Former Burkina Faso President, Blaise Compaoré Sentenced To Life For Thomas Sankara Murder

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In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a court sentenced former President Blaise Compaoré to life imprisonment in absentia on Wednesday 6th April for conspiring to murder his likeable predecessor, Thomas Sankara.

What happened?

The much-anticipated judgment closed a six-month court case on the assassination of Sankara who was shot alongside 12 others in a coup d’etat organized by his close friend and political ally, Compaoré in October 15, 1987. This coup led to Compaoré emerging as his successor. Compaoré governed Burkina Faso with an iron fist for 27 years before taking up residency in Ivory Coast and obtaining citizenship following his expatriation from office after an uprising in 2014.

The Trial

The proceedings for Sankara’s assassination began on the 11th of October 2021, at a remodeled convention center close to the presidential residence in an opulent area in Ouagadougou. Irrespective of the complications of setting up a trial about 20 years later, a group of people and a military tribunal gathered testimonies against Compaoré from over 100 bystanders and 13 others held responsible for the killing.

The trial was put on hold towards the end of January after troops took over power in Burkina Faso, the latest after a sequence of coups affecting the entire West African countries since their liberation from France in 1960.

The trial resumed on the 22nd of March, 2022 after the legal council turned down a defense appeal. The prosecution stated that Sankara was unknowingly led to his demise at a gathering of the leading National Revolutionary Council. According to a ballistics professional who attested during the proceedings, 37-year-old Sankara was shot in the chest not more than seven times.

A French lawyer, Pierre-Olivier Sur, who is representing Compaoré, said during an interview that Compaoré declined being present at a “puppet trial” that occurred in “chaotic and dramatic” circumstances.

Compaoré’s security chief, Haycinthe Kafando who allegedly conducted the team of assassins that murdered Sankara, as well as ten others were found guilty. He has been on the loose for a long time before he underwent trial in absentia and got life imprisonment. 

One of the leaders of the troops at the 1987 coup, Gilbert Diendéré appeared at the trial and received life imprisonment in spite of the 20-year sentence he is serving for attempting a coup in 2015.

His lawyer termed the punishment “excessive”, stating that Diendéré should have been acknowledged for being present at the trial compared to the people who were absent during the legal proceeding. 8 people, mainly past soldiers, got between 3 to 20 years imprisonment, while 3 others who allegedly falsified Sankara’s death certificate were discharged.

Thomas Sankara’s Legacy

After cooperating with ally and Comrade-in-arms Compaoré to take power in 1983, Sankara became one of the youngest leaders in contemporary African annals. During his tenure, he was widely known for standard rule and brave opposition of the West of which he received accolades within Africa. Sankara also advocated against corruption and supervised great improvement in education and health expenditure. He also altered the country’s name from Upper Volta, the name given by the Westerners to Burkina Faso, which means the Land of Honest People.

Sankara is still admired in Burkina Faso and since the extradition of Compaoré in 2014, his achievements have been publicly acclaimed. Some people know him as “Africa’s Che Guevara”. Tourists gather around a huge bronze statue of Sankara located a few meters from the area where he was murdered, and his pictures are decorated on vehicles, motorcycles, and T-shirts.

Will Compaoré serve his sentence?

There is a slim chance Compaoré will do the time in the near future. He declined going back to Burkina Faso for the court proceedings and Ivory Coast refused to arrest him. Compaoré has refuted claims of being involved in the murder over the years though his account of the incident has been inconsistent.

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