The past few weeks have been very tumultuous in Burkina Faso. While the trial of the actors of Thomas Sankara’s murder is going on, a French military convoy is blocked on Burkinabè territory, and social media is stifled, the main ICT networks have been switched off.

Justice for Sankara and Mariam Sankara’s Rhetoric

On 25 October 2021, the trial of the assassins of Sankara started at the Military Tribunal of Ouagadougou. The prosecutor,  Urbain Méda and 14 defendants were present. Among those who are perceived by the general public as the assassins of the late Sankara, the following names are mentioned: Blaise Compaoré who became president after Sankara was eliminated, Compaore’s close allies General Gilbert Diendéré, Colonel Pierre Palm and Hyacinthe Kafando. The latter is known to have led the commando that killed the 38-year-old Sankara on 15 October 1987, while he was in a meeting with other comrades. Compaoré and Kafando were absent. Blaise has been living in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire since the popular insurrection that ousted him from power in 2014; the current address of Kafando was not disclosed.

Ferdinand Zeppa is the lawyer for the Sankara family. Once the trial started, Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, gave an impressive interview to the press. She simply and effectively said what a good statesman her husband was, how passionate and devoted he was to the development of Burkina and many other points of her husband’s vision. Mariam Sankara said all this in the present tense, as if her husband were still alive. She also accused Blaise for having planned and carried out the murder of her husband. She asked that Compaoré be present in court, to answer for his actions. “I want the impunity and political violence that reigns in many countries where democracy is a façade, to ends”, she said. That choice of present tense in her brief and poignant statement surprised many people. Mrs Sankara clearly showed that her husband still lives with her, in her, and through her words, one could say that she was repeating something that her husband mentioned several times, which was that Sankara cannot die. Sankara used to say: “if I am killed today, they will have killed one person, an individual. But my ideas will remain, and right after I’ve been killed, you will have millions of Sankara in Burkina and in the world”. This resonates with Mariam referring to her late husband in the present tense, in other words, she was saying that he is not dead.

Their two sons, Phillipe and August were respectively 7 years and 5 years old when their father was gunned down. Not much is known on the current location of Sankara’s two sons, and Mariam Sankara is said to be living in France, after she spent some time in Gabon.

Parody of justice

What currently upsets the overage Burkinabè is that the accused are being very arrogant and sometimes, they even go to the extent of being rude to the judge. General Diendéré told the tribunal that he was innocent and rejected all the accusations raised against him, his version of the events of 15 October 1987, at 4:00 pm was, “I happened to find myself near the presidency when I heard gunshots. When I got closer, I saw dead bodies. I could not do anything since I was not carrying any weapon, and the assailants were heavily armed. I recognized Sankara’s dead body”. This statement was destroyed by the words of Mr. Élysée Ilboudo, Blaise Compaore’s driver at the time of coup. He said, “I was driving one of the vehicles in which the commando were, and we went from Blaise Compaoré ’s residence to Sankara’s office and when we got there General Diendéré was already on the spot. This meant that the general, who was then a lieutenant, knew and did more than what he told the judge. Another important witness was Captain (Rtd) Boukari Kaboré aka “le Lion” (the lion) who was the commander of the elite paratroopers in Koudougou, 91 kilometers from Ouagadougou. Captain Kaboré was a strong ally of Sankara, whom he liked very much. “The lion” in his statement to the jury said that many of them had informed Sankara that his friend, brother and comrade in arms Compaoré was plotting a coup, to overthrow him. But Sankara never bothered to listen to such intelligence. He simply said ‘I do not want to hear anything about that. Blaise is a very good soldier. If one day you hear that he is plotting to kill me, do not try to stop him. He knows everything about me”. The Burkinabè fear that nothing might come out of this trial, because the accused do not have much respect for the tribunal, since those at the helm of politics in Burkina today were all allies of Blaise Compaoré, or collaborators during his rule. President, Roch Marc Kaboré was prime minister for almost a decade when Compaoré was president. Many of the ministers in the current government served the Compaoré regime. This trial is perceived as an attempt to deceive the international community and to make them believe that the rule of justice prevails in Burkina, a way to reduce tension and demands made by the opposition parties and relatives of those who were victims of Compaoré’s brutal and cruel regime. To make matters more complicated, signs of sabotage and tension can be seen here and there in Burkina these days.

French Army prevented from Crossing Burkina

Around 16 November, while this trial was going on, a contingent of French soldiers left Côte d’Ivoire, and were said to be heading to Niger, via Burkina. Once the French troops entered Burkinabè territory, they faced a blockade of civilians. The Burkinabè minister for foreign affairs told the population that France was a good and honest ally of Burkina, and he reiterated that the French troops had no hidden agenda and the French troops were allowed to continue. Social media played a very important role in alerting the population.

The French troops were met with the same hostility In several other cities and then in Kaya, about 100 kilometers north of Ouagadougou, the French troops were totally blocked. They were finally allowed to enter Niger after some negotiations. While this tension was palpable, the Burkinabè authorities suddenly decided to cripple social media. Public and main internet sources were switched off, initially for 96 hours and then prolonged for 96 more hours. These parallel events are too strange to be the effect of a mere coincidence. Some of the main analyses and speculation are: if the trial continues, it will reveal the deep involvement of France, a country that used Houphouёt Boigny and other capitalist leaders in the sub-region who in turn urged Blaise to eliminate Sankara. Then, the culpability of many big shots of contemporary Burkinabè politics will be revealed, in the trial. This is something that they do not want the Burkinabè to know. There is certainly a lot going on. This needs to be followed carefully.

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English, University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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