A former army soldier admitted in a trial Tuesday that he helped transport a commando to assassinate Burkina Faso’s revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara 34 years ago.
The trial, which is taking place before a military tribunal in Ouagadougou, is closely watched by the Burkinabe public, many of whom hope it will shed light on one of their country’s darkest chapters.
Fourteen people are on trial for the 1987 assassination in which Sankara and 12 others were shot in a hail of bullets during a government summit meeting.
Among the accused is Sankara’s friend and former comrade in arms, Blaise Compaoré, who came to power after the bloodshed.
In his testimony in court, former soldier Yamba Elise Ilboudo, 62, admitted an accusation of complicity in endangering state security.
But he said his actions were not premeditated – he had not attended any meeting to plan the assassination, nor the shooting.
He said that on the day of the coup of October 15, 1987, he was “at Blaise Compaoré’s” with other men.
“We were under the orders of Hyacinthe Kafando, as head of security,” Ilboudo said.
Kafando, who became the chief adjutant of Compaoré’s presidential guard after the coup, was reportedly in charge of the squad. He’s on the run.
Compaoré has always denied suspicions that he organized the assassination and is also being tried in absentia.
Ilboudo said Kafando told him to go to the meeting Sankara attended.
On their arrival, Kafando and another individual by the name of Maiga, “who was driving Blaise Compaoré’s car, got out and opened fire,” he testified.
Kafando then ordered the men from the two cars to get out.
Some “went to the back of the building where President Sankara was located,” Ilboudo said.
He said he stayed in the car for what happened next, and did not open fire.
Compaoré ruled for 27 years before being overthrown by a popular uprising in 2014 and fleeing to neighboring Côte d’Ivoire.
Another prominent defendant is Compaoré’s former right-hand man, General Gilbert Diendere, who once led the elite presidential security regiment.
Compaoré and Diendere are accused of complicity in murder, endangering state security and complicity in concealing corpses.
Diendere is already serving a 20-year sentence for having instigated a plot in 2015 against the transitional government that followed Compaoré’s ouster.
Burkina Faso has long been overwhelmed by silence over Sankara’s assassination and many are angry that the killers have gone unpunished.
Sankara, a Marxist-Leninist, was an army captain when he came to power in a coup in 1983, just 33 years old.
A charismatic leader who rebels against capitalism, he rejects the name of the country of Upper Volta, a heritage from the French colonial era, and renames it Burkina Faso, which means “the land of honest men”.
He advanced a socialist program of nationalizations and outlawed female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages.