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The world stood still on last as Queen Elizabeth II, United Kingdom’s longest-serving monarch, died at Balmoral Castle, Aberdeen, Scotland, aged 96, after reigning for 70 years. The Queen came to the throne in 1952 and witnessed enormous social and political change not just in her kingdom but also around the world.

As provided for by royal tradition, her son Prince Charles, who was also the longest serving the Prince of Wales, spanning almost five decades, automatically ascended the throne as King Charles III.

Expectedly tributes have been pouring in from around the World in honour of this most distinguished lady who in many ways became a symbol of the best standards of royal culture in Western Europe. As a former British colony, Nigeria joined other world leaders in mourning the British monarch.

President Muhammadu Buhari described as sad the news the passing of Queen Elizabeth ll who performed her duty to the very last minute when she invited Liz Truss to form the next government barely two days before her death.

New United Kingdom Prime Minister, Liz Truss, said the death of Her Majesty the Queen is a huge shock to the nation and to the world. According to her, the late Queen’s life of service stretched beyond living memories, and in return, she was loved and admired by the people in the United Kingdom, the Realms and territories of the Commonwealth which she headed. and all around the world.

President of the United States of America, Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden said in a joint statement that the Queen in her lifetime defined an era. “The thoughts and prayers of people all across the United States are with the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in their grief,” the statement said.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan has described the late queen of England as a champion of social change and a protagonist of modern Britain. He said Queen Elizabeth was a well-loved sovereign. On his party, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he was ‘deeply saddened’ over the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, saying ‘her unwavering, lifelong dedication will be long remembered.’ “She was a good friend to the UN and a reassuring presence through decades of change,” Guterres said.

Elizabeth was born in Mayfair, London, as the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth). Her father acceded to the throne in 1936 upon the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, making Elizabeth the heir presumptive. She was educated privately at home and began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

In November 1947, she married Philip Mountbatten, a Prince of Greece and Denmark, and their marriage lasted 73 years until his death in April 2021. They had four children: King Charles, Anne, the Princess Royale; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. When her father died in February 1952, Elizabeth—then 25 years old—became Queen.

Significant events include Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 and the celebrations of her Silver, Golden, Diamond, and Platinum jubilees in 1977, 2002, 2012, and 2022, respectively. Elizabeth was the longest-lived British monarch and the second-longest reigning sovereign in world history, only behind Louis XIV of France. She also installed 15 Prime Ministers of UK.

Queen Elizabeth II held the record for the most countries visited by an individual monarch. She visited more than 120 countries on six continents. Canada is the country she travelled to more than any other country outside the United Kingdom.

We also recall that in 1956, Queen Elizabeth II visited Nigeria, three years after she ascended the throne. Sir James Robertson served as governor-general during this period, making him a proxy to the throne. During her visit, she toured the country with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. She spent a total of 20 days from 28 January to 16 February.

The second time Elizabeth II visited Nigeria was in 2003, hosted by then president Olusegun Obasanjo. The purpose of her visit was to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which was in held Abuja on Friday, 5 December.

Indeed, Nigeria and the United Kingdom enjoy a special relationship. The United Kingdom is regarded as a second home to many Nigerians. According to reports, there were approximately 178,000 Nigerian nationals residing in the United Kingdom as at 2021.

Also, according to a data by UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency, the number of Nigerians studying in the United Kingdom (UK) has risen from 13,020 in the 2019/2020 academic session to 21,305 by the 2020/2021 session. The figure, which amounts to an almost 64 per cent increase within a year.

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The Hainan Island incident occurred on April 1, 2001, when a United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft and a Chinese J-8II interceptor jet collided in mid-air, resulting in an international dispute between the United States and China (PRC).

The EP-3 was operating about 70 miles (110 km) away from the PRC island province of Hainan, as well as about 100 miles (160 km) away from the China military installation in the Paracel Islands, when it was intercepted by two J-8 fighters. A collision between the EP-3 and one of the J-8s caused a PRC pilot to go missing (later presumed dead); the EP-3 was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan without approved permission from the Chinese authorities.

The 24 crew members were detained and interrogated by Chinese authorities until a statement was delivered by the United States government regarding the incident. The exact phrasing of this document was intentionally ambiguous and allowed both countries to save face while defusing a potentially volatile situation between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.


