Burkina Faso’s former President Blaise Compaoré has received a life sentence in absentia for his role in the assassination of the charismatic Thomas Sankara.
Sankara, 37, was gunned down along with 12 others during the 1987 coup d’état that brought Compaoré to power. Compaore and Sankara had been close friends and had jointly seized power in 1983.
Sankara, a hero for many across Africa because of his anti-imperialist stance and austere lifestyle, had seized power at the age of just 33.
The Marxist revolutionary known by some as “Africa’s Che Guevara”, campaigned against corruption and oversaw huge increases in education and health spending.
The prosecution said Sankara was lured to his death at a meeting of the ruling National Revolutionary Council. He was shot in the chest at least seven times, according to ballistics experts who testified during the trial.
The verdict was greeted by applause in the courtroom following the six-month trial that came after years of campaigning for justice by his family and supporters.
Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, who attended the trial throughout, said the verdict represented “justice and truth” after a 35-year wait.
“Our goal was for the political violence we have in Burkina Faso to come to end. This verdict will give many people cause for thought.”
However, Compaoré who has lived in exile in Ivory Coast since he was removed from office following mass protests in 2014 and has taken up Ivorian nationality, had denounced the trial by a military court as a political sham.
Gilbert Diendéré, one of the commanders of the army during the 1987 coup and the main defendant who was actually present at the trial, was also sentenced to life. He is already serving a 20-year sentence for a coup attempt in 2015. Eight other defendants received sentences ranging from three to 20 years, while three defendants were acquitted.
While in power, Sankara changed the name of his country from its colonial one, Upper Volta, to Burkina Faso, meaning the Land of Honest People. He cut his own salary, and that of top civil servants, and sold off a range of luxury cars.
During his four years in power, he promoted pan-Africanism, self-sufficiency, real independence from former colonial power France and gender equality, by banning female circumcision and polygamy.
Activists in several African countries still pay tribute to Sankara, saying they want to continue his legacy. In 2019, a six-metre (16ft) statue of him was erected in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou.