Serving as President of Burkina Faso between 1983 and 1987, Thomas Sankara was a number of things in his 37 years on Earth. He came to power in 1983 following a coup against President of Upper Volta, Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo. His end would also come as the result of a coup 30 years ago.
On one side he was a military leader, a pan-Africanist, and a revolutionary with Marxist leanings. He fought against imperialism and amine. Sankara pushed for land and health reform, education and literacy, a self-sufficient Burkina Faso.
Another goal of his presidency was social reform. He also pushed women’s rights, contraception, banning forced marriage, genital mutilation, and polygamy. Sankara encouraged men to understand what women experienced.
Then you had the other Thomas Sankara. The Sankara who pushed his reforms of the country through strong-arm tactics. At the most extreme he imprisoned or ordered the execution of dissidents. It would be a mixture of these acts that would lead to Sankara being assassinated as a result of an October 15 coup in 1987.
While his policies pushed Burkina Faso forward socially and were attractive to the poor through the continent, the more conservative tribal heads, middle class, and others saw these policies and Sankara’s leadership as a threat the established order and interests.
Blaise Compaore would head up the coup that resulted in Thomas Sankara’s death. An autopsy released after Compaore was ousted from power showed that Sankara was shot multiple times and dismembered. Compaore would take over immediately afterward and deny the Sankara family access to the autopsy for decades.
Compaore’s main reason was that Sankara’s reforms would damage domestic and foreign relationships in the region. He also noted that the policies damaged Burkina Faso’s economic stability.
According to warlord Prince Johnson, future Liberian President Charles Taylor assisted in the coup. In 1984, Taylor is in a U.S prison for embezzlement. He would escape to Libya from the U.S. in 1985 and train under Muammar Gaddafi. Taylor would arrive in Ivory Coast–bordering Burkina Faso–sometime afterward. Charles Taylor is currently serving 60 years for various crimes against humanity.
In the next entry on Burkina Faso, we’ll go into Compaore’s years as President.