This sea area includes the South China Sea Islands, which are claimed by the PRC and several other countries. It is one of the most strategically sensitive areas in the world. The United States and the People’s Republic of China disagree on the legality of the overflights by U.S. naval aircraft of the area where the incident occurred. This part of the South China Sea comprises part of the PRC’s exclusive economic zone based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Chinese claim that the Paracel Islands belong to China.

A PRC Sukhoi Su-27

A PRC Sukhoi Su-27 force is based at Hainan. The island also houses a large signals intelligence facility that tracks civil and military activity in the area and monitors traffic from commercial communications satellites. The United States has long kept the island under surveillance.

In the air

On April 1, 2001, the EP-3 (BuNo 156511), assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1, “World Watchers”), had taken off as Mission PR32 from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. At about 9:15 a.m. local time, toward the end of the EP-3’s six-hour ELINT mission, it was flying at 22,000 feet (6,700 m) and 180 knots (210 mph; 330 km/h), on a heading of 110°, about 70 miles (110 km) away from the island.

Two Chinese J-8s from Hainan’s Lingshui airfield approached. One of the J-8s (81194), piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3. On the third pass, it collided with the larger aircraft. The J-8 broke into two pieces; the EP-3’s radome detached completely and its No. 1 (outer left) propeller was damaged severely. Airspeed and altitude data were lost, the aircraft depressurized, and an antenna became wrapped around the tailplane. The J-8’s tail fin struck the EP-3’s left aileron, forcing it fully upright, and causing the U.S. aircraft to roll to the left at three to four times its normal maximum rate.

The impact sent the EP-3 into a 30° dive at a bank angle of 130°, almost inverted. It dropped 8,000 feet (2,400 m) in 30 seconds, and fell another 6,000 feet (1,800 m) before the pilot, Lt. Shane Osborn, got the EP-3’s wings level and the nose up. He then managed to control the aircraft’s descent by using emergency power on the working engines, allowing him to plan an emergency landing on Hainan.

A United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft

For the next 26 minutes, the crew of the EP-3 performed an emergency plan which included destroying sensitive items aboard the aircraft, such as electronic equipment related to intelligence-gathering, documents and data. Part of this plan involved pouring freshly brewed coffee into disk drives and motherboards and using an axe from the plane’s survival kit to destroy hard drives.

The EP-3 made an unauthorized emergency landing at Lingshui airfield, after at least 15 distress signals had gone unanswered, with the emergency code selected on the transponder. It landed at 170 knots (200 mph; 310 km/h), with no flaps, no trim, and a damaged left elevator, weighing 108,000 pounds (49,000 kg). The surviving Chinese interceptor had landed there 10 minutes earlier.

Wang was seen to eject after the collision, but the Pentagon said that the damage to the underside of the EP-3 could mean that the cockpit of the Chinese fighter jet was crushed, making it impossible for the pilot to survive. Wang’s body was never recovered, and he was presumed dead.

Cause of collision

Both the cause of the collision and the assignment of blame were disputed. The U.S. government stated that the Chinese jet bumped the wing of the larger, slower, and less maneuverable EP-3. After returning to U.S. soil, the pilot of the EP-3, Lt. Shane Osborn, was allowed to make a brief statement in which he said that the EP-3 was on autopilot and in straight-and-level flight at the time of the collision.

Based on the account of Wang Wei’s wingman, the Chinese government stated that the American aircraft “veered at a wide angle towards the Chinese”, in the process ramming the J-8. This claim cannot be verified since the Chinese government did not release data from the flight recorders of either aircraft, both of which are in its possession.

On the ground

The US Aircraft that was involved in the China faceoff

For 15 minutes after landing, the EP-3 crew continued to destroy sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, as per protocol. They disembarked from the aircraft after soldiers looked through windows, pointed guns, and shouted through bullhorns. The Chinese offered them water and cigarettes. Guarded closely, they were taken to a military barracks at Lingshui where they were interrogated for two nights before being moved to lodgings in Haikou, the provincial capital and largest city on the island. They were generally treated well, but were interrogated at all hours, and so suffered from lack of sleep.

Three U.S. diplomats were sent to Hainan to meet the crew and assess their conditions, and to negotiate their release. They were first allowed to meet with the crew three days after the collision. U.S. officials complained about the slow pace of the Chinese decision.

