Demand for inquiry into France's role in assassination of African leader

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On February 13, a member of the French Chamber of Deputies tabled a motion to begin a parliamentary investigation of the assassination of Captain Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, in 1987.

Sankara, who himself took power in a coup d'état in 1983, was a progressive and charismatic leader who is sometimes referred to as Africa's Che Guevara. Succeeding a regime seen as subservient to France, Sankara changed the name of his country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means land of men of integrity. He was considered incorruptible, and gained the love and support of poor Burkinabés (as the people of Burkina Faso are called) because of his programs of land reform, agricultural development, improved health care and schools and other similar things. Two very popular emphases of Sankara's policies were the improvement in the situation of women and the curtailment of the traditional powers of tribal chiefs, who were seen by many as corrupt. He nationalized all land and subsoil wealth of Burkina Faso.

But in 1987, he was overthrown and killed in a military coup organized by Blaise Compoaré, at that time a military officer also, and now president of Burkina Faso. The reason given for the coup was that Sankara's nationalizations and anti-imperialist rhetoric were angering the French and neighboring African countries aligned with France. With Sankara out of the way, many of his progressive policies were reversed, including the nationalizations. But Sankara's supporters have not forgotten him in the ensuing 26 years, and have kept up a campaign to achieve justice for Sankara, and a return to his progressive socialist policies.

The belief that France and perhaps the United States were involved in the overthrow and killing of Sankara did not come from nowhere. Besides the flat statement by the Compoaré group that they overthrew Sankara because he was annoying the French, many of the individuals who have carried out coups in Africa have been former French or French colonial army officers, and the involvement of French security services and business interests in such actions is well known. The CIA has also been involved in several coups, most notably in the overthrow of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1960 and of Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. In each case, the leader overthrown and/or killed was seen as a threat to French, U.S. or other western business interests because of his progressive policies.

Earlier this year, the French newspaper Liberacion published a story which strongly suggests some sort of French security involvement in the incident in 1994 in which an airplane carrying the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda was shot down over the Rwandan capital of Kigali, an incident which helped trigger the Rwandan genocide and some other current conflicts in Central Africa.

People in Burkina Faso cannot get at the necessary French government records under normal circumstances.

So in 2011, a group of Burkinabé parliamentarians wrote to the French National Assembly calling for it to begin an inquiry into the Sankara assassination. A motion to that effect has now been tabled in the lower house of the National Assembly by Andre Chassaigne, a deputy from the French Communist Party. A guest from Burkina Faso's left-wing Union pour la Renaissance/Parti Sankariste, Me Benewende Stanislas Sankara, attended the 36th Congress of the French Communist Party this month. On returning to Burkina Faso, he participated in a press conference in the Burkinabé capital, Ouagadougou, to advance the same demands.

Mr. Chassaigne's motion coincides with an increasing level of U.S., French and NATO involvement in African affairs, including an exponential expansion of U.S. military missions under the AFRICOM command. The latest is that the Republic of Niger is now allowing the U.S. to set up drone bases in the Southern part if its territory, near the border with Mali.

It's necessary that we in the United States also be ready to demand answers from our own government.

Photo: Thomas Sankara website.

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