On the Burkinabè political scene, the main news these days is the inculpation of former president, Blaise Compaoré, for the assassination of his brother in arms and former president, Thomas Sankara. Graffiti calling for justice for Sankara is a common sight in Ouagadougou. Thomas Sankara was in power between 1983 and 1987, and during those four years, the country saw more development than all the previous 34 years of neocolonial civilian and military rule. Thomas Sankara was referred to as the “Che Guevara” of Africa because of his military apparel (beret with a star), his vitriolic words and astonishing energy. Between 1983 and 1987, Burkina Faso achieved profound progress – schools and hospitals were built and citizens were vaccinated against diseases that were claiming many lives. Corruption was drastically minimized. Women’s empowerment was also at the core of his reforms. A Pan-Africanist, Sankara adopted a Marxist/Leninist path which earned him both allies and enemies. While Jerry John Rawlings of Ghana and Fidel Castro of Cuba, among others, embraced him as the young hotblooded comrade of the world revolutionary circle, other presidents like Moussa Traoré of Mali, Felix H. Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire, and François Mitterrand of France did not like Sankara’s ideological inclination. These right-wing African leaders saw him as a threat. Given his charisma, they feared that his rising profile could influence young soldiers in their armies to overthrow them.
The murder of Sankara and of Burkina Revolution
Unfortunately, the metamorphosis of the Burkina society abruptly came to an end in the afternoon of 15 October 1987 when a commando, carrying out the orders of Blaise Compaoré, gunned down Thomas Sankara along with many of his ministers. It was a real betrayal, since Sankara and Compaoré had shared a friendship as brothers. Blaise had been adopted by Sankara’s family. The two young men had trained together in military academies. Compaoré was minister of justice under Sankara. He was also the second in command, although there was no constitutional provision for one. Compaoré was a major figure in the coup d’état that brought Sankara to power in August 1983.
On 13 April 2021, a court indicted Blaise Compaoré in connection with the 1987 assassination of Thomas Sankara. A statement issued by the court cited “complicity in assassination” and an “attack on state security” by Compaoré. Thirteen other soldiers were also indicted and charged with assassination and concealment of corpses. In fact, the fallen heroes of 15 October 1987 had been hurriedly buried in a mass grave and, later, when civil society put pressure on Compaoré’s regime, a somehow befitting burial was given to them at the Dagnoen Cemetery in Ouagadougou. After an autopsy, Sankara’s widow, Mariam, revealed that his body was riddled with more than a dozen bullets. The Sankaras’ lawyer, Bénéwendé Stanislas, saw Comaporé’s inculpation as a move in the right direction.
The catalyst of justice
The civil society in Burkina Faso is largely credited with the indictment of Compaoré. It has remained alert to governance and justice since its participation in the ousting of Compaoré. This also led to the establishment of the Ministry of National Reconciliation, by Compaoré’s successor, Rock Marc Christian Kaboré.
Compaoré has been living in Côte d’Ivoire and this indictment is supposed to pressurize the Ivorian Government to extradite him to Burkina to face trial. However, there are a couple of concerns. How will Compaoré’s return affect the political terrain in Burkina Faso? Will it have any impact on the current Jihadist attacks bedeviling the country? However, these questions can only be answered if Compaoré is extradited, which is a slim possibility because there is no extradition treaty between the two countries. In addition, Compaoré has been a longtime ally of the Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara. He is known to have provided support to Ouattara during the 2010 elections that led to civil war in Côte d’Ivoire. The alliance between Compaoré and Ouattara is evident in the conscription of a large number of Burkinabè young men who went to northern Côte d’Ivoire, to fight on the rebel’s side; they were in support of Ouattara. It is also not a secret that that many of those rebels, who fought against the then President Laurent Gbagbo, were trained on Burkinabè territory. In addition to this, Compaoré’s wife, Chantal, is Ivorian. Compaoré has, therefore, found refuge with his in-laws and the man whom he helped to gain power. These factors cast doubts on the possibility of the extradition of Compaoré to face trial in Burkina Faso.
Moussa Traoré is a senior lecturer at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.