<SUNBIGHT>~Orie~8th April 2022 @ 21:44 WAT
BURKINA FASO’S former president Blaise Compaore was sentenced to life imprisonment for complicity in the 1987 murder of his predecessor Thomas Sankara in a coup, a military tribunal ruled on Wednesday.
Compaoré was sentenced in absentia to life in jail over his role in the 1987 assassination of the country’s revolutionary folk hero Thomas Sankara, a military court ruled on Wednesday, wrapping up a long-awaited trial that was disrupted by a coup.
The charismatic Marxist revolutionary Sankara was gunned down in the West African nation’s capital Ouagadougou at the age of 37, four years after he took power in a previous putsch.
On Wednesday, a special military tribunal ruled that Compaoré was guilty of complicity in Sankara’s murder, sentencing him and his former head of security, Hyacinthe Kafando, to life in jail. General Gilbert Diendéré, one of the commanders of the army during the 1987 coup and the main defendant present at the trial, was also sentenced to life.
Prosecutors had demanded a 30-year jail term for Compaoré, who was deposed in a 2014 popular uprising and has lived in exile in neighbouring Ivory Coast ever since. The former president, who denounced a “political trial”, was tried in absentia on counts of attacking state security, concealing a corpse and complicity in a murder.
Throughout his 27-year reign, Compaoré clamped a tight lid on the circumstances of Sankara’s demise, fuelling speculation that he was the mastermind. It was only after his ouster that Sankara’s remains were finally exhumed, paving the way for the long-waited trial.
Kafando, who was also sentenced to life imprisonment.
Both have previously denied any involvement in Sankara’s death along with 12 other defendants accused of involvement in the plot, three of whom were declared innocent on Wednesday.
“The court finds Blaise Compaoré and Hyacinthe Kafando guilty of attack on state security, complicity in murder and concealment of a corpse,”the tribunal said in its ruling.
Tensions between Sankara and his erstwhile ally Compaoré were described in detail during the six-month proceedings, with several witnesses pointing to an “international conspiracy” to remove a troublesome leader who was not afraid to challenge the world order and rebuke France, the former colonial power.
“The tragedy of October 15, 1987 was a result of pressure exerted by a number of heads of state, including Félix Houphouët Boigny,” said Abdoul Salam Kaboré, a sports minister under Sankara, referring to Ivory Coast’s former ruler and a key French ally.
Speaking via video-link from France, Sankara’s former close aide Moussa Diallo said there was no doubt the assassination “was premeditated” and that Houphouët Boigny “was at the heart of the plot”.
The longtime Ivorian leader once told Sankara, “You have to change, and if you don’t, we will change you,” Serge Théophile Balima, a former head of Burkina Faso’s state TV, testified in court.
In its closing statement, the prosecution recounted in grim detail the day Sankara was murdered by a hit squad that burst into a meeting of his National Revolutionary Council meeting, killing his guards.
“The squad then ordered president Sankara and his colleagues to leave the room,” the prosecution said. “They would then be killed one by one.”
Ballistics experts told the trial Sankara had been shot in the chest at least seven times by assassins using tracer rounds. At least one bullet was fired in his back.
The defendants had claimed the victims died in a botched attempt to arrest Sankara after he and Compaoré fell out over the direction the country’s revolution was taking.
During the trial, “None of the accused confessed or repented – not a single one!” said Prosper Farama, a lawyer representing the Sankara family, adding that the family wanted “justice, not revenge”.
Compaore went on to rule for 27 years before being ousted in another coup in 2014 and fleeing to Ivory Coast, where he is still believed to live.
An iconic figure fondly known “African Che Guevara”, Sankara was just 33 when he came to power in 1983, setting in motion a revolution that pledged to “decolonise African minds” and continues to inspire followers across the continent. He took power on a promise to thwart corruption and post-colonial influences, denouncing foreign aid as a control mechanism.
The short-lived experiment came to a brutal end on October 15, 1987, when he and 12 colleagues were gunned down by a hit squad during a meeting at the presidential palace in Ouagadougou. The massacre coincided with a coup that took Sankara’s erstwhile comrade Compaoré to power.
He rolled out mass vaccination against polio, banned female circumcision and polygamy, and was one of the first African leaders to publicly recognise the growing AIDS epidemic as a threat for the continent.
A former fighter pilot, Sankara won public support in the impoverished nation by selling a government fleet of Mercedes, lowering the pay of well-off public servants and forbidding first class state travel.
He cut his own salary, refused to work with air conditioning and jogged through Ouagadougou unaccompanied.
Critics say his reforms curtailed freedo9ms and did little to enrich ordinary people. But admiration remains.
Over the weekend, students gathered around white flowers marking the spot where Sankara was shot.■
[Courtesy: Pan-African Daily News]