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Burkina Faso | Blaise Compaoré’s sentencing: What it means for Africa

On 6 April 2022, Burkina Faso’s former leader Blaise Compaoré was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the 1987 murder of Thomas Sankara. The judgement is an opportune moment of reflection for African citizens and leaders.



Like most of us, former President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré was not present in the courtroom when his sentence was read. For the past eight years, Compaoré has lived in a lavish villa on Ivory Coast, where he sought refuge after being ousted from office. Although an international warrant for his arrest was issued in December 2014, an order signed by the Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara dating back to November 2014 revealed ex-President Compaoré had been granted Ivorian citizenship. Compaore’s new citizenship status effectively ended prospects of his extradition to his home country.

On the 11th of October 2021, the court case against Compaoré and 14 other individuals commenced in Ouagadougou. Compaoré was charged with complicity, concealing corpses, and undermining state security. Despite the international warrant of arrest and a pending court case, Ivory Coast refused to extradite Compaoré. His absence did not deter the Burkinabe government’s pursuit of justice. On 6 March 2022, the military tribunal sentenced the ex-president, General Gilbert Diendere, an army commander at the time of Sankara’s murder and Hyacinthe Kafando, Compaoré’s security chief, to life in prison, eight other individuals were found guilty of various charges, and three individuals who had been accused were cleared.

Compaoré’s sentencing is a first in the continent’s history. It is the first time an African nation has successfully prosecuted and sentenced a former president for crimes committed to pursuing presidential power. However, Compaoré’s lawyers argued that his position as a former Head of State granted him immunity from prosecution. The ruling by the military tribunal challenges the notion that African leaders can exploit their power and influence without being accountable for their actions and for the pain and suffering they inflict on their fellow citizens.

Blaise Compaore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Compaoré’s sentencing is vital in African continental history. It is a reminder that every African, regardless of their race, class, gender, economic status or political muscle can be held accountable for the crimes they commit. Thomas Sankara’s assassination did not only rob his family of a loved one, but it also stole a progressive and promising Pan-African leader whose actions have proved that he could have changed the fate of his nation for the Burkinabe people. Africa indeed lost a charismatic Pan-African leader capable of spearheading a new age of collective self-determination.

Sankara’s murder is one of many assassinations that Africa endured during the Cold War, which raises the question of the international community’s involvement in the heinous crime. In a statement welcoming the Burkina Faso government’s decision to pursue charges against ex-President Compaoré published on the 14th April 2021, the South African political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), wrote that Sankara’s assassination was a means through which the Burkinabe nation could be subjected to the will of imperialist and colonial powers. The international community’s role in Sankara’s death is a mystery, which only time can solve. As we reflect on the military tribunal’s verdict and ponder why Sankara was assassinated, the extent to which the international community was involved, and how they benefited from the assassination, it is essential to reflect on the significance of the military tribunal’s ruling.


Although Compaoré might never spend time in jail, the verdict is loud and clear, Africa is changing, and immunity for brutal African political leaders is slowly weaning

Compaoré might never spend a day in jail. He might live out the rest of his life in his fancy villa, hosting lavish parties and visiting luxury hotels in Yamoussoukro, Morocco, and Senegal, where he has frequented since his exile. Although he might never spend time in jail, the verdict is loud and clear, Africa is changing, and immunity for brutal African political leaders is slowly weaning. For a lot of Africans, Compaoré’s sentencing might not bring closure. He is a fugitive living in luxury under the protection of his influential African friends and there are numerous questions that have been left unanswered.

Despite the disappointment that Compaoré might not serve his time, the sentencing gives African leaders and the African people an opportunity to reflect. African leaders have to choose, either act in the best interest of their people, protect the lives of their countrymen and women or spend their old age as fugitives or as prisoners confined in prison systems they neglected to develop into humane correctional facilities.

For Africans, Compaoré’s sentencing grants us an opportunity to reflect on the leadership we want. In under four years, Sankara brought progressive change to Burkina Faso; infant mortality declined from 20.8% to 14.6%, women were given opportunities in his government at a time gender equality across the world was heavily contested. School attendance and literacy rates increased, and two million people were vaccinated. Sankara’s Afro-centric approach to leadership and governance brought progressive change to his nation. For Africa to develop, its leaders need to urgently tackle climate change, end debt bondage, and halt neocolonialism.  We need Sankara’s ideology and values to live on through the leaders we choose.

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