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Unsolved Murder of Burkina's Revolutionary Leader Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara, who ruled Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987, was one of the most riveting leaders of the last half-century. A pan-Africanist, Marxist and gifted orator, he came to power following a coup and promptly began implementing a progressive political agenda.
He changed his homeland's name from the colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means "the land of the upright people". He strove to make the West African nation economically self-sufficient, promoting local industry and food security, redistributing land from landlords to peasants. He also promoted gender equality, proscribing polygamy and female circumcision. And he spoke out passionately against South African apartheid, and Western meddling in Africa.
Sankara's radicalism electrified Africa and the Third World more broadly - in September 1984 he was awarded the Jose Marti Order, the highest honor of the Cuban government.
But his attacks on capitalism and French and US interventionism also made him powerful enemies (he once publicly repudiated French President Francois Mitterrand at a state dinner for hosting an apartheid-era South African head of state).
On October 15, 1987, armed gunmen burst into Sankara's office, murdering the president and his 12 aides. His Minister of Defense Blaise Compaore would take over as head of state, and swiftly issue a statement - and death certificate - describing Sankara's demise as a "natural death".
But less than a month later, the magazine Jeune Afrique revealed that Sankara and his aides were actually murdered, their bodies dumped in a landfill outside the capital Ouagadougou.
Sankara's widow, Mariam, has long called for an investigation into her husband's death - asking that the remains be tested to assess whether they are indeed the remains of the former president, but for 27 years Compaore blocked all such efforts, saying "the facts are known" and that he has "nothing to hide".
As he would tell an audience in Harlem in 1984: "Our struggle is a call for building. But our demand is not to build a world for blacks alone and against other men. As black people, we want to teach other people how to love each other."Sankara has long been a hero to youth across the African continent. The vision that he advanced of internationalism and pan-African humanism resonated profoundly.
Sankara's name is often uttered in the same breath as that of Patrice Lumumba, another anti-colonial leader who was assassinated. The Ivory Coast reggae star Alpha Blondy would even compose a song about the betrayal of "Captain Sankara".
Sankara's name often rings out when democratic protests take place, at moments when change seems possible, as occurred recently in his land of birth.
In October 2014, Compaore was overthrown in a popular uprising as hundreds of thousands of youth took to the streets of Burkina Faso protesting the dictator's attempt to run for re-election. The protesters would form a movement called Balai Citoyen (Citizen's Broom), and after sweeping Compaore from power, began calling for a democratic society as envisioned by Sankara.
Last month, 10 political parties and "Sankarist" associations claiming to represent the late leader's progressive vision formed an alliance. These groups then forged a unity agreement and put forth a candidate Me Benewende Stanislas Sankara (no relation to the late revolutionary), who publicly demanded that an inquiry be opened into the coup of October 1987.
Michel Kafando, the head of the current interim government, has agreed, seeing a resolution of Sankara's death as necessary for national reconciliation - and as a way to smooth the country's transition to democracy. National elections are planned for October 2015.
A judicial order was issued, and on May 25, state workers began exhuming the body of Sankara and his 12 colleagues at the Daghnoen cemetery.
Experts will test the remains against DNA samples submitted by Sankara's sons Philippe and Auguste, both of whom are currently students in the United States. Kafando has also asked France to declassify the archives concerning Sankara's death.
The question now is whether the Burkinabe judiciary will go beyond exhuming Sankara's remains, and start calling high-ranking officials to testify in court over what happened in October 1987.
The Sankarist movement is now demanding that the interim government subpoena the former dictator Compaore - in exile in the Ivory Coast - and his former Chief of Staff Gilbert Diendere who apparently led the commando raid against Sankara's office - and still lives in the Burkinabe capital, to appear in court.
It remains to be seen if the interim government has the capacity - and international support - to do so. The next step for the activists is to connect with sympathizers and champions of Sankara beyond Burkina Faso's borders.
As Cherriff Sy, head of the national transition council, put it: "We believe that the case of Thomas Sankara is not the case of the Sankara family, or of Burkina Faso, but a case [of interest] for all of Africa, because all African youth want to know why this figure of hope was extinguished."
Ghanaian Inventors Who Are Stunning the World
Imagine having a television set that comes on after an effortless clap or by blowing air; picture yourself in a car that is engineless and starts with a simple push of a button tucked to your dress; or a change-over-machine that speaks and tells you where exactly a fire or electrical fault is in your home.
This is not fiction. It is not magic. It is not happening in Europe or Asia and not even in the United States. These products are being manufactured in the West African nation of Ghana.
A large African map showing a picture of Apostle Safo spinning a ball imprinted with pictures, a huge star beneath it and a miniature aircraft welcome visitors.
After driving past the tortoises, the first point of call was a workshop where a chopper was being manufactured alongside a hand-made engineless five-seater vehicle.
"The batteries can be recharged with solar energy or electricity. As you drive the car on the road, it converts the energy from the sun into mechanical energy which powers the car. Safo Jnr said they will ensure there is no risk in test-flying the chopper and explained how the engineless car will work.
"We do everything here. For the engineless car it is only the lights and the tires that were bought. Everything else from molding [parts], among others, was done by our local people."
"We are hoping to increase the number to 12 or 15 daily when we go commercial soon," Safo Jnr said.
"We have delayed ... going commercial because Africans and Ghanaians in general have the perception that once it is from Ghana, it is not good - durability is not assured, safety is not guaranteed. So we have decided to use the products ourselves and make sure they are good to go and standardized before we hit the market.
"They patronize it. In India they encourage made-in-India vehicles - like Mahindra - and that's my dream to one day see Kantanka cars on the streets of Accra, Kumasi and all over. I will be fulfilled," a visibly euphoric Safo Jnr pointed out in his office fitted with a locally made air-conditioner that is switched on and off by slotting in a card.
The card in the air-conditioner, explained Safo Jnr, works like one used for an ATM. It is programmed to start the air-conditioner, regulate the temperature and can tell the time when the unit should be turned off. It is multi-functional, he said.
While hugely ambitious and a potential source of pride for a country that is only known for its gold, cocoa and lately oil, the Kantanka project still raises major questions. Who, for example, will buy SUVs in a country where the average income is $1,400 and where just about everyone drives a used car? Do the carmakers perform crash tests, and will they meet the high standards of cars made in Europe and Asia?
Not even his self-made Limousine dubbed "Obrempong", the speaking change-over-machine, or a range of flat-screen television sets made with wood covers that respond to a simple clap to come alive, increase or reduce volumes have fascinated the government enough to support one of their own.
The Safo family is undaunted though.
"People tell us that we are wasting our time because we won't get anywhere. But we pay no attention to them, rather we make sure that we prove them wrong by meeting targets that we set for ourselves."
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