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PoliticsBurkina Faso

Burkina Faso ex-leader bags life for Sankara assassination

April 6, 2022

The exiled leader fled the country after protesters threw him out of government, so he was convicted in absentia.

A portrait of Blaise Compaore after a meeting in Paris
Blaise Compaore was Sankara's close friend and deputy Image: Francois Mori/AP Photo/picture alliance

Former Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murder of pan-African leader Thomas Sankara, nearly three decades after the fact.

Compaore, who is in exile, was tried and sentenced in absentia by a military tribunal sitting on Wednesday.

The former strongman was sentenced along with his then-security chief, Hyacinthe Kafando, who also received a life term.

The tribunal, which began last October, found the men  "guilty of attack on state security, complicity in murder and concealment of a corpse."

 Mariam Sankara sits in a courtroom where 14 people stand trial for her Sankara's death
Mariam Sankara has been vocal about getting justice for her late husbandImage: Sam Mednick/AP Photo/picture alliance

Sankara's widow Mariam Sankara said she was "satisfied" with the verdict, although she "wished" Compaore and Kafando were present.

"It is not good that people kill other people and stop the process of development of a country without being punished," she told reporters.

Thomas Sankara gestures as he gives a speech.
Sankara introduced sweeping reforms but lost popular support as the economy stagnatedImage: AFP/dpa/picture-alliance

Who was Sankara?

Thomas Sankara was Burkina Faso's revered leader and a pan-African advocate.

The Marxist, nicknamed "Africa's Che Guevara," ushered in sweeping reforms in an attempt to reduce poverty in the country, then known as the Upper Volta, after he seized power with Compaore, his close friend, in 1983.

He renamed the country Burkina Faso — meaning land of the upright men — and swapped luxury official cars for cheaper ones. His regime prioritized empowering women, food production and environmental policies.

But the young leader's anti-Imperialist stand irked western powers. At home, he faced political dissent and stubborn economic woes.

Aged 37, Sankara was gunned down with 12 others in 1987 during a meeting. Compaore then seized power for 27 years.

Long-awaited justice

Compaore fled to neighboring Ivory Coast after Burkinabes massively protested against his regime in 2014.

It is not clear if Abidjan will turn Compaore over with the new sentencing, as January's coup and the sluggish move towards elections  has led to Burkina Faso facing sanctions from ECOWAS, the regional West African body.

Gilbert Diendere, Compaore's right-hand man also implicated in Sankara's killing, is already serving a 20-year sentence over an attempted coup in 2015.

 Gilbert Diendere sits cross-armed at a military court where he was charged with Sankara's murder
Deindere was Compaore's right hand man and was also implicated in Sankara's assasinationImage: Sam Mednick/AP Photo/picture alliance

Eight others were found guilty of different charges in the recent ruling, including giving false testimonies. Three accused people were cleared.

Compaore's government had probed Sankara's assassination but those proceedings were thrown out after he lost power.

sl/msh (AP, Reuters)