A military tribunal in Burkina Faso gave life in prison sentences to three people for the murder of Thomas Sankara, the country’s famed marxist revolutionary.
Former president Blaise Compaoré, who took over as head of state after Sankara’s death in 1987, is the most notable of the three, the other two being former spy chief Hyacinthe Kafando, and Gilbert Diendéré, a general who held power briefly after helping to orchestrate a 2015 coup in the country.
Currently in exile in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, Compaoré was sentenced by the tribunal in absentia, as was Kafando who is reportedly at large. Diendéré is already in prison for the coup seven years ago.
He may have engineered a coup to become head of state, but Sankara remains highly esteemed in discourses of African leadership. His style was deemed transformational, the kind of leader Africa needed to upend structures that deepened social inequities inherited from colonists.
Those hopes lasted only four years as Sankara was killed in a coup and replaced by his close friend at the time, Compaoré. Various theories of his death have swelled over the years, but the official line for much of the Compaoré government’s 27-year rule (which ended after a citizen uprising in 2014) was that Sankara died of natural causes.
Autopsy results in 2015 effectively disproved that explanation, focusing attention on Compaoré’s complicity. While it is not clear how he will be made to serve the tribunal’s sentence, there may be a sense of closure in Burkina Faso after 35 years without a definite answer.
The reopening of this cold case might bring about hope for getting justice for the murder of other early post-colonial leaders, including that of the DRC’s Patrice Émery Lumumba.