News from the Web

Trial opens in Burkina Faso over killing of revolutionary hero Thomas Sankara

The landmark trial of a former president and 13 others has begun in Burkina Faso over the assassination of Thomas Sankara, a much revered revolutionary leader killed in a 1987 coup.

Sankara, a Marxist icon of pan-Africanism hailed across Africa and beyond, was killed alongside 12 others by a hit squad. His death led to his former friend Blaise Compaoré assuming power – denying any role in his murder. Compaoré ruled for the next 27 years before being deposed by mass protests in 2014 and fleeing to neighbouring Ivory Coast, from where he is being tried in absentia.

The former president and his former head of security, Gen Gilbert Diendéré, face charges of complicity in murder, harming state security and complicity in the concealment of corpses. Compaoré’s lawyers have denounced the “political trial” and said he enjoyed immunity as a former head of state.

Yet the case has been supported by many in Burkina Faso eager for the murky circumstances of Sankara’s death to be brought to light. It also comes after a 34-year fight for justice, led by Sankara’s family and his widow, Mariam Sankara, who attended the trial.

“What the victims and I are expecting to gain in this trial is truth and justice,” said Prosper Farama, one of the lawyers for those killed. “So far there are contradictory versions about what really happened.”

While in power, Compaoré dismissed persistent calls for Sankara’s remains to be exhumed, but the country’s then transitional government reopened the investigation in 2015. In 2016, Burkinabé authorities issued an international warrant for Compaoré’s arrest, but Ivorian authorities have rejected extradition requests for the 70-year-old, who has since become a citizen of Ivory Coast.

A high-profile figure accused is Diendéré, Compaoré’s former right-hand man and military general, who headed the elite presidential security regiment at the time of the coup. Diendéré is in prison in Burkina Faso serving a 20-year sentence.

Another prominent figure among the accused but currently on the run is Hyacinthe Kafando, a former chief warrant officer in the presidential guard, who is accused of leading the hit squad.

Sankara, often nicknamed the African Che Guevara, came to power in 1983 after an internal power struggle at the end of a coup. At 33, he was one of the youngest leaders in modern African history, and has become an iconic figure among a generation of post-independence African leaders.

His socialist programme of nationalisation, land redistribution and mass social welfare was hailed as transformative, over a four-year rule of one of the world’s poorest countries – now in the grips of a jihadist insurgency active in the wider Sahel region, and a humanitarian crisis.

Sankara’s government was credited for leaps in education and healthcare provision, social reforms towards ending polygamy and female genital mutilation. His ardent support for independence from colonial rule in Africa, his disavowal of the “France-Afrique” operation of French ties in its former colonies, and stance against aid from western financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund endeared the 37-year-old to many on the continent.

But his administration also faced criticism for curtailing press freedoms and political opposition in the country before he was killed. In 2017, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said France would declassify government documents concerning Sankara’s killing, after years of criticism of the role played by the former colonial ruler.

Three batches of declassified documents have been sent to Burkina Faso’s government but the details are yet to be made public.

“The trial will mark the end to all the lying – we will get a form of truth. But the trial will not be able to restore our dream,” Alouna Traoré, a comrade of Sankara and survivor of the 1987 coup, said in a TV interview.

SOURCE

Comments are closed.