The 24 crew members (21 men and 3 women) were detained for 10 days in total, and were released soon after the U.S. issued the “letter of the two sorries” to the Chinese. The crew was only partially successful in their destruction of classified material, and some of the material they failed to destroy included cryptographic keys, signals intelligence manuals, and the names of National Security Agency employees.

Some of the captured computers contained detailed information for processing PROFORMA communications from North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, China and other countries. The plane also carried information on the emitter parameters for U.S.-allied radar systems worldwide. The fact that the United States could track People’s Liberation Army Navy submarines via signal transmission was also revealed to China.

Letter of the two sorries

The “Letter of the two sorries” was the letter delivered by the United States Ambassador Joseph Prueher to Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan of the People’s Republic of China to end the incident. The delivery of the letter resulted in the release of the U.S. crew from Chinese custody, as well as the eventual return of the disassembled aircraft.

Fighter pilot Wang Wei was killed because his parachute did not open in time as he tried to escape his aircraft, according to military sources. Photo: Baidu

The letter stated that the United States was “very sorry” for the death of Chinese pilot Wang Wei (王伟), and was “very sorry” the aircraft entered China’s airspace and that its landing did not have “verbal clearance”.

The United States stated that it was “not a letter of apology”, as some state-owned Chinese media outlets characterized it at the time, but “an expression of regret and sorrow”. China had originally asked for an apology, but the U.S. explained, “We did not do anything wrong, and therefore it was not possible to apologize”.

There was further debate over the exact meaning of the Chinese translation issued by the U.S. Embassy. A senior administration official was quoted as saying “What the Chinese will choose to characterize as an apology, we would probably choose to characterize as an expression of regret or sorrow”.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin accepted the expression of “very sorry” as consistent with the formal apology it had sought and released the Americans thereafter.


The crew of the EP-3 was released on April 11, 2001, and returned to their base at Whidbey Island via Honolulu, Hawaii, where they were subject to two days of intense debriefings, followed by a heroes’ welcome. The pilot, Lt. Shane Osborn, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “heroism and extraordinary achievement” in flight. The J-8B pilot, Wang Wei, was posthumously honored in China as a “Guardian of Territorial Airspace and Waters”. His widow received a personal letter of condolence from President George W. Bush.

The EP-3 crew arrives at Hickam AFB in Hawaii. Pictured saluting is U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Curtis Towne.

Source: Wikipedia

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“Hello darkness, my old friend…” Everybody knows the iconic Simon & Garfunkel song, but do you know the amazing story behind the first line of The Sounds of Silence?

It began 62 years ago, when Arthur “Art” Garfunkel, a Jewish kid from Queens, enrolled in Columbia University. During freshman orientation, Art met a student from Buffalo named Sandy Greenberg, and they immediately bonded over their shared passion for literature and music. Art and Sandy became roommates and best friends. With the idealism of youth, they promised to be there for each other no matter what.

Soon after starting college, Sandy was struck by tragedy. His vision became blurry and although doctors diagnosed it as temporary conjunctivitis, the problem grew worse. Finally after seeing a specialist, Sandy received the devastating news that severe glaucoma was destroying his optic nerves. The young man with such a bright future would soon be completely blind.

Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound of Silence (from The Concert in Central Park)

Sandy was devastated and fell into a deep depression. He gave up his dream of becoming a lawyer and moved back to Buffalo, where he worried about being a burden to his financially-struggling family. Consumed with shame and fear, Sandy cut off contact with his old friends, refusing to answer letters or return phone calls.

Then suddenly, to Sandy’s shock, his buddy Art showed up at the front door. He was not going to allow his best friend to give up on life, so he bought a ticket and flew up to Buffalo unannounced. Art convinced Sandy to give college another go, and promised that he would be right by his side to make sure he didn’t fall – literally or figuratively.

Art kept his promise, faithfully escorting Sandy around campus and effectively serving as his eyes. It was important to Art that even though Sandy had been plunged into a world of darkness, he should never feel alone. Art actually started calling himself “Darkness” to demonstrate his empathy with his friend. He’d say things like, “Darkness is going to read to you now.” Art organized his life around helping Sandy.

