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Thomas Sankara's grave in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Reuters/Joe Penney
Thomas Sankara’s grave in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso’s leftist revolutionary Thomas Sankara was shot to death, not felled by natural causes

By Lily Kuo

Burkina Faso’s former president Thomas Sankara did not die of natural causes 28 years ago, as officials claimed, but was likely shot to death, autopsy results released this week show. According to a lawyer, his body was “riddled with bullets,” including shots in his armpits and chest that suggest he may have raised his arms to surrender.

Sankara, the late revolutionary leader and military captain who transformed the country from a little known colonial outpost to an icon of progress whose name means  “Land of the honorable people” died during a coup in 1987 when Sankara’s deputy Blaise Compaore seized power. Compaore has denied any connection with Sankara’s death, which has been officially attributed to “natural causes.” After Compaore’s ouster last year, a transitional government agreed to open an investigation.

“In terms of the [gunshot] wounds, what was found in relation to Thomas Sankara’s body is really mind-boggling. We can say he was purely and simply riddled with bullets,” Ambroise Farama, a lawyer representing his widow told reporters yesterday (Oct 13). Eight people have been charged in connection with his death.

After almost three decades, the remains of Sankara and his aides were exhumed this spring and results were released this week. Lawyers for Sankara’s family claim the autopsy shows the bullets came from weapons the military used at the time, Kalashnikovs, automatic pistols and G3 rifles. DNA tests are still needed to verify that the body examined is indeed Sankara’s.

“There is no doubt about the criminal origin of his death,” said Benewende Stanislas Sankaraadding, another lawyer for the family, told Reuters.