The government of Burkina Faso on Wednesday ordered the exhumation of the corpse of former president Thomas Sankara, slain in a 1987 coup.
A government decree said the move was aimed at formally identifying the remains of Sankara, who was assassinated in a putsch that saw his former friend and protege Blaise Compaore take power.
Sankara, a popular Marxist army captain who was one of Africa’s most idealised leaders, was buried in a cemetery in the east of the capital Ouagadougou but many of his family members doubt if the corpse is indeed his.
Compaore held power for 27 years, but stepped down on October 31, 2014, after angry mass rallies opposing a bid to amend the constitution to allow him to stay in power.
The new Burkina government headed by Michel Kafando said Sankara’s family would be provided with the necessary means to help identify the corpse. But Sankara’s widow Mariam on Wednesday denied that she had been approached by the government on the issue.
Sankara’s family has been asking in vain since 1997 for an investigation amid claims that the corpse buried in his grave was not that of the former leader.
Compaore’s regime obstructed their efforts and even ignored an order from the African Court on Human and People’s Rights for DNA testing of the body in Sankara’s grave.
A pan-Africanist revolutionary, Sankara transformed what was then the former French colony of Upper Volta into Burkina Faso, which means “Land of the Upright Men”. His spirit loomed large during the recent anti-Compaore protests.
After taking power in November, Kafando promised to look into the questions over Sankara’s body.