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.

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.Former Burkinabe president Blaise Compaore

Ten others were also found guilty, including Compaoré’s security chief Haycinthe Kafando, who was accused of leading the hit squad that killed Sankara.

He has been on the run for several years and was also tried in absentia. He too received a life sentence.

They had both denied the charges.

Gilbert Diendéré, one of the commanders of the army during the 1987 coup and the main defendant who was actually present at the trial, was also sentenced to life. He is already serving a 20-year sentence for a coup attempt in 2015.

His lawyer described the sentence as “excessive”, saying he should have been given credit for testifying at the trial, unlike those who were tried in absentia.

Eight other defendants received sentences ranging from three to 20 years, while three defendants were acquitted.

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An army captain who took power in a 1983 coup, Thomas Sankara set an ambitious social and economic program that sought to fight corruption, improve health-care and education, and promote women’s rights, inspiring leaders across the continent. His critics, including rights group Amnesty International, argued Sankara’s National Revolutionary Council abused military rule by imprisoning labor-union and student leaders and forced opponents into exile during his four years in power.

September 02, 1986 Captain Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso gives a press conference
Captain Thomas Sankara, president of Burkina Faso, in August 1986 [Dominique Faget/AFP]

While in power, Sankara changed the name of his country from its colonial one, Upper Volta, to Burkina Faso, meaning the Land of Honest People.

Even after his death 35 years ago, Sankara was wildly popular across West Africa for his sweeping socialist reforms and speeches. Today, he is still known by some as the “African Che Guevara”, referring to the Marxist revolutionary and one of the icons of the Cuban Revolution.

During his time as president, he also notably changed the name of the former French colony from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning “the land of the upright”.

He cut his own salary, and that of top civil servants, and sold off a range of luxury cars.

During his four years in power, he promoted pan-Africanism, self-sufficiency, real independence from former colonial power France and gender equality, by banning female circumcision and polygamy.

In 2019, a six-metre (16ft) statue of him was erected in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou.



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