Known as ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’, Marxist revolutionary Thomas Sankara was assassinated in 1987 during a coup led by his former ally Blaise Compaore.
“The moment we’ve been waiting for has come,” Sankara’s wife, Mariam Sankara, told reporters on her way to the hearing.
Speaking to the BBC earlier on Monday, Sankara said he hopes the case will shed light on the deaths of the 12 people killed on the day of the coup.
“This case is important for all these victims’ families,” said Sankara, adding, “Despite the democratic front, this case is needed to stop the culture of impunity and violence indefinitely in many African countries.”
Hyacinthe Kafando, Compaore‘s former head of security, is also on trial in absentia. The other 12 defendants will appear before the military court in Ouagadougou. More than 100 journalists from all over the world have flocked to the conference hall where the hearing will take place.
Who is Thomas Sankara?
Thomas Sankara came to power in Burkina Faso at the age of 33 in a 1983 coup, pledging to fight corruption and the domination of former colonial powers.
A former fighter pilot, Sankara was one of the first African leaders to raise awareness of the growing AIDS epidemic. Publicly condemning the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs, Sankara banned female genital mutilation and polygamy in his country.
Sankara, a socialist revolutionary, implemented his policy in line with the slogan, “Either Motherland or death, we will win!” and was influenced by the Cuban model and the President of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings, in this process.
On August 4, 1984, Sankara changed the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning ‘home of honorable people’.
Sankara, who won the support of the public with his modest lifestyle, biked to work during his prime ministership and sold the government’s Mercedes vehicle fleet while he was president.
However, critics note that Sankara’s reforms curtailed freedoms and put ordinary people in the landlocked West African country somewhat better off.
On October 15, 1987, a group organized under the leadership of Blaise Compaoré, who assumed the presidency for a term, called the Popular Front, staged a coup and Sankara was removed from office. Sankara lost his life in the clashes that broke out during the coup.
In the process where Compaoré was held responsible after his death, it was said that the death occurred ‘naturally’ and it was stated that Sankara was carrying out policies that would drag the country into turmoil by causing the coup.
Compaore had previously said that Sankara had jeopardized relations with France and neighboring Ivory Coast. For this reason, the coup is thought to be a coup supported by France and the Ivory Coast.
Compaore, who seized power in a coup, moved to Ivory Coast after being ousted in 2014. His lawyers said Compaore would not attend the hearing on Friday, and Ivory Coast rejected Burkina Faso’s extradition requests during the litigation process.