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President Compaoré and the death of Comrade President Sankara: Guilty as charged -

Burkina Faso's former president Blaise Compaoré was sentenced in absentia to life in jail over his role in the 1987 murder of the country's revolutionary folk hero Thomas Sankara, a military court ruled on Wednesday, wrapping up a long-awaited trial that was disrupted by a coup.

The man who renamed the former French colony of Haute-Volta as Burkina Faso – meaning the “Land of the Honest”, or “Upright” – was ahead of his time in recognizing climate change and desertification as the single biggest threat to the well-being of its people.

“The desert is at our gates, it’s already upon us, ready to engulf us,” he warned as he launched a massive tree-planting drive to “re-green” the country, halt soil erosion and foster sustainable agriculture.

An iconic figure sometimes dubbed the “African Che Guevara”, Sankara was just 33 when he came to power in 1983, setting in motion a revolution that pledged to “decolonize African minds” and continues to inspire followers across the continent.

None of this was possible without the liberation of women, Sankara would stress in his fiery speeches up and down the country, pointing out that women “carry the other half of the sky” – on top of the wood that fuels stoves and cookers and the water that feeds their families, their crops and their livestock.

“The tragedy of October 15, 1987, was a result of pressure exerted by a number of heads of state, including Félix Houphouët Boigny,” said Abdoul Salam Kaboré, a sports minister under Sankara, referring to Ivory Coast’s former ruler and a key French ally.

“May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence,” he once said.

“The squad then ordered president Sankara and his colleagues to leave the room,” the prosecution said.

“On matters of governance, women’s rights, fighting forced marriage and female genital mutilation, climate, and culture, he was a pioneer,” he added.

One of the world's poorest countries, Burkina Faso has a long history of political turmoil and is battling a jihadist insurgency that has claimed some 2,000 lives and displaced up to 1.8 million people.

Tensions between Sankara and his erstwhile ally Compaoré were described in detail during the six-month proceedings, with several witnesses pointing to an “international conspiracy” to remove a troublesome leader who was not afraid to challenge the world order and rebuke France, the former colonial power. The former president, who denounced a “political trial”, was tried in absentia on counts of attacking state security, concealing a corpse, and complicity in a murder.

More than three decades after his death, his vision of a “wall of trees” holding back the encroaching desert has taken root in a pan-African project of breathtaking scale, a cross-continental barrier stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. The longtime Ivorian leader once told Sankara, “You have to change, and if you don’t, we will change you,” Serge Théophile Balima, a former head of Burkina Faso’s state TV, testified in court.

“His originality was to defend the principle of people’s emancipation, rather than the emancipation of states. “His assassination clearly marked the end of revolutionary pan-Africanism.”

That spirit has outlived Burkina Faso’s revolutionary captain, said Serge Ouédraogo, a high-school teacher in the capital, Ouagadougou – outshining the darker aspects of Sankara’s legacy, including his efforts to silence dissenters.

Thomas Sankara, the ‘Pride of Africa’

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