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Burkina Faso Is Exhuming the Body of Africa’s Che Guevara

One of the first orders of business for the transitional government of Burkina Faso? The exhumation of the country’s former president, Thomas Sankara, who was killed in a coup in 1987. Michel Kafando, the country’s transitional leader, said the body will be exhumed to settle the question of Sankara’s fate once and for all. After ...

BURKINA-POLITICS-OPPOSITION-DEMO
A Burkinabe opposition supporter holds a posters bearing a portrait of late leader Thomas Sankara during an opposition rally in Ouagadougou on August 23, 2014. Burkina Faso's opposition leader Zephirin Diabre called to protest against plans of a referendum to revise the Constitution to allow Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore to run for presidence for a third mandate. The poster reads "No to the Senat - No to the referendum - No to the revision of the act 37 - Not a step without the people". AFP PHOTO/AHMED OUOBA (Photo credit should read AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the first orders of business for the transitional government of Burkina Faso? The exhumation of the country’s former president, Thomas Sankara, who was killed in a coup in 1987.

Michel Kafando, the country’s transitional leader, said the body will be exhumed to settle the question of Sankara’s fate once and for all.

After his death, Sankara was quickly buried by the new administration, and his family claims they never had the chance to confirm his identity. A revolutionary who is known by many as the African Che Guevara, Sankara was overthrown by his close friend, Blaise Compaoré.

Compaoré led the country under a veil of controversy and corruption for more than 25 years before he stepped down last October amid massive street protests calling for his resignation. The protests erupted after he tried to amend the constitution to lengthen his rule.

Today, many Burkinabé still pledge allegiance to Sankara’s Marxist policies that sought to free Burkina Faso from colonial ideals, revamp the country’s economy, and improve its educational system.

In October, youth who never lived under Sankara’s rule were seen marching through the streets carrying his photos and chanting his name.

But according to Agence France-Presse, Sankara’s widow claimed she has not yet been approached by the government.

“We, the family … cannot exhume the corpse,” she said. “We want the judiciary to do it.”

If reports of the exhumation prove to be true, the results of DNA testing could reignite the controversy over the unsolved case. Compaoré is now said to be living in the Ivory Coast.

AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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