2009-09-03, Issue 446
http://pambazuka. org/en/category/ features/ 58463
Astounding allegations have come forth about the 1987 assassination of the
former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, through a documentary
aired on Italy’s public channel RAI3. The documentary, entitled ‘African
Shadows’ and by Silvestro Montanaro, details the alleged links of the
American and French secret services to Sankara’s assassins and the
involvement of the current President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré. This
week’s Pambazuka News brings you the striking three-part transcript of the
recent documentary, featuring the testimonies of well-known Liberian figures.
NARRATOR: This is an intriguing international issue. I am meeting with
Liberian Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, ex-wife of Charles Taylor.
SILVESTRO: Do you think that people should be worried if Taylor tells ‘the
truth’? Should important people?
LADY: Yes, absolutely. I am sure of it…
SILVESTRO: Very important people?
LADY: For sure. There is a part of this story that has remained hidden, even
from me. I am certain that he still holds secrets. How did he leave the US?
What deal did he make with Ghaddafi in order to train in Libya? Who were his
friends, and what information did they give him?
MOMO: He had lots of friends in the US…
SILVESTRO: Important people?
MOMO. Yes, certainly, business people.
SILVESTRO: Can you give me any names?
MOMO: Ah, no. I cannot divulge their names. I am not a fool… He had friends
in diplomatic circles, who have gone underground, but I know who they are,
and that they would not be happy if I spoke out. Taylor did not drop out of the
sky just like that. From prison to Liberia. It is them who sent him to Liberia,
and they are very aware of this fact!
NARRATOR: This gentleman, also considered a war criminal by the UN, was
Taylor’s aide-de-camp. Today, General Momo Jiba – one of those who know
the real story – gives us a glimpse of the goings-on during the reign of
SILVESTRO: Who sent him here?
MOMO: Those who sent him know themselves. The big hand. They know
everything. He did not come here alone. Taylor was in prison in the US … and
all of a sudden, he was in Monrovia. How did he get out of a US prison? How
was he able to escape?
SILVESTRO: The CIA?
MOMO: Eh heh... I cannot say it … a big hand, The Big Hand.
HISTORIAN: What happened in the US with Charles Taylor is quite a
NARRATOR: Liberia’s current minister of posts and telecommunications,
Marcus Dahn, is also one the country’s pre-eminent historians. He also
suspects a third force behind Taylor’s escape.
HISTORIAN: Taylor fled Liberia after President Doe accused him of stealing
millions of dollars from state coffers. He was arrested and was due for
extradition to Liberia. It is noteworthy that Taylor’s lawyer, Ramsey, one of the
best in the country, was attorney general under Jimmy Carter. Taylor was
incarcerated at a federal prison in Massachusetts, one of the most secure. It
seems to me especially difficult to escape from a federal prison…
Taylor managed to escape, to come back here and launch a revolution to
depose Samuel Doe.
BLEAH: It is impossible to escape form such a facility without someone’s
assistance. Taylor was not a little bird. Neither was he God, or a spirit.
NARRATOR: Mose Bleah was Taylor’s vice-president, and one of his top
aides. When Taylor fled, he became president for a period of a few months.
BLEAH: Many people, including some who currently occupy important posts in
the government, helped us. Even our current president admitted to having
assisted Taylor, and having given him financial assistance at the time.
SILVESTRO: But it was mostly the Americans…
BLEAH: Certainly … yes…
SILVESTRO: In what way?
BLEAH: How can I explain this to you… Our godfather – since some of us
Liberians consider ourselves a province of the US – helped us. The US
consented to Taylor becoming president.
ALLEN: You must understand that the leaders of the NPFL [National Patriotic
Front of Liberia] chose Taylor. The leadership of the NPFL included the likes
of Mrs Ellen Sirleaf, the current president.
NARRATOR: Cyril Allen was a leading figure in Taylor’s party, former head of
the National Petroleum corporation and is now one of the top names on the
ALLEN: They were seeking help in toppling Samuel Doe. So the Americans
asked whom they had chosen to lead their revolution. Their response was
immediate and unequivocal; we have a Liberian who has a bone to pick with
Samuel Doe. This man has a brilliant military mind, he is intelligent and
courageous… Unfortunately, he is in one of your prisons. We ask that you to
let him go so he can lead the revolution. They complied, and there Taylor
SILVESTRO: They agreed?
ALLEN: Of course, they made it possible for Taylor to escape.
MINISTER DOE: You need to find out from the State Department, from the
highest levels of the CIA, the FBI, and the political establishment … they know
what happened. Listen, I never want find myself in the American prison
system. It is practically impossible to escape. Incredibly, Taylor managed to
escape. Who was Taylor’s lawyer? Ramsey Clark, former US attorney general
and one of the most powerful men in the world. Taylor escapes from prison in
Boston and the next thing we know, Taylor is in Africa. When Taylor got here,
he had a sack-load of money. We enquired into the origins of the initial
US$25,000. I had all this information on my computer, but unknown
individuals destroyed it. Luckily, a friend of mine kept copies. One of the
signatures on the document was that of the current president, and the other
was, well, an American.
