Who killed Thomas Sankara?

Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaoré (that’s him above posing in between Michelle and Barack Obama at the UN a few years ago), is receiving some mixed PR right now. The Telegraph in the UK has said that even with a murky past, Compaoré may be shaping up to be West Africa’s chief negotiator in regional conflicts. Some sources remain non-plussed. Peter Dorrie argues in African Arguments that Compaoré may be helping to “resolve” conflicts that he’s already benefitted from. Some in France, however, are hoping to stir this up even more. 

A few weeks ago a French MP, André Chassaigne, announced he would press the French National Assembly to create an inquiry commission to investigate the 1987 assassination of Thomas Sankara. Chassaigne, a member of the Communist party (yes, it is significant that he is not from the ruling party or the main, conservative, opposition party), is following up on a letter written by 12 Burkinabe MPs in 2011, who’d asked for the commission.

Sankara, who was the president of Burkina Faso for four years until his assassination on October 15, 1987, brought in a tremendous amount of reform in a short period. Literacy and vaccination programs were launched, and Burkina Faso was nearly completely self-sustaining. Compaoré, who some implicate in Sankara’s assassination, came into power immediately after.

It is worth repeating what Chaissaigne told journalists in regards to his proposition to the Assemblée Nationale of France:

France, to an as-yet unknown extent, is responsible for this assassination…I believe that France, which today claims to behave differently towards Africa under what I personally would call a virtuous circle, must tell the truth…We cannot leave the people of Burkina Faso, and more broadly speaking, the peoples of Africa in the dark about what really happened.

Meanwhile, Compaoré’s government is in a bind about recommending a national hero to the African Union as part of the organization’s 50th anniversary this year. Basically each country has to recommend one person. The only one outstanding is Burkina Faso’s nomination. There’s no doubt Sankara’s name deserves to represent Burkina Faso at the AU celebrations. While Compaoré gave Sankara a national honor in 1991 (along with three others), his regime is clearly embarrassed as well as skittish about honoring someone held in such esteem by large sections of the population — especially the youth — as well as beyond Burkina Faso’s borders.

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