By Paul Ejime
When deposed Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore staged a military coup in October 1987 to eliminate his friend, Capt Thomas Sankara, he probably never contemplated that there would ever be consequences.
Then a young officer, Compaore is now 70 and lives in political exile in Cote d’Ivoire after 27 years in power in his country.
He was ousted by the “people power” uprising in 2014, amid accusations of corruption, dictatorship/authoritarianism and human rights violations by his regime.
After a trial that lasted for six months, a Bukina Faso tribunal on Wednesday sentenced Compaore in absentia to life in prison for masterminding Sankara’s death 35 years ago.
Two of his accomplices also received the same sentence; eight got three to 20 years, while three others were acquitted.
Compaore, speaking through his Burkinabe and French lawyers refused to appear for the trial and has rejected the sentence.
By assassinting Sankara at the age of 37, Compaore and his fellow coupists halted a popular revolutionary movenent initiated by the Capt. nicknamed “Africa’s Che Guevara,” after one of Cuba’s Maxist icons.
Sankara was in power from 1983-87, and left a lasting impression as a revered Pan-Africanist, who led by example.
One of his legacies is the renaming of Upper Volta, a former French colony as Burkina Faso (land of people of integrity).
It is unlikely that Compaore, who has acquired the Ivorian citizenship would be released by President Alassane Ouattara to serve term in Burkina Faso.
But the court verdict is an important message to African leaders that there could be severe consequences for impunity, human rights violations and other crimes committed in office, no matter the time lag.
Compaore’s sentencing should also serve as a warning and big lesson coming at a time of worrisome resurgence of military coups and regression of democracy in Africa.
At least five African countries – Mali, Guinea, Chad, Sudan and Burkina Faso are under military or military-dominated governments after several attempted and successful putsches in the last two years.
It remains to be seen what political advantage Burkina Faso’s Lt. Col Paul-Henri Damiba-led military government can make of this development.
ECOWAS, the regional bloc has asked the regime to reduce its 36-month transition programme to a “more reasonable” timeline and also release ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, detained during the 24 January military coup.