“Thomas knew how to show his people that they could become dignified and proud through will power, courage, honesty and work. What remains above all of my husband is his integrity.” - Mariam Sankara, Thomas’ widow
Hundreds of protesters placed brooms on the grave of former Burkina Faso leader Thomas Sankara on Sunday in a symbolic demand for justice for the murdered revolutionary hero.
Sankara was killed in a 1987 French-backed military coup, which brought his rival and French puppet Blaise Compaore to power. Compaore – Sankara’s former comrade-turned-rival, who seized power in the coup – has long been implicated in the assassination.
Following Compaore’s ouster in October, calls for justice have mounted, with the revolutionary hero’s widow, Mariam Sankara, telling reporters last month that she hoped the fall of the former French-backed dictator would pave the way for an investigation into his death.
On Sunday, protesters gathered at the Dagnoen cemetery, east of the capital Ouagadougou, demanding a closure into one of Africa’s most controversial political assassinations.
“The broom has a symbolic meaning for some ethic groups, asking the dead person to point out who killed them,” said the artist Smockey, one of the founders of “Balai Citoyen” (Citizen’s Broom) group, which helped organise the protests that led to Compaore’s downfall.
“It’s an appeal for the reopening of the Sankara case,” he added.
“We succeeded in winning a first step towards victory (with the fall of Compaore). Now we are at the second step — for justice. The third will be the rehabilitation (of Sankara) and the spreading of his ideas,” Smockey told some 300 people gathered around the grave of Sankara and 12 of his comrades killed in the coup. A pan-Africanist revolutionary, Sankara transformed what was then the former French colony of Upper Volta into Burkina Faso, or, the “Land of the Upright Men”. His spirit loomed large during the recent anti-Compaore protests.
Twenty-seven years after his murder, the circumstances around his death – especially as to 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.
Interim president Michel Kafando, who took over from Compaore after torturous talks between the military and civilian leaders, promised to investigate whether the remains in the grave were actually those of Sankara. His family have been asking in vain since 1997 for an investigation amid claims that the corpse buried there was not his.
The Sankara case “will be entirely reopened and justice will be done”, Kafando said in early December.
Many in the crowd at the Dagnoen cemetery, including political leaders, demanded that the authorities turn their words into deeds.