One day, Art was guiding Sandy through crowded Grand Central Station when he suddenly said he had to go and left his friend alone and petrified. Sandy stumbled, bumped into people, and fell, cutting a gash in his shin. After a couple of hellish hours, Sandy finally got on the right subway train. After exiting the station at 116th street, Sandy bumped into someone who quickly apologized – and Sandy immediately recognized Art’s voice! Turned out his trusty friend had followed him the whole way home, making sure he was safe and giving him the priceless gift of independence. Sandy later said, “That moment was the spark that caused me to live a completely different life, without fear, without doubt. For that I am tremendously grateful to my friend.”

Sandy graduated from Columbia and then earned graduate degrees at Harvard and Oxford. He married his high school sweetheart and became an extremely successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.

While at Oxford, Sandy got a call from Art. This time Art was the one who needed help. He’d formed a folk rock duo with his high school pal Paul Simon, and they desperately needed $400 to record their first album. Sandy and his wife Sue had literally $404 in their bank account, but without hesitation Sandy gave his old friend what he needed.

Art and Paul’s first album was not a success, but one of the songs, The Sounds of Silence, became a #1 hit a year later. The opening line echoed the way Sandy always greeted Art. Simon & Garfunkel went on to become one of the most beloved musical acts in history.

The two Columbia graduates, each of whom has added so much to the world in his own way, are still best friends. Art Garfunkel said that when he became friends with Sandy, “my real life emerged. I became a better guy in my own eyes, and began to see who I was – somebody who gives to a friend.” Sandy describes himself as “the luckiest man in the world.”

Adapted from Sanford Greenberg’s memoir: “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man’s Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life.”

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On April 6 2022, Blaise Compaore was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Thomas Sankara.

Earlier, a court in Burkina Faso’s capital indicted former President Blaise Compaoré for his role in the murder of his comrade, Thomas Sankara, on 15 October 1987.

The military court detailed Compaoré’s “complicity in the assassination”, the first time a court in the country has made such an accusation. Compaoré ruled the country until 2014, when he was forced to flee for neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire during a mass uprising.

The decision to try the former leader has been called a landmark moment. Sankara’s family has pursued justice for almost 34 years but while Compaoré was in power there was no possibility of bringing his murderers to justice.

The political history of Burkina Faso is one I have studied and written about extensively, with a particular focus on the circumstances leading to Sankara’s assassination.

It is important to unravel this event and its significance if a trial of Compaoré is to be understood (or to take place).

The Burkinabé revolution

Thomas Sankara was the president of the West African state of Burkina Faso when he was murdered at the age of 37. He was the leader of a bold initiative to transform a country trapped in a dependent relationship with the rest of the world, particularly France.

From the early 1980s, Sankara emerged as a challenger to the cynical class of post-independence leaders. Sankara was a radical army officer who became disgusted by the circulation of a self-serving elite in his country since independence in 1960. During prolonged military training in Madagascar in 1970s he read extensively and studied the history of the continent’s militant movements, and witnessed the toppling of the government in Madagascar itself by students and workers.

Sankara came to power in a popular coup on 4 August 1984. The Burkinabé revolution, as it became known, took place at the start of the age of economic austerity on the African continent. This arose from the structural adjustment policies demanded by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and from cuts to funding for public services.

Economic devastation  and the largely unreformed relationships of African states with former colonial powers formed a pattern which Sankara promised to break. He refused to accept that poverty in West Africa was inevitable, and offered a new kind of freedom.

Development projects imposed by the West had failed, and he saw the future in securing Upper Volta’s (as the country was known before 1984) separation from the exploitative linkages with France, the former colonial power. Sankara was an army officer who envisaged radical change instigated by a movement which could be directed from above, though with the mass participation of the poor.

Many of the reforms that were implemented under the brief period of Sankara’s rule were ambitious, and far-sighted. Sankara’s government launched a mass vaccination programme in an effort to eliminate polio, meningitis and measles. From 1983, 2 million Burkinabé were immunised.

Before 1983 infant mortality in Burkina Faso was at roughly 20% but fell in the period of Sankara’s presidency to 140 per 1000 births. These were vital and welcome initiatives, and they were introduced through state and community structures which had been introduced after the 1983 coup.

As part of the reforms, the Comités de Défense de la Révolution, an institution tasked with policing the revolution, charged themselves with translating instructions and government orders into reality, occasionally resorting to coercive measures. The work of these state sanctioned committees were not straightforward.

