In Burkina Faso, more than a dozen people went on trial Monday accused of involvement in the assassination of the leftist leader who gave the West African country its name. Thomas Sankara, often called "Africa's Che Guevara," changed the country's name from Upper Volta as part of an effort to move on from the French colonial area. Sankara—a military officer who came to power at age 33 in a 1983 coup—also redistributed land, nationalized industries, improved women's rights, and brought the country's literacy rate from 13% to 73% before he was killed along with 12 others in an October 1987 coup, four years and two months after he came to power, the BBC reports.
The coup was led by Blaise Compaoré, a close friend who helped Sankara seize power in 1983. Compaoré—ruled for 27 years before he was forced out by mass protests in 2014 —is among the accused, but he lives in exile in the Ivory Coast and is boycotting the trial. The other 13 defendants include Gen. Gilbert Diendere, who is already serving a 20-year sentence for plotting yet another coup in 2015, reports Al Jazeera. The defendants, who are being tried in a military court, face charges including complicity in murder and damaging state security. A doctor who signed a death certificate saying the bullet-riddled president had died of natural causes is charged with falsifying an official document.
Human rights groups criticized Sankara's rule, saying his political opponents were jailed and tortured, but his calls for African unity to counter "neo-colonial" institutions like the World Bank have made him an iconic figure across the continent. The subject of his assassination was taboo under Compaoré's rule, and Burkinians say they are glad the trial is finally underway. "We've waited a long time, all along the 27 years of Blaise Compaoré's regime," says brother Paul Sankara, per the BBC. "Under his rule we couldn't even dream of the possibility of a trial." (Read more Burkina Faso stories.)