The murder trial of Thomas Sankara began in October 2021 behind closed doors, and it was heard by a military tribunal. After lengthy proceedings, the trial has now come to an end with a verdict - former president Blaise Compaoré has been given a life sentence in absentia for complicity in the 1987 assassination of Thomas Sankara and his aides.
The verdict has brought much-awaited answers and a dose of accountability in African politics. The trial has provided respite to a subject once regarded as taboo in Burkina Faso, and that is the legacy of Thomas Sankara.
Previously, the state had requested 30-year sentences for Compaoré and his top associates Hyacinth Kafando and Gilbert Diendéré - the latter were also given life sentences by the military court. Kafando’s whereabouts are unknown, since 2016. The three were were found guilty of “attack on state security”. Blaise Compaoré and Gilbert Diendéré were convicted of “complicity in murder” while Kafando - who was at the forefront of the hit squad that ended the lives of Sankara and his aides - was convicted of “murder”.
Diendéré is in custody but Compaoré and Kafando have been tried in absentia. Since the trial began, the have all denied involvement in the murder of the revolutionary leftist leader. Of the eleven defendants, three were acquitted as they were declared innocent while the rest received prison sentences ranging “between three and 20 years,” according to Reuters.
The triumphant aspect of this trial and the verdict - even though judgment will be hard to enforce on Compaore and other defendants who are in exile - is that the fundamental question “Who killed Thomas Sankara?” has been confronted without fear, and provided newfound optimism for African politics in relation to despots who are slavish stooges of Western imperialism; the counter-revolutionaries.
It is this question that pressed Mariam Sankara (Thomas Sankara’s widow), the most, and the words she spoke at the courthouse attest to her relief: “I think Burkinabe know now who Thomas Sankara was ... what he wanted and what those who assassinated him wanted too.”
Via a coup organically backed by the masses, Sankara took power in 1983 and Blaise Compaore was one of his closest allies. Known as Africa’s Che Guevara, Sankara was an opponent of corruption, a passionate advocate of women emancipation, and attached to the struggles of the Third World with compassionate, revolutionary love rooted in progressive action (praxis). He was a devoted Communist with a holistic internationalist outlook for he believed in the empowerment of all humanity. He championed rural development through solidarity with rural peasants - his government provided rural farmers with extensive agricultural inputs, increased access to education, and improved healthcare in which by 1986, about 2 million children had been vaccinated against the biggest childhood killer diseases.
For Sankara’s followers in Burkina Faso and the rest of the world, this verdict has brought closure to a thorny issue. What would have been interesting was for the court to also outline France’s role in the assassination, but it could only go so far. The trial and the verdict symbolize Sankara’s revolution in the after-life - a legacy that will live on; a legacy filled with truth, justice, accountability, and reconciliation.