Who killed Thomas Sankara? Murder trial set to take place today

October 11th 2021, 12:00:00 pm

Sankara was murdered in a coup in 1987.

President of Burkina Faso Captain Thomas Sankara was assassinated along with 12 comrades in a putsch that brought his close friend Blaise Compaore to power

In Burkina Faso, a historic trial is taking shape for the death of iconic leader Thomas Sankara in 1987. But the main defendant and former president, Blaise Compaore, will be absent.

For days Sankara, who came to power in Burkina Faso -- then called Upper Volta -- after a coup on August 4, 1983, has been a hot topic in Ouagadougou again.

On Monday, a historic trial will finally begin to shed light on how he and 12 other military officers were killed on October 15, 1987.

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The main defendant in the trial is Blaise Compaore, Sankara's former companion and eventual president of Burkina Faso. Four years previously, the pair had staged the takeover which saw Sankara become president.

Compaore, now 70, remained president until his resignation on October 31, 2014. After leaving office, Compaore went into exile in the Ivory Coast, becoming an Ivorian citizen in 2016. Nobody expects him to attend the trial.

His lawyers say he has not been summoned for questioning. As a former head of state, he also enjoys immunity.

Weeks of demonstrations in October 2014 toppled Compaore's rule, and forced him to step down.

Under the transitional government of Michel Kafando, Sankara's body was exhumed and the government launched an investigation.

Among other things, a military doctor certified that the body was "riddled with bullets." Previously, Sankara was said to have died of "natural causes."

Despite the passage of time, Sankara remains something of an icon across Africa - stickers emblazoned with his face adorn taxis across West Africa, while across the continent in South Africa, radical opposition leader Julius Malema cites him as one of his inspirations.

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Strict lifestyle

Sankara himself led an austere lifestyle. He reduced his own salary, and that of all public servants. He also banned the use of government chauffeurs and first-class airline tickets.

Education was a key priority - while he was in power, the literacy rate increased from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987, and he also oversaw a massive national vaccination campaign.

He also redistributed land from feudal landlords and gave it directly to poor farmers, which led to a huge increase in wheat production.

Sankara called for a united Africa to stand against what he called the "neo-colonialism" of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

He was once quoted as saying: "He who feeds you, controls you."

He adopted an anti-imperialist foreign policy which challenged the dominance of France, which retained huge influence in many of its former colonies in Africa, such as Burkina Faso. His widow Mariam has accused France of masterminding his assassination.


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