The trial of 14 persons accused of plotting to assassinate Burkina Faso’s former president Thomas Sankara began on Monday, more than 30 years after he was shot and killed in one of modern Africa’s most notorious killings.
Sankara, a charismatic Marxist revolutionary dubbed “Africa’s Che Guevara” by his former ally Blaise Compaore, was assassinated in 1987 during a coup orchestrated by his former comrade Blaise Compaore.
In April, Compaore, the principal defendant, was accused in absentia of participation in the death of his predecessor, Sankara. He is currently living in exile in the neighboring Ivory Coast and has always denied any participation in the assassination of Sankara.
As she came to the hearing, Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, told journalists, “It is a moment we have been waiting for.”
She told the BBC on Monday that she hoped the trial will shed light on the murders of 12 others on the day of the coup.
“It’s crucial for all of these families,” she explained. “This trial is necessary to put an end to the culture of impunity and violence that still exists in many African countries, despite their democratic facades.”
Hyacinthe Kafando, Compaore’s former head of security, is also being tried in his absence. Twelve more defendants are scheduled to appear before a military trial in Ouagadougou’s Ouaga2000 conference center. They have entered a not-guilty plea.
At the opening of the hearing, more than 100 journalists from across the world crammed into the conference hall.
At the age of 33, Thomas Sankara seized power in a coup in 1983, promising to combat corruption and former colonial countries’ influence.
The former fighter pilot was one of the first African politicians to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic as it spread throughout the continent. He condemned the World Bank’s structural adjustment initiatives and outlawed female circumcision and polygamy in public.
Sankara gained popularity as a result of his frugal lifestyle, which included riding his bicycle to work as a minister and selling the government’s fleet of Mercedes vehicles when he became president.
His reforms, however, were criticized by detractors as limiting freedoms and leaving ordinary people in the landlocked West African country a little better off. Sankara, according to Compaore, threatened foreign relations with former colonial power France and the neighboring Ivory Coast.
Compaore relocated to Ivory Coast after being deposed in 2014. His lawyers stated he would not attend the trial on Friday, and the Ivory Coast has refused to extradite him.