Burkina Faso’s exiled former president, Blaise Compaore, was convicted of the murder of Thomas Sankara, the iconic African leader killed in a coup more than three decades ago.
A military tribunal found Compaore, who ruled the West African nation for 27 years until his ouster in a popular uprising in 2014, guilty of complicity in the killing of Sankara and threatening state security. It sentenced him to life in prison, according to a judgment delivered by Urbain Meda, president of the first chamber of the tribunal, on Wednesday in the capital, Ouagadougou.
The ruling marks the first time anyone has been convicted for the murder of Sankara at the age of 37. It may pave the way for a criminal probe into the killing of Norbert Zongo, a Burkinabe journalist who exposed corruption and impunity under Compaore’s rule.
Compaore, who denied any involvement in the death of his one-time comrade, blocked attempts to investigate the 1987 killing of Sankara and introduced legislation that prevented him from being prosecuted. After his ouster in 2014, the transitional authorities reversed the legislation and began an inquiry.
‘AFRICA’S CHE GUEVERA’
Sankara, who gained a reputation as Africa’s “Che Guevara”, took power on a promise to thwart corruption and post-colonial influences, denouncing foreign aid as a control mechanism.
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 freedoms and did little to enrich ordinary people. But admiration remains and justice has been long-awaited by Sankara’s family and supporters.
“I think Burkinabe know now who Thomas Sankara was… what he wanted and what those who assassinated him wanted too,” said Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, speaking at the courthouse.
A procession and gathering are planned later in the day at the spot Sankara was shot, where a statue of him now stands.
“Today I am very proud to see the culmination of a legal battle of almost 30 years, proud to have a country where justice works,” said Guy Herve Kam, a lawyer for Sankara’s family.