OUAGADOUGOU, April 6 (Reuters) – Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaore was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for complicity in the 1987 murder of his predecessor Thomas Sankara in a coup, a military tribunal ruled on Wednesday.
The charismatic Marxist revolutionary Sankara was gunned down in the West African nation’s capital Ouagadougou at the age of 37, four years after he took power in a previous putsch.
Two of Compaore’s former top associates, Hyacinthe Kafando and Gilbert Diendere, were also sentenced to life imprisonment.
All three have previously denied involvement in Sankara’s death along with eleven other defendants accused of involvement in the plot. Three of the eleven were declared innocent and the rest received prison terms of between three and 20 years.
Compaore was found guilty of an attack on state security, complicity in murder and concealment of a corpse, the tribunal said in its ruling.
He went on to rule for 27 years before being ousted in another coup in 2014 and fleeing to Ivory Coast, where he is still believed to live.
Sankara, who gained a reputation as Africa’s “Che Guevara”, took power on a promise to thwart corruption and post-colonial influences, denouncing foreign aid as a control mechanism.
He rolled out mass vaccination against polio, banned female circumcision and polygamy, and was one of the first African leaders to publicly recognise the growing AIDS epidemic as a threat for the continent.
A former fighter pilot, Sankara won public support in the impoverished nation by selling a government fleet of Mercedes, lowering the pay of well-off public servants and forbidding first class state travel.
He cut his own salary, refused to work with air conditioning and jogged through Ouagadougou unaccompanied.
Critics say his reforms curtailed freedoms and did little to enrich ordinary people. But admiration remains and justice has been long-awaited by Sankara’s family and supporters.
“I think Burkinabe know now who Thomas Sankara was… what he wanted and what those who assassinated him wanted too,” said Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, speaking at the courthouse.
A procession and gathering are planned later in the day at the spot Sankara was shot, where a statue of him now stands.
“Today I am very proud to see the culmination of a legal battle of almost 30 years, proud to have a country where justice works,” said Guy Herve Kam, a lawyer for Sankara’s family.
Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Sofia Christensen; Editing by James Macharia Chege, Alexandra Hudson