Burkina Faso ex-president handed life sentence over killing of predecessor

Arthur Greene

The former president of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1987 assassination of Thomas Sankara, his predecessor and one time ally.

The courtroom in Ouagadougou exploded into applause when Compaoré’s sentence was handed down, marking an end to a 35 year struggle for justice.

Sankara was an icon of Pan-Africanism who seized power at the age of 33 following a coup orchestrated by his friend Compaoré.

The charismatic young leader won admiration across the continent for his socialist policies and defiance of the West.

He led a programme of land redistribution and nationalisation which was hailed across the world and transformed one of the world’s poorest countries.

He was, however, accused of human rights abuses of his opponents as well as undermining the country’s freedom of the press.

After four years in power, he was gunned down alongside 12 others at a party meeting in Ouagadougou. The assassination was part of a coup which saw Compaoré, the man who had made Sankara president, rise to power in his place.

Once in charge, Compaoré reversed the nationalisations Sankara put in place and rejoined the World Bank, undoing his predecessor’s political legacy.

For the remainder of his dictatorship, Compaoré avoided questions over Sankara’s death, and repeatedly refused to sanction the exhumation of his corpse to investigate his killing. This led to questions over the president’s role in his killing.

In 2014, Compaoré was overthrown by a popular coup and he fled to Côte d’Ivoire, where he remains in exile.

He is not expected to serve his prison sentence any time soon, as Côte d’Ivoire has repeatedly refused requests from Burkina Faso to extradite him.