faso has generated hopes that it may “shed light” on what happened to the country’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara. He was assassinated in a military coup on October 16, 1987, barely four years after becoming the African country’s president. Among the 14 accused is his close friend Blaise Compaore, who rose to power following Sankara’s assassination and reigned for 27 years before being forced to step down in 2014 after nationwide demonstrations.
Mr. Compaore, who fled to the Ivory Coast shortly after, is boycotting the trial while denying any participation in the killing of the man called “Africa’s Che Guevara.” Mariam Sankara, the late president’s widow, filed a criminal complaint in 1997 over her husband’s death, but it took the Supreme Court 15 years to determine that the probe could continue. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. I want to know what happened and who did it,” she remarked.
“We’ve waited a long time, all along the 27 years of Blaise Compaore’s regime. We couldn’t even imagine the possibility of a trial under his rule,” his brother Paul Sankara stated. Sankara took power in 1983, changing the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “Land of Upright People.” He instituted a slew of progressive policies, including the redistribution of agricultural land from feudal landlords to those who worked tirelessly in the fields.
Literacy rates increased from 13% to 73% in just four years, and the new government abolished female genital mutilation and forced marriage, as Sankara stated: “There is no true social revolution without the liberation of women.” The self-described Marxist-Leninist encouraged Africa to refuse to pay its debts to Western countries and spoke out against “imperialist” wars, racism, and poverty at the United Nations. He supported the Palestinian fight for self-determination, as well as other progressive movements across the globe.
Sankara supporters gathered today at the memorial monument in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, hopeful that the trial will “shed light on his murder.” “For us, Sankara was a patriot. He adored his people. He adored his nation. He adored Africa. He gave his life for us,” said Thomas Sankara Memorial Committee general secretary Luc Damiba. “Sankara is a whole philosophy, a way of thinking and being, a way of life. Sankara is an African pride. Today, we can say that Sankara is a compass for the people of Burkina Faso. He is a guide, and it is he who has carved the path of hope for the people,” teacher Serge Ouedraogo explained.