One can never overestimate the fact that Thomas Sankara was one of Africa’s greatest ever revolutionaries and thinkers. Though his time in power as President of Burkina Faso was senselessly cut short, his ideals and legacy will forever be etched in African political history.
In 1983, Sankara became president after participating in a coup that removed Col. Saye Zerbo from the presidency and subduing Maj. Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo who was also struggling to take the nation’s top position.
While president, Sankara quickly became known as Africa’s Che Guevara. In addition to implementing left-wing, anti-imperialist policies, he was a staunch opponent of corruption.
Sankara’s life was however cut short on October 15, 1987, when he was murdered along with 12 soldiers and buried in an unmarked grave by military men. He was only 37 years old.
His former colleague and confidant Blaise Compaore, who took over as president of Burkina Faso after his murder is generally thought to have ordered his assassination. It is also very interesting to note that former Liberian warlord Prince Johnson, while testifying before Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008, said his one-time ally and Ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor also played a key role in Sankara’s murder.
According to Johnson, while on a mission in Burkina Faso together with Taylor and other rebels to plot the overthrow of the-then Liberian president Samuel Doe, Compaore approached them and asked for their assistance in getting rid of Sankara.
During former President Blaise Compaore’s 27-year reign, he refused to allow Sankara’s body to be exhumed.
However, after Compaore was forced to step down following a failed attempt to extend his presidential term in 2014, Sankara’s body together with the other 12 slain soldiers were exhumed in late May 2015 to unravel the mystery surrounding the circumstances of their death. This was done after an investigation into the death of Sankara was opened late March 2015.
According to Sankara family lawyer Ambroise Farama, the autopsy findings were “mind-boggling”: “While the soldiers who were buried with him only sustained one or two gunshots, Sankara’s alleged body was “riddled with bullets.”
“…As far as Thomas Sankara was concerned, there were more than a dozen bullet holes all over the body, even below the armpits,” Farama explained.
The results of the autopsy, which was done in France to confirm the identity of Sankara and the other soldiers, however, could not be corroborated as the DNA results were inconclusive thereby making it impossible to fully identify the victims.
This compelled Sankara’s family to request for another DNA test on his supposed remains to which a judge ordered for it to be undertaken in Spain. The results of that were also inconclusive.
Exiled in Ivory Coast after his overthrow, an international warrant was issued for Blaise Compaore’s arrest in December 2015 for the charges of “murder”, “assassination” and “corpse concealment” after an investigation by Burkina Faso authorities.