Burkina Faso's Thomas Sankara riddled with bullets

Burkina Faso's iconic former president Thomas Sankara’ autopsy showed he was "riddled with bullets" during a 1987 coup

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara was a military captain and commonly referred to as "Africa's Che Guevara."

An autopsy has shown the remains of Burkina Faso's ex-president Thomas Sankara, a leftist hero known as "Africa's Che Guevara", were riddled with bullets, strengthening assertions he was executed in a 1987 coup, a lawyer said on Tuesday.

The disputed circumstances of the death of Sankara, a charismatic military captain famous for his trademark red beret, have clouded Burkina Faso's politics since his former friend Blaise Compaore toppled Sankara's government 28 years ago.

Compaore, who ruled landlocked Burkina Faso for 27 years until he was ousted by a popular uprising last year, has always denied involvement in Sankara's death. Calls from Sankara's family for an investigation were blocked during Compaore's rule.

A transitional government installed after Compaore's fall gave permission for an investigation, and the body was exhumed in May, along with the remains of 12 soldiers buried with it.

Benewende Stanislas Sankara, a lawyer for the family, said the results of DNA tests to prove the body's identity were expected in two weeks.

"The body was riddled...with more than a dozen bullets" in the arms, legs and chest, said the lawyer, who is no relation to the former president.

The lawyer said the initial findings supported the family's contention that Sankara was assassinated at the age of 37.

"The ballistics report and the autopsy confirm that President Thomas Sankara and his companions were killed by bullets from Kalashnikovs, automatic pistols and G3 rifles," the lawyer said, noting these were weapons used by the Burkinabe military.

"There is no doubt about the criminal origin of his death," he said, adding that at least eight people had already been charged in connection with the case.

He said that traces of clothing found in the tomb led him to believe strongly that the body was Sankara's.

The idealistic army captain rose to power after a 1982 military coup and became an idol for Africa's poor by rejecting the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, nationalising mineral resources and undertaking sweeping land reforms aimed at agricultural self-sufficiency.

He inspired many by changing the name of the former French colony from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning "the land of upright men", and replaced the fleet of luxurious ministerial Mercedes with cheap Renault 5 cars. However, his increasingly authoritarian government alienated powerful vested interests.

A short-lived coup last month by members of the elite presidential guard disrupted Burkina Faso's transition, which was due to culminate in presidential elections on Oct. 11.

Political party leaders said the presidential election would be rescheduled for Nov. 29, following discussions with members of the transitional government on Tuesday. A formal announcement is expected at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

"During our consultations, the date of Nov. 29 was agreed upon by the entirety of the political actors of Burkina Faso for the organisation of the presidential and legislative elections," said Ablasse Ouedraogo, a candidate for the party Le Faso Autrement (Another Kind of Faso).