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Blaise Compaoré: the former president of Burkina Faso sentenced to life in absentia for the murder of Sankara

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaore was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for complicity in the murder of his predecessor Thomas Sankara in a 1987 coup, a military court heard on Wednesday.

Charismatic Marxist revolutionary Sankara was gunned down in Ouagadougou, the West African nation’s capital, at the age of 37, four years after seizing power in a previous coup.

Two of Compaoré’s former collaborators, Hyacinthe Kafando and Gilbert Diendere, were also sentenced to life imprisonment.

All three have previously denied any involvement in Sankara’s death with 11 other defendants accused of being involved in the plot. Three of the 11 were found innocent and the others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 20 years.

Compaoré was found guilty of undermining state security, complicity in murder and concealment of a corpse, the court said in its judgment.

He then ruled for 27 years before being ousted in another coup in 2014 and fleeing to Ivory Coast, where he is still believed to live.

Sankara, who has earned a reputation as Africa’s ‘Che Guevara’, rose to power on a promise to thwart corruption and post-colonial influences, denouncing foreign aid as a control mechanism.

He rolled out mass polio vaccination, outlawed female circumcision and polygamy, and was one of the first African leaders to publicly acknowledge the growing AIDS epidemic as a threat to the continent.

A former fighter pilot, Sankara won public support in the impoverished nation by selling off a government fleet of Mercedes, lowering the salaries of wealthy civil servants and banning first-class state travel.

He cut his own salary, refused to work with air conditioning and ran through Ouagadougou unaccompanied.

Critics say his reforms have curtailed freedoms and done little to enrich ordinary people. But the admiration remains and justice is long awaited by Sankara’s family and supporters.

“I think the Burkinabé people now know who Thomas Sankara was… what he wanted and what those who murdered him also wanted,” said Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, speaking at the courthouse. .

A procession and rally are planned later in the day at the spot where Sankara was shot, where a statue of him now stands.

“Today, I am very proud to see the culmination of a legal battle of nearly 30 years, proud to have a country where justice works,” said Guy Hervé Kam, lawyer for Sankara’s family.

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