Death Of A Native Son

We must dare to invent the future.

Thomas Sankara [2007a, 141-144]

On the night of October 15, 1987, in a cemetery on the outskirts of the city of Ouagadougo, a group of soldiers arrive by truck, and begin frantically digging in the earth. Their bodies attack the hard ground with shovels, as other men stand at a distance giving them orders in low voices. Hidden by the darkness of a moonless and starless night, the soldiers fight with the ground and against the fear that fills their hearts. There are twelve corpses carelessly tossed in the back of the truck. Some of the bodies are still in their military fatigues, while others are near naked and show signs of beatings. All are riddled with bullets. A couple of soldiers stand at guard near the truck, smoking cigarettes, kicking at the dirt and anxiously waiting for this night to be over. As far as they know, they are alone in this forsaken spot. But they are wrong. Despite the lateness of the hour, the darkness of the night and the desolation of the location, there are eyes that watch them, for in the shanty town that lies on the edges of the cemetery, the people listen, watch and wait.

The corpses are dragged out from the back of the truck, and one by one, thrown into the freshly dug grave. Orders are shouted and the soldiers get to work filling the dirt back in. The excess dirt is spread out around the graves, and the men are ordered to flatten the dirt and erasure obvious signs of digging. In the shanty town they hear the soldiers begin a dance on the graves, their army boots beating like drums and throwing up clouds of dust. A few minutes later, the job done and the sweat wiped off their brows, the soldiers hurriedly retreat into the truck and drive away into the night. As the lights of the truck fade into the distance, the night again spreads its silent cloth, the wind sweeps across the plain, gently disturbing the weeds between the grave stones and the dust – impatient and unforgiving, settles upon the earth. Everything returns to as it was before the soldiers arrived.

But the shanty town lies awake, and listens and waits. It refuses the silence of the night, as mouths speak and ears listen and tell the story of what they have witnessed. And forever etch it into the memory of a people. The following morning, the inhabitants of the shanty town emerge from their homes and walk towards the spot where the bodies had been dumped. Some kneel to say their prayers, some stand in silence, while others pick up rocks and mark the location. These rocks become the foundation of a mausoleum to the killed men. Soon, word spreads across the city about the events of the previous night at Dagnoen cemetery and throughout the day people keep arriving to reclaim the memory, and pay homage to their greatest son, murdered in cold blood: Thomas Noël Isidore Ouédrago Sankara.

February 20th, 2016.