Burkina Faso vows to identify remains of folk hero Sankara
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Burkina Faso's new transitional president has promised to open an investigation to identify remains believed to be those of the West African nation's revolutionary hero Thomas Sankara, who was assassinated more than 27 years ago.
President Michel Kafando, who received power from the country’s military on Friday, said investigations would go forward “in the name of national reconciliation”.
Sankara, sometimes described as the “African Che Guevara", was just 33 when he seized power in a coup in 1983.
He left a lasting mark during his short presidency, even changing the former French colony’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which translates as "land of honest people”.
A widely admired figure across Africa, he was killed during another military putsch four years later led by his friend Blaise Compaore, who has denied involvement in his death.
Compaore was himself toppled in a popular uprising last month after ruling the country for 27 years.
Though Sankara's body was placed in an unmarked grave, it is believed to be buried in a cemetery in the capital, Ouagadougou.
Widow’s unanswered questions
In his first speech as Burkina Faso’s new head of state, President Kafando said it was “the responsibility of the government” to identify Sankara’s remains and investigate his death, prompting loud applause from the audience.
The move marks a first victory for the family of the former revolutionary leader, which has long campaigned for the right to carry out DNA tests on Sankara’s body.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 earlier this month, Sankara’s widow said she hoped the fall of Compaore would finally pave the way for an investigation into her husband’s death.
After enduring more than two decades of personal grief, exile and thwarted legal battles, Mariam Sankara said she still couldn’t forgive Compaoré for his alleged role in her husband’s death.
“I thought [Compaoré] was just looking for a way to explain to us what happened,” said the 61-year-old widow, who lives in the French city of Montpellier.
“But he still hasn't spoken to us. He still has a chance to, he should explain," she said, slowly leafing through photographs of her handsome young husband, who was just 38 when he was killed.
Bruno Jaffré, the French author of a 2007 biography of Thomas Sankara, says the investigation is likely to “reopen old wounds”, both in Burkina Faso and abroad.
“But it is important that we go all the way,” he told FRANCE 24.
“Liberians have spoken [about Sankara’s murder], friends of [former Liberian strongman] Charles Taylor. One of them even claimed Compaore shot Sankara,” Jaffré said.
The French author, who is also a member of the activist group “Justice for Thomas Sankara, Justice for Africa”, said the investigation could have ramifications in France.
Last year, a French lawmaker called on the French government to open its archives and investigate the slain leader’s death – but his calls fell on deaf ears.
Jaffré said his activist group would appeal to French lawmakers next week to open an investigation.
“It is important to know whether the French government knew [of a plot to eliminate Sankara],” he said.