Sankara’s project was delivered from above to Burkinabé society. This isolated and weakened him.

Due to the political control of the Conseil National Révolutionnaire, the sovereign body of the revolution, with other parties and civil society organisations banned, Sankara was really vulnerable only to counter-coups from within the military – from forces who wanted to return, broadly speaking, to business as usual with French imperialism, and domestic interests who had profited richly from this relationship. Opposition, under Sankara’s instructions, had been marginalised or stamped out. This left him exposed, with only a small militant core by his side.

Sure enough, a counter coup came. It was ruthlessly planned and executed. Sankara was shot at the presidential residence by gunmen in military uniform.

Compaoré, who had been minister of state at the presidency during Sankara’s years, quickly denied involvement, claiming he was at home and sick. By the evening of the assassination, he was the new president. The new regime quickly returned Burkina Faso to its place in the global political–economic hierarchy – with little reaction from all the Burkinabé who had supported Sankara’s transformation ideas.

Sankara’s murder

There was no popular movement among the working class and the poor that might have resisted a return to the old state. Sankara had stripped himself of the ability to defend the transformation he had tried to achieve.

He had tried to substitute his popularity, charisma and oratory for a real movement that could confront the forces working towards his defeat.

When, in 1961, the Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon wrote about Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba’s murder and isolation, he was expressing the dangerous loneliness of the African radical intelligentsia, of which Sankara was a later representative:

‘Each time his enemies emerged in a region of the Congo to raise opinion against him, it was only necessary for him to appear, to explain and to denounce for the situation to return to normal. He forgot that he could not be everywhere at the same time and that the miracle of the explanation was less the truth of what he exposed than the truth of his person.’

With the possible arrest and trial of Compaoré for the murder of his comrade there might be a chance for justice. Compaoré delivered Burkina Faso and its great hopes for revolutionary change back into the hands of international power and French influence. For this he was overthrown by a popular insurrection in October 2014.


On the 15th of October 1987, the leader of the Burkinabe revolution was assassinated. Two years later, Sennen Andriamirado, editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique and an acquaintance to the former head of state, published “He was called Sankara”. Here is an account of President of Faso’s last day.

When Mariam woke up, Thomas Sankara, who had finally joined her in bed, in his turn fell asleep. On her tiptoes, the president’s wife leaves the room and prepares to go to work.

She has to be there at 3 p.m. Sankara will sleep for another hour, this daily nap is the only time this night owl gets to recover. A break all the more important seeing as the afternoon and the night of the 15th of October, 1987, are going to be long.

At 4 p.m. he leads one of the three weekly meetings for his special cabinet.

On the agenda: a report from one of his advisers who has just returned from Cotonou where he was speaking with the leaders of the Revolutionary People’s Party of Benin and collecting documents on the “Beninese Code of Revolutionary Conduct”; the project to create an a newspaper of the CNR (National Council of the Revolution).

At 8 p.m. there will be a complicated meeting regarding the OMR (Revolutionary Military Organisation).

© First anniversary of the seizure of power by Thomas Sankara, August 4, 1984. Photo Marc Van Muysen / JA Archives

Around 3.30 p.m. Mariam Sankara calls him on the phone. “Daddy is in the shower”, answers her eldest son, Philippe, who was seven years old at the time. She calls back ten minutes later. The president, in sportswear since the morning- white T-shirt and red jogging trousers, is ready to leave.

“First I am going to my 4 p.m. meeting at the ‘Conseil de l’Entente,” he said. Then I’m going to sport at 5 p.m. Afterwards I’ll probably come home for a shower but you won’t be home yet. I won’t see you till after the 8 p.m. meeting. We’ll talk tonight.

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In the meantime, the members of the special cabinet have begun to arrive in one of the villas of the Cartel Council, which serves as the headquarters of the NCR.

Alouna Traoré and Paulin Babou Bamouni made a detour through the offices to the presidency just opposite; the others, Bonaventure Compaoré, Frédéric Kiemdé and Patrice Zagré, came directly to the council. Christophe Saba, the permanent secretary for the CNR, has been there since this morning.

© Thomas Sankara in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, February 26, 1987. Archives Jeune Afrique-REA

At 16.20, he decided to call the President who had not yet left his residence, where he was talking with another one of his advisers, the deputy director of the presidential press, Serge Théophile Balima. “We are here Mr President. It is late and we are waiting for you”.

