Thomas Sankara, the former revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso, and 12 others were reburied on Thursday, February 23. Sankara, along with the other individuals, were reburied at the site where they were murdered in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in 1987.
The reburial was carried out by the country’s military junta and attended by government officials and relatives of the deceased. The burial saw the 13 coffins of the deceased draped in Burkina Faso flags. The location where they were buried is now an official Thomas Sankara memorial site, with a giant statue of him.
While Sankara’s reburial finally occurred after almost four decades since his assassination, it left some people unhappy. Sankara’s wife, Mariam, and his children did not attend the burial ceremony because they disagreed with where his body should be put to rest. His family objected to Sankara’s body being buried at the same place he suffered a violent death.
“That place is painful for us to put our feet there. A lot of people were tortured there and crimes committed there and murders,” his brother Paul Sankara said. His family had requested that he be buried at a different location, a plea the government refused claiming he was a soldier and would be buried where they preferred.
Leadership Cut Short
Captain Thomas Sankara assumed office in August 1983 after carrying out a coup d’etat with his best friend Blaise Compaoré. After assuming power, he changed his country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means the land of the upright people.
Sankara became renowned for being a leader of the people as well as for his anti-colonial stance. He believed African countries could go further by working together and spurning their former colonizers. As president of Burkina Faso, he ensured all politicians in the country earned a modest salary and used more affordable, practical cars moving away from the culture of expensive German cars. Some of the projects he introduced to Burkina Faso included a vaccination program, the abolishing of the mutilation of female genitalia, and a fitness day. However, Sankara and 12 others were killed at a meeting on October 15, 1987. His friend, Blaise Compaoré, was accused of being behind the assassination. Compaoré hastily took control of the country that very same day while Sankara and his comrades were hurriedly buried with any talk of their deaths banned. Compaoré went on to rule Burkina Faso for 27 years before he was forced to resign after protests. The shamed former president then fled Burkina Faso.
He was found guilty for his part in Sankara’s death in April 2022.
After Sankara’s death, his wife, Mariam Sankara, and her children were forced to leave Burkina Faso for France. She fought to keep the memory of her husband alive. In a pursuit to find answers regarding her husband’s death, she tried to get answers in Burkina Faso but none were forthcoming.
In 1997, Mariam made a criminal complaint against unknown persons in Burkina Faso, in an effort to keep her husband’s memory alive. Thomas Sankara’s death certificate said he had died from natural causes. His quick burial after his assassination and the fact that he could not be spoken about created a lot of questions. Mariam Sankara ended up taking her case before the United Nations and the United Nations Human Rights Committee declared that the Sankara family had the right to know the circumstances surrounding his death.
France was accused of being complicit in Sankara’s murder. In 2015, Mariam Sankara traveled to Paris and requested that the French launch a parliamentary inquest into her husband’s death. She also wrote to three different French presidents, asking for assistance in the matter.
“France has been cited as a possible accomplice in the assassination. If we open the archives we would know who is responsible,” she said in 2015. “It is in the interest of France, Burkina Faso, and all Africa that the truth be known”.
After decades with no answers and justice, the Sankaras finally received some relief in 2022 when former president Sankara’s murderers were tried and convicted for their crimes.
“I think that the Burkinabe people and public opinion now know who President Thomas Sankara was, who the individual was, who the politician was, what he wanted, what those who assassinated him wanted. In any case, I am relieved because we know who he is. He had been called everything in speeches and all that, now we know that he was a man of integrity,” Mariam Sankara said at the end of her husband’s murder trial.