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Video: Widow of slain ‘African Che Guevara’ seeks answers


More than 27 years after African hero Thomas Sankara's assassination, his widow, Mariam Sankara, tells FRANCE 24 she hopes the fall of former Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré will pave the way for an investigation into his death.


The neat hedges and clean streets of the southern French city of Montpellier are thousands of miles and a world away from Burkina Faso, where protesters last month evoked the spirit of African hero and homeboy Thomas Sankara in their successful bid to oust longstanding Burkinabe strongman, Blaise Compaoré.

But it’s right here in Montpellier, on Allée Thomas Sankara – a street named after the iconic African revolutionary figure – that Mariam Sankara, his widow, welcomed the fall of Compaore.

"Like everyone else, I want this transition to run smoothly,” said Mariam Sankara in an interview with FRANCE 24. “This is not a coup d'état. The military may have taken over, but that doesn't mean it's a coup d'état because the people have won. It's the people who fought this battle. The military are now there to ensure their safety."

The 61-year-old widow has lived in Montpellier for several years following the October 1987 assassination of her husband in a military coup. Compaoré – Sankara’s former comrade-turned-rival, who seized power in the coup – has long been implicated in the assassination.

A long quest for justice

But 27 years after Sankara’s murder, the circumstances around his death – especially who exactly killed him and who ordered it – remains a mystery.

As Sankara’s stature as a legendary figure grew across the continent, with fans adopting his signature red beret and protesters across Africa waving his photograph, the mystery and intrigue behind Sankara’s assassination has only increased.

In 1997, while still in exile, Mariam filed a complaint in a Burkinabe court into the murder. Two years ago, the Burkinabe Supreme Court finally ruled that the case could be prosecuted. But in April, a court in the capital of Ouagadougou ruled that it would not allow DNA experts access to Sankara’s tomb. Meanwhile last year, a French lawmaker called on the French government to open its archives and investigate the slain leader’s death.

After enduring more than two decades of personal grief, exile and unanswered questions, Mariam says she still can’t forgive Compaoré for his role in her husband’s death. “I thought he was just looking for a way to explain to us what happened,” said Mariam, referring to Compaoré. “But he still hasn't spoken to us. He still has a chance to, he should explain," said Sankara’s widow as she slowly leafed through photographs of her handsome young husband, who was just 38 when he was killed.

A new future for Burkina Faso, answers for a grieving widow

Compaoré himself has fled into exile, with the help of France, into neighbouring Ivory Coast, where he has been housed with his family and close allies in a state-owned mansion in the Ivorian capital of Yamoussoukro.

Following his October 31 ouster, the Burkinabe military stepped in amid a chaotic transition that saw two military officials declare themselves head of state, one of whom lasted for barely a day.

In the end, Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Zida was declared Burkina Faso’s transitional leader. Zida has come under mounting pressure to hand over the country to a civilian administration as soon as possible – failing which, the African Union has threatened to impose sanctions on the impoverished West African nation.

Amid deep uncertainties over the country’s future, Mariam is sure of what she wants to see in Burkina Faso following Compaoré’s exit: she’d like to see a civilian administration in place and she’s hoping that whoever leads the country next will allow an investigation into her husband’s violent death.

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