Murder exhumed

The murder of former Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara in 1987 is at last being considered by the country’s courts – though they may still strangle a proper investigation at birth. Four years ago Sankara’s widow Mariam filed an action in the common-law courts seeking an investigation that would identify those responsible for the assassination. The State has tried to ensure throughout that the case would be heard in military courts (in conditions of complete secrecy) rather than in open court in full scrutiny – and Mariam Sankara’s appeal against this to the Supreme Court, backed by an international team of lawyers, is now to be heard on 15 May, just after we go to press.


Thomas Sankara was one of the most principled, radical and charismatic leaders Africa has ever produced. His four years as President of Burkina Faso (1983-87) were unique in their attempt to chart a revolutionary development course that put the rural poor first (see *NI 179*, *268*, *323*). His personal probity was legendary: he refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was unavailable to any but a handful of Burkinabes. When he died his most valuable possessions were a car, four bikes, three guitars and a fridge: he was the world’s poorest president.

He was murdered as part of the coup d’état that brought Blaise Compaoré to power – and Compaoré remains President to this day, having taken Burkina down a standard free-market, IMF-adjusted road. Compaoré has bought off or suppressed opposition as well as enriching himself and his cronies. He was censured by a UN report for accepting illegal diamonds from Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi.

A free and fair trial in open court would be a key step towards breaking the impunity that has reigned in Burkina since 1987. An international campaign has been trying to raise funds to support the presence of the greatest number of lawyers at the vital hearing.

Contact the Justice for Sankara campaign at Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa, PO Box 55005, CSP Fairmount, Montreal, Quebec H2T 3E2, Canada. Tel: 514-845-7731. Web:

New Internationalist issue 335 magazine cover This article is from the June 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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