File photo: On November 25, 2014, the grave of former Burkina Faso president Thomas Sankara is visible in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Reuters / Joe Penny

October 11, 2021

By Thiam Ndiaga

Ouagadougou (Reuters) – A trial of 14 people accused of attempting to assassinate former Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara, 34 years after being shot in one of the most notorious murders in modern African history. It started on Monday.

Sankara, a charismatic Marxist revolutionary widely known as “African Che Guevara”, was killed in 1987 in a coup led by his former ally Blaise Compaoré.

Compaole, who had ruled the West African nation for nearly 30 years before being himself banished and fleeing to neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, has been charged with absent accomplices. He denied Sankara’s involvement in the death.

“This is the moment we have been waiting for,” Sankara’s widow Mariam Sankara told reporters when she arrived at the hearing.

“This trial is necessary so that the culture of impunity and violence, which still rages in many African countries, ceases indefinitely, despite the democratic facade.

According to court officials, the military court closed the proceedings and postponed the proceedings until October 25, after lawyers requested more time to prepare for the proceedings.

Hi-Asanto Kafund, former director of security at Compaole, is also on trial in his absence. Twelve other defendants appeared during a hearing at the Ouaga 2000 Conference Center in the capital, Ouagadougou. They pleaded not guilty.

One of them, former spy master general Gilbert Diendele, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for being involved in a short-term coup in 2015 and attended a trial in combat uniform camouflaged.

Thomas Sankara took power at the age of 33 in a coup in 1983 and vowed to fight corruption and the rule of the former colonial powers.

Former fighter pilots were one of the first African leaders to raise awareness about the growing AIDS epidemic. He publicly condemned the World Bank’s structural adjustment program, banning female genital mutilation and polygamy.

Sankara gained public support for his modest cycling and cycling lifestyle during his predecessor and for selling government Mercedes cars during his presidency.

But critics said his reforms curtailed freedom and made the general public a little better in landlocked West Africa.

Compaoré’s lawyer said on Friday he would not attend the trial, and Côte d’Ivoire refused to hand him over.

(Report by Thiam Ndiaga, written by Cooper Inveen, edited by Bate Felix and Andrew Heavens)