34 years after Sankara’s assassination, killers finally stand trial

October 15, 2021 marks 34 years since the assassination of beloved revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso. Just in time for this somber anniversary, the country’s government has opened a trial against 14 men involved in Sankara’s 1987 murder. This includes former president Blaise Compaoré, who came to power in the coup against Sankara.

Compaoré is currently facing charges of complicity in murder, harming state security, and complicity in the concealment of corpses. His defense lawyers have requested a month-long postponement of the trial to better prepare their case. Judge Urbain Meda agreed earlier this week to grant them a stay of only two weeks. The trial will resume on October 25, but Compaoré is not physically present — he is living in exile in Ivory Coast after being ousted by a popular uprising in 2014.

Compaoré ruled over Burkina Faso for 27 years immediately following Sankara’s murder. The longstanding movement for justice for Sankara, led by Sankara’s family, has finally reached a breakthrough with this trial. This would have been impossible under Compaoré’s rule.

Thomas Sankara is beloved in Burkina Faso and around the world for the socialist policies that he successfully implemented after becoming leader of the country at the age of only 33, including nationalizing key industries, social welfare programs, the banning of female genital mutilation, healthcare expansion, land redistribution, and more. Sankara even re-named the country to Burkina Faso from the colonial era “Upper Volta”. Burkina Faso means “the land of upright people.”

Sankara’s time as president was transformative for one of the poorest nations in the world. He is responsible for major improvements in quality of life for the Burkinabé people, especially in healthcare and education. Sankara was also an outspoken opponent of imperialism, as well as a major figure in the Pan-Africanist movement. He inspired and improved the lives of millions in his mere four years in office, making him one of the most iconic revolutionaries of all time, often compared with figures like Che Guevara. Hence Sankara’s assassination in the 1987 coup deeply shook Burkina Faso and revolutionaries around the world.

But this trial comes as a milestone for those who have sought justice for their beloved leader over the past 34 years. Family members of the 12 other victims of the hit squad that killed Sankara have also come together with Sankara’s family to mourn and express hope for the future. Though no number of hearings will bring back Sankara and the era of prosperity that he built in Burkina Faso, these families are confident that some semblance of justice will be achieved after years of official silence.

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