By Ebi Kesiena
Fourteen men, including a former President, will go on trial in Burkina Faso from Monday over the 1987 assassination of Thomas Sankara, the country’s revolutionary leader and a pan-Africanist icon.
It will be nearly 34 years to the day since Sankara was gunned down during a putsch led by an erstwhile comrade and close friend, one of the most shocking episodes in a country well-versed in political brutality.
Suspicions have long been directed at Sankara’s successor, Blaise Compaore, who ruled the impoverished Sahel state for the next 27 years.
Compaore was toppled by a popular uprising in 2014 and fled to neighbouring Ivory Coast, which granted him citizenship.
He is the chief accused among 14 figures in the trial, which will unfold at a military court in the capital Ouagadougou.
The 70-year-old, who has always denied any part in Sankara’s brutal death, was tried in absentia on Friday, he announced through his lawyers that he would not attend the trial.
Recall that Sankara came to power in a coup in 1983. Aged just 33, he embarked on a campaign of radical change.
He renamed the country Burkina Faso (“the land of honest men”) from the colonial-era Upper Volta, carried out a wave of nationalisations and banned female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages.
Four years after Sankara took the helm, he and 12 other leaders were killed.
They were mown down by a hit squad as they attended a meeting at the headquarters of the National Council of the Revolution in Ouagadougou.
Those accused include Compaore’s former right-hand man — General Gilbert Diendere, a former Head of the Elite Presidential Security Regiment.
The pair face charges of complicity in murder, harming state security and complicity in the concealment of corpses.
Diendere, 61, is already serving a 20-year sentence in Burkina Faso for masterminding a plot in 2015 against the transitional government that followed Compaore’s ouster.
Another prominent figure among the accused is Hyacinthe Kafando, a former Chief Warrant Officer in Compaore’s Presidential Guard, who is accused of leading the hit squad. He is on the run.