Burkina Faso’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, was reburied Thursday, eight years after his body was exhumed as part of an investigation.
Sankara’s body, and those of the 12 people who died with him, were reburied at the site of his assassination, which has since become a memorial for Sankara featuring a life-size statue of the former leader pumping his fist in the air.
Soldiers and community leaders paid tribute during a ceremony Thursday, some posing for pictures by Sankara’s coffin. All the coffins were draped in Burkina Faso flags with a photo beside them.
Sankara and the others were gunned down in the capital, Ouagadougou, during a 1987 coup and buried hastily, their bodies only allowed to be dug up in 2015, after the ousting of former President Blaise Compaore.
Sankara, a charismatic Marxist leader with a reputation as “Africa’s Che Guevara,” came to power in 1983 at the age of 33 after he and Compaore led a leftist coup that overthrew a moderate military faction. But in 1987, Compaore turned on his former friend in a coup in which he seized power and then ruled the country for 30 years.
Last year, Compaore, who now lives in Ivory Coast, was tried in absentia and convicted of complicity in their murders. A Burkina Faso military tribunal sentenced him to life imprisonment. Compaore’s right-hand man, Gilbert Diendere, and former spy chief Tousma Yacinthe Kafando were also given life sentences. Eight other people were found guilty of a range of charges including giving false testimonies and complicity in undermining state security.
While Sankara’s family was happy that he was finally laid to rest, they said the place of burial was like a slap in the face because of the horrors that occurred there.
“That place is painful for us to put our feet there. A lot of people were tortured there and crimes committed there and murders,” his younger brother Paul Sankara told The Associated Press by phone from the United States where he lives. The family asked the government to bury him elsewhere but was told it was at the army’s discretion since he was a soldier.
The West African nation has been struggling with a jihadi insurgency linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people and sowed division among the population leading to two coups last year. The current junta leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore, has been likened by some to Sankara, as an anti-imperialist pan-African leader, and is using the reburial to increase support, analysts say.
“With undertaking a symbolic state funeral for Sankara, Traore aims to boost his image by appealing to the collective memory of the young revolutionary leader that still shapes society in Burkina Faso,” said Mucahid Durmaz, senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk intelligence firm.