Burkina Faso: Sankara’s trial to proceed … without Compaoré

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara: Who killed ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’?

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Monday, 23 August 2021 15:26

Thomas Sankara, president of Burkina Faso on 7 February 1986 in Paris. © PASCAL GEORGE / AFP

Burkina Faso's military prosecutor has announced the opening of a trial of the alleged killers of former President Thomas Sankara and his companions in October 1987. Among the accused is another former president, Blaise Compaoré, who is currently in exile in Côte d’Ivoire - where he has been since his ousting.

Since 14 April, the trial seemed inevitable. On that day, Burkina Faso’s Chamber of Control referred the case of Sankara’s assassination and his 12 companions to the military court of Ouagadougou for trial.

By announcing – on Tuesday 17 August – that a date has finally been set, the military prosecutor indicated that justice may finally be served in this 34-year-old case. The trial will begin at 9am on 11 October 2021.

“This hearing of the trial chamber, relocated [to] the banquet hall of Ouaga 2000, is public,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. The Burkinabé have been invited to follow proceedings in the large banquet hall, which has been transformed into a court for the occasion.

‘Attack on state security’

14 people will be tried for the assassination of the leader of the Burkina Faso revolution on 15 October 1987: Compaoré (former President); Gilbert Diendéré (who is already facing a 20-year prison sentence for the failed putsch of 2015); Hyacinthe Kafando; Bossobè Traoré; Nabonswendé Ouédraogo; Idrissa Sawadogo; Yamba Elysée Ilboudo; Tibo Ouédraogo; Albert Pascal Sibidi Belemlilga; Diakalia Démé; Mori Aldjouma Jean-Pierre Palm; Alidou Jean Christophe Diébré; Hamado Kafando and Ninda Tondé.

The announcement of the opening of the trial compromises the hypothesis of a return.

Compaoré and Diendéré are accused of ‘attack on state security’ and ‘complicity in murder’. The former president and his former chief of staff are also charged with ‘concealing corpses’. The charges of ‘assassination’, which the prosecution had initially demanded against Diendéré, were not retained, but he will be prosecuted for ‘subornation of witnesses’.

Four men, who were among the bodyguards of Compaoré at the time of the crime will be tried for ‘murder’. They are Ouedraogo, Sawadogo, Ilboudo and Kafando.

This political-judicial case was revived after the fall of Compaoré in October 2014. While the case of the ex-president is attracting attention, he is unlikely to appear for his trial as he has been exile in Côte d’Ivoire since 2014. Despite the warrants issued by the Burkinabé justice unit, it seems unlikely that he will be extradited.

Return to the country compromised

For several months, discussions have been taking place between the authorities of both countries. Though President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré has made reconciliation his second mandate, supporters of Compaoré have made his return one of the conditions for their participation in possible discussions. Zéphirin Diabré and Kouadio Konan Bertin, the two countries’ respective ministers for reconciliation, have also discussed the issue.

The announcement of the opening of the trial nevertheless compromises the hypothesis of a return. “It would obviously be better if Compaoré were here,” Guy Hervé Kam, a lawyer for some of the victims’ families, told us in March. “But there are enough elements and testimony in the file to show that he was the mastermind of this case.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options
Also in this in Depth:

Burkina Faso: Why was Thomas Sankara murdered?

Earlier this month a court in Burkina Faso’s capital indicted former President Blaise Compaoré for his role in the murder of his comrade, Thomas Sankara, on 15 October 1987.

Thomas Sankara: last moments, last witnesses, last secrets…

On the 15th of October 1987, the leader of the Burkinabe revolution was assassinated. Two years later, Sennen Andriamirado, editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique and an acquaintance to the former head of state, published “He was called Sankara”. Here is an account of President of Faso’s last day.

Can former president Compaoré’s trial help to reconcile Burkina Faso?

Will justice finally be served to those responsible for the assassination of Burkina Faso’s former president Thomas Sankara and his allies?

“Thomas Sankara had two faces” – Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo

In “Ma part de verité” (My Share of the Truth), the former Burkinabe president looks back on his time in power and his relations with his former prime minister, Thomas Sankara. He does so at the risk of debunking the Sankara myth and igniting controversy.

Former Burkinabe President to tell all about Sankara and Compaoré

Long holding his peace, former President Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo is about to give his version of one of the most controversial pages in Burkina Faso's history: Thomas Sankara's coup d'état that ended his regime on 4 August 1983.

Burkina Faso: Sankara family lawyers push for Compaoré’s extradition

Lawyers for the family of Thomas Sankara, the father of the Burkinabe revolution who was killed in the October 1987 coup d'état, say want former president Blaise Compaoré to face trial, voluntarily or by force.

Burkina Faso: A who’s who of former president Compaoré’s faithful allies

Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaoré is planning to return home soon. Several of his colleagues in Ouagadougou and those in exile in Abidjan will help him do so, along with some of his more loyal party leaders.

Burkina Faso’s Blaise Campaore says his last word

Sankara murder: Key defendant Blaise Compaoré enjoys life in exile, dodges trial

The three accused: Blaise Compaoré, Gilbert Diendéré and Hyacinthe Kafando are at the heart of the trial for the assassination of Thomas Sankara which began on 11 October, years after they were first accused of his murder. Now it seems only Gilbert Diendéré will take the stand.