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Travel

At Sankara’s Ignored Tomb

Building where Thomas Sankara was murdered
Building where Thomas Sankara was murdered. PHOTO | DAISY OKOTI | NMG 

Ouagadougou feels like a village but with bigger roads. It is dusty and hot and the remnants of war still reek in the air. The parliament and cars that were set on fire five years ago by protesters fighting former president Blaise Compaore when he wanted to extend his 27 year rule are still intact.

The first thought that came to mind when I saw these is the revolutionary Thomas Sankara, the iconic figure of revolution. Almost 32 years after his assassination, his soul still lingers. It is easy to feel the pulse of his vision of hard work and self-reliance. It is in the friendliness of the people and the scent of honesty that wafts from Burkinabes. The Thomas Sankara International Airport is nothing to write home about. First, they hiked the visa fees because there were many visitors coming in for the Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Fespaco). Then the photographer at the visa section was in a hurry that he took my picture with my eyes half closed.

No glamour

There were signs everywhere written in French. I had to rely on my friend and mentor, Dr Mshai Mwangola to translate.

Compounded with fatigue and the humid weather, I doubted if I would have fun in ‘Ouaga.’

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What was interesting was the women riding motorbikes while holding on to their handbags and some riding while carrying babies on their backs or balancing a tray of delicious-looking strawberries on their heads.

Ouagadougou has no masterpiece skyscrapers. The tallest building has just about five floors.

The television and film festival of Ouagadougou, the oldest film festival in Africa, which was celebrating its 50th year, enjoys government support. Throughout the city, it was easy to feel the spirit of the film festival — cinemas were full (at least on the nights when I ventured out to watch movies) and the enthusiasm with which the locals treated the event can put us to shame.

The show-stopper: the prestigious display of the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, named after a beautiful princess who rode horses much better than her brothers, and the kingdom’s warriors.

She became the mother of the Mossi people and in Ouagadougou, one can see Yennenga’s statues at many places in the city.

Sankara’s tomb You cannot leave Ouagadougou without visiting Sankara’s cemetery; get a place to eat plantain, guinea fowl and jollof rice. I went to the market, which has no second-hand clothes, thanks to Sankara who encouraged Burkinabes to buy tunics made locally.

We eventually got to the former resting place of Sankara — a neglected spot in a public cemetery. We were told that even before the bones were exhumed and sent to Germany for DNA testing, his grave had been long abandoned by a regime that tried so hard to ensure that Sankara’s memory was erased from Burkina Faso.

Unlike many African leaders who lay in mausoleums that attract tourists or statues, Sankara’s was unveiled on March 2, 2019, three decades after his death.

It stands next to where he was assassinated. The five-metre high bronze statue is erected on four hectares at the headquarters of the National Council of the Revolution, where Sankara was killed.

Thousands of Burkinabes and former president of Ghana Jerry John Rawlings attended the ceremony.

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