Compaore, indicted for murder of Sankara, shown with President Bush back in the day. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
A military court in Burkina Faso has finally indicted former President Blaise Compaore in connection to the 1987 murder of Thomas Sankara, the leader of the West African nation’s popular revolutionary government from 1983 to 1987. This rekindles some hope for justice in the assassination of the charismatic leader. Sankara had lifted Burkina Faso to lofty heights of honor in Africa and around the world.
The court cited “complicity in assassination” and an “attack on state security” by Compaore who, after the murder of Sankara, ruled the country until 2014. He was forced to resign in the face of mass demonstrations against his attempt to extend his 27-year rule.
Thirteen others, including Gilbert Diendere, Compaore’s right hand man, and Hyacinthe Kafando, his security chief, were also indicted on charges ranging from “assassination” to “concealment of corpses”. Sankara was gunned down in cold blood together with several of his closest officials.
This is a rare effort and commitment to justice and closure in the assassination of Sankara. He was a revered Pan-African here, who like other revolutionary cadres such Fidel Castro of Cuba and Che Guevara before him spoke strongly on behalf of the oppressed and exploited of the world. In Burkina Faso he famously said “look into your plate,” and that if your food was imported that was evidence of dependency and imperialism.
Sankara is renowned in Africa and across the world for speaking out against social and economic injustice as well as resisting imperialism and capitalism, which has kept the continent under the subjugation of the global powers. Sankara complained that a divided Africa would never be able to use the continent’s vast mineral and natural resource wealth for its own citizens. Like Nkrumah and other Pan-Africans before him, he preached unity.
He fought against hunger, illiteracy, disease, and he preached economic self-sufficiency for Africa.
Sankara stood out above the rest for his unflagging belief in the revolutionary capacities of the poor to shape and determine their life destiny. Within three years of his rule Burkina Faso became food self-sufficient. During his short political tenure in office, Sankara sought to mobilize peasants, workers, craftsmen, women, youth and the elderly to carry out a literacy campaign, an immunization drive, to sink wells, plant trees, build houses and the elimination of the oppressive class relations on the land.
He was one of those rare soldiers in Africa, intellectually Marxist, and in practice a man of the people who connected with the working class, students, and the peasant farmers.
“I come here to bring you fraternal greetings from a country — whose seven million children, women, and men refuse to die from ignorance, hunger and thirsty any longer,” Sankara told the delegates at the United Nations General Assembly in October 1984. “I make no claim to lay out any doctrines here. I am neither a messiah nor a prophet. I possess no truths. My only aspiration is …to speak on behalf of my people… to speak behalf of the great disinherited people of the world, those who belong to the world so ironically christened the Third World.”
In his brief time in power Sankara worked to move Africa away from the domination of the former European colonial powers and to spur the spirit of self-determination not only in Burkina Faso but throughout the continent.
There has never been a full disclosure of the circumstances surrounding Sankara’s murder.
Benewende Stanislas Sankara, a lawyer representing the relatives of the slain former president, called the indictment “a victory and a step in the right direction”.
“It was with a sigh of relief the family can now go ahead with all the guarantees that surround Burkinabe justice,” he told Al Jazeera. “We can now calmly go to trial.”
Compaore in now exiled in neighboring Ivory Coast. He was chased from power following mass protests since 2014, has repeatedly denied involvement in Sankara’s assassination.
Sankara took power in 1983, but he was killed aged 37 along with 12 other government officials during a coup led by Compaore on October 15, 1987.
In 2015, authorities exhumed what are thought to be Sankara’s remains from a grave in Dagnoen, on the outskirts of Ouagadougou.
Sankara’s widow said an autopsy revealed his body was “riddled with more than a dozen bullets.”
The legal case against Sankara’s killers, is in many ways, important for broadening the understanding of Africa’s revolutionary cadres and other Pan African heroes elsewhere across the world.
Following his re-election last year, President Roch Kabore appointed a minister for national reconciliation, Zephirin Diabre, who pledged to address the issue of justice for Sankara.
In 2015, Burkinabe courts had issued an international arrest for Compaore, but Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara has prevented his extradition back to Burkina Faso despite an extradition treaty between the two countries.
Despite his brief and short-lived leadership, Sankara’s life has been documented extensively as many youths and Pan-African scholars sought to unearth influences, ideas and visions that helped to shape him.
They largely see Sankara as an embodiment of their hopes and dreams.
Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare and can be reached via [email protected]