Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaoré has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of complicity in the 1987 murder of his predecessor, Thomas Sankara, a military tribunal has ruled.
Sankara, a charismatic Marxist revolutionary, was infamously gunned down in the west African nation’s capital, Ouagadougou, at the age of 37, four years after he took power in a putsch.
Compaoré was tried in absentia along with his former head of security Hyacinthe Kafando, who was also sentenced to life imprisonment. Both have previously denied any involvement in Sankara’s death.
Sankara and 12 colleagues were gunned down by a hit squad on October 15, 1987, at a meeting of the ruling National Revolutionary Council. The massacre coincided with a coup that took Sankara’s erstwhile comrade Compaoré to power.
Throughout his 27-year reign, Compaoré clamped a tight lid on the circumstances of Sankara’s demise, fuelling speculation that he was the mastermind.
Compaoré went on to rule for 27 years before being ousted in another coup in 2014 and fleeing to Ivory Coast.
Sankara, often nicknamed the African Che Guevara, came to power in 1983 after an internal power struggle at the end of a coup. At 33, he was one of the youngest leaders in modern African history, and has become an iconic figure among a generation of post-independence African leaders.
His socialist programme of nationalisation, land redistribution and mass social welfare was hailed as transformative, over a four-year rule of one of the world’s poorest countries – now in the grips of a jihadist insurgency active in the wider Sahel region, and a humanitarian crisis.
Sankara’s government was credited for leaps in education and healthcare provision, social reforms towards ending polygamy and female genital mutilation. His ardent support for independence from colonial rule in Africa, his disavowal of the “France-Afrique” operation of French ties in its former colonies, and stance against aid from western financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund endeared the 37-year-old to many on the continent.
But his administration also faced criticism for curtailing press freedoms and political opposition in the country before he was killed.