“I’ll be right there,” Sankara replies. He sends Balima back and gets into a black Peugeot 205.

The President sat in the passenger seat, as usual. “I like to see the road, and from behind you can’t see anything,” he often has to explain.

In the back seat are sat two bodyguards. The car following them is occupied by three other bodyguards plus the driver, also a soldier. They are all dressed in sportswear, this Thursday afternoon: twice a week in fact, on Monday and Thursday from 5pm, the Burkinabè are supposed to do exercise. The president and his guards are therefore only armed with their automatic pistol.

Arrival at the Council

At the Council, the members of the special firm are also dressed in sportswear, with the exception of Patrice Zagré, who came in a Mao shirt. At 4:30 p.m., the President arrives. He got out of the 205, followed by four of his guards, who settled in the corridor adjoining the meeting rooms. The drivers parked the two cars in a nearby courtyard and took shelter from the sun in the shade of the tall trees, particularly the Neem trees, which lined the garden.

At 16.35, the chairman takes a seat at the end of the U-shaped meeting table. Warrant Officer Christophe Saba, Paulin Bamouni and Frédéric Kiemdé are seated on his right. On his left are Patrice Zagré, Bonaventure Compaoré and Alouna Traoré. Thomas Sankara, always late but also always in a hurry, opened the working session: “Let’s make it quick, let’s start!”.

© From left to right: Blaise Compaoré, Thomas Sankara and Jean-Baptiste Lingani, August 4, 1983, the day Sankara took power © Archives Jeune Afrique

Alouna Traoré, who the day before had left on a fact-finding mission in Contonou, begins his report: “I left Ouago the day before yesterday at 6 p.m…”. He stops, his voice suddenly muffled by the sound of a most likely a pierced exhaust pipe from an approaching car.

Shocked and annoyed, Sankara asks: “What is that noise?”, soon joined by Saba, who frowns : “What is that noise?”.

The noise gets louder, a car- “a Peugeot 504 or a covered Toyota”, says the only direct witness who survived. The car stopped in front of the small gate of the villa. Immediately, the noise of the engine was covered by the roar of Kalachinikov shots.

The seven men gathered in the room flat on the floor, hiding behind the armchairs. Among them, the only one to be armed since his guards remained in the corridor or in the garden,  was Sankara who grabs his gun which he had placed on the table, within reach.  From outside, someone shouts: “Get out! Come out!”

Sankara gets up, sighs loudly and orders his counsellors: “Stay! Stay! It’s me they want!”. He leaves the meeting room with his hands in the air.

© Thomas Sankara, president of the National Council of the Revolution (CNR), in March 1986 in Bobo-Dioulasso. Fabrice GUYOT / JA Archives

“He had barely stepped out of the door before he was shot” says Alouna Traoré. “The attackers had come to kill”.

The guards, the drivers and a biker from the police, Soré Patenema, who came by chance to bring mail to the CNR headquarters had all been shot in the first burst of gunfire. A former member of President of Faso’s guard, a man nicknamed Otis, who had since then been reinstated in the ranks of the para-commandos of Po (commanded by Captain Blaise Compaoré, who made him one of his drivers) – bursts into the meeting room, pushes the president’s collaborators towards the exit: “Out! Get out! Get out!”.

All those who obeyed were shot in turn. At the last moment, Patrice Zagré tries to take refuge in the meeting room, a shot in the back finishes him off.

Two fatal strikes to the head

Alouna Traoré, through sheer fear or survivorship, both perhaps, found himself lying on the gravel alive, bathed in the blood of his comrades, whose moans and sighs of agony he hears as if he was in a nightmare.

Four civilian members of the special cabinet (Paulin Bamouni, Patrice Zagré, Frédéric Kiemdé and Bonaventure Compaoré), eight soldiers, including Warrant Officer Christophe Saba, a poor police officer who was passing by, the drivers of the presidential convoy and four bodyguards. Alouna stepped over the PF’s body without even realising it.

Looking over his shoulder, he sees Thomas Sankara on the floor. Two shots to the head immediately killed him. He hears someone shouting: “There is one who isn’t dead! The one in blue! Let him get up!”. Alouna Traoré, the man in a blue tracksuit, stands up.

He was told to move forward and then lie back on the ground, between two other bodies, those of the two drivers.

He feels agitated. Covered in blood without a scratch on him. Around him, the commandos are still firing, but this time in the air, as if they wanted the outside world to believe that there was a fight going on within the walls of the Conseil de l’Entente; and with acrimony, as if they wanted to believe that they were really fighting and defending themselves.

This went on for a long time, perhaps thirty minutes, they used up all their ammunition this way.

The Conseil de l’Entente transformed into an execution field

Alouna is still on the ground. From the corner of his eye, he sees the driver-guard of Captain Blaise Compaorés body,  Hamidou Maîga, walking towards him wearing a blue mechanics overalls. He looks at Alouna at says to the others: “Leave it! I’ll finish him off!”

An officer (“I don’t know him, Alouna Traoré will say, his face was scarred”) objected and shouted. “Bring me the survivor”.

Alouna Traoré is brought to him, and he orders him to lie down again. The survivor tries to crawl and get close to the wall. “Stay still!” he shouts, “otherwise you’ll join the others”.

How long did he stay like that on the floor? “Two or three hours,” he says, without further explanation, until a soldier threatened him: “You saw everything. We can’t let you leave like that. You’re going to join the others!”.

Alouna doesn’t understand the situation he is in. He has gone beyond the stage of fear and has taken refuge in the world of absurd.

Ever since lying between the corpses, an image has haunted him: a photo of Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, in the middle of young miserable Indians, whom he had looked at for a long time that very morning. And for now, his only desire is to urinate. He is allowed to do so and he goes to relieve himself for a long time between the flowers of the gardens of the Conseil de l’Entente, transformed that very afternoon into a killing field.

Thirteen missing bodies

He was then taken upstairs to the floor of a villa where CNR agents were grouped together, who heard everything without having seen anything of the drama: the doctor-warrant officer Youssouf Ouedraogo, assistant to the warrant officer Christophe Saba, and the whole secretariat of the Laurent Kaboré, who also worked at the CNR.

In the middle of them, he was surprised to discover Bossobé, a guard of the president. Alouna Traoré’s blue sports outfit is soaked in blood. His hands, face and hair are bloody. He is told to wash himself and then to sit down.

Long after the sun had set, Alouna hears cars manoeuvring in the alleys of the Cartel Council. He risks a glance out the window. The thirteen corpses have disappeared; tankers are cleaning the scene of the drama with large water jets. He will spend the night behind the scenes, he won’t sleep. Turning over and over in his head is the same question: “What could the President have done to deserve this?”

Where are the alleged killers?

Relaunched at the beginning of 2015 by the transitional regime after the fall of Blaise Compaoré, the investigation into the assassination of Thomas Sankara is being conducted by the military examining magistrate, François Yamégo. Of the seventeen people he has charged, six are in pre-trial detention, including Gilbert Diendéré, Blaise Compaoré’s former private chief of staff. Two other indictees, accused of having played a major role in the case , are still at large in Burkina Faso and are the subject of an international arrest warrant: Blaise Compaoré and Hyacinthe Kafando.

Exiled to Abidjan, Compaoré is not expected to face Judge Yamégo any time soon as the Ivorian authorities seem reluctant to extradite him.

The second, former head of Compaoré’s close guard and leader of the squad that murdered Sankara, was summoned by the judge on the 22nd of June 2015. But the former MP never appeared before the military court. He fled the country without leaving a trace  and is also, according to our sources, a refugee in Côte d’Ivoire.

Several unsolved leads

Apart from Compaoré and Kafando, most of the suspects were trialed. Summoned twice in 2016 by Judge Yaméogo, Salif Diallo, the former head of Compaoré who died last August, denied any responsibility to do with the assassination of Sankara. He also added that Blaise Compaoré could not ignore what was being planned. As for Gilbert Diendér, he said he had not been informed of any operation against Sankara and that it was Hyacinthe Kafando who took the initiative.

Judge Yaméogo, for his part, is interested in possible foreign involvements, in particular French, Ivorian and Togolese. He has sent a letter of request to Paris, asking for the lifting of the defence secrecy on certain archives and the hearings of various people. The French authorities responded in May, saying that they have “no objection”  but that they first need to obtain a “certain number of clarifications”.

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