SILVESTRO: Where were you trained, prepared?
MOMO: I was trained…
SILVESTRO: Please be truthful.
MOMO: Yes… in Libya.
Sivlestro: Who trained you?
MOMO: He he, good question…
SILVESTRO: What kind of instructors did you have? Where were they from?
Which country? Please be honest.
MOMO: I cannot reveal that on camera, it is top-secret. But they were
SILVESTRO: Who supplied you with arms?
MOMO: For combat?
MOMO: He he.
SILVESTRO: The same people?
MOMO: No, no, it was a revolution, we provided for ourselves. Nobody gave
us anything. President Taylor used his own resources.
NARRATOR: At this point, I ask the filming crew to leave and return with a
hidden television camera.
SILVESTRO: So, who was it that trained you?
MOMO: He he … ok, I cannot tell him … besides he already knows…
SILVESTRO: The CIA?
MOMO: Yes, the CIA trained me.
SILVESTRO: How about Gaddafi … Libya.
MOMO: Don’t go there, that’s politics…
MOMO: Let’s not get into that, that’s politics.
SILVESTRO: And they gave you money…
MOMO: Money, everything.
MOMO: Everything, everything.
SILVESTRO: The CIA.
MOMO : Don’t go there… that’s politics
SILVESTRO: Good heavens.
MOMO: You know, they are dangerous … right now they want it kept quiet …
they would not appreciate us talking about it. If we do, it would be dangerous
SILVESTRO: How is it possible that the CIA helped Taylor escape from
LADY: I am sure that they were involved.
SILVESTRO: But after that, he was in Libya planning the war against Doe.
Libya was an enemy of the US.
LADY: I believe that Taylor was nothing but a pawn in this game. The US was
against Libya, but at the same time was eager to overthrow Doe. It is for this
reason that they needed an ally, and authorised Taylor going to Libya for
training to fight these people. Even before he triumphed and became
president, he was in constant contact with the US. He was part of a scheme to
topple Doe. He needed to be clear with his priorities: the Liberian question,
his orientations vis-à-vis the US, the natural resources at stake, especially
petroleum, from which the US would benefit. Liberia was a strategic target,
and for this reason, more important than the Libyan question.
NARRATOR: As General Momo states, Taylor was at this point working for
the CIA, spying on Gaddafi and infiltrating African liberation movements that
were training in Libya.
MOMO: It was a CIA operation.
SILVESTRO: The fact of the matter is that Taylor was working for the CIA,
and had been sent expressly to infiltrate African liberation movements that
were training in Libya.
MOMO: Those are the facts.
SILVESTRO: Are you sure about that?
MOMO: Absolutely. I was working with him, and we spoke about these issues.
I am not in the habit of lying.
SILVESTRO: And how did Taylor go about spying on Gaddafi for the CIA?
MOMO: One … a key area was Burkina Faso.
SILVESTRO: Taylor’s mysterious escape path crosses with the fate of
Thomas Sankara, the young president of Burkina Faso. Some time ago,
Liberian senator and former warlord Prince Johnson, told the Truth
Commission that he and Taylor had been involved in Sankara’s death. I
approached him so he would explain the story.
PRINCE: But this is not part of what you have written here…
SILVESTRO: It is part of the last question.
PRINCE: No, it isn’t. And in any case, you must stick to the agenda you
SILVESTRO: Excuse me?
PRINCE: You cannot raise a new issue that was not mentioned before.
SILVESTRO: Is it that difficult for you to answer the question?
PRINCE: No, no, it does not work like that.
SILVESTRO: So, what actually happened in Burkina Faso?
PRINCE: No, we … once an issue has been dealt with one, two, three times…
SILVESTRO: The issue of Thomas Sankara?
PRINCE: This is getting tedious.
SILVESTRO: Excuse me?
PRINCE: I went to the Truth Commission, I gave an interview to the French
media that was broadcast worldwide, and I will go on repeating what I said
about Burkina Faso.
SILVESTRO: I understand, but please answer the question.
PRINCE: Right, after I spoke, the president of Burkina Faso faced all kinds of
problems, and I do not want to end up there again. Besides, if you really want
to know what happened in Burkina Faso, why don’t you go there and ask
President Blaise Compaoré … you are part of the international media, you
are like a doctor, to whom the truth must be told. Therefore, go to Burkina
Faso… (bursts of laughter).
NARRATOR: Then, with the camera ostensibly off...
PRINCE: There was an international plot to get rid of this man, and if I tell you
how this happened, are you aware the secret services could kill you?
SILVESTRO: An international plot. Because the truth would harm the current
president Blaise Compaoré. In 1987 when Sankara was murdered, Compaoré
was considered his best friend. Immediately after Sankara’s death, Compaoré
said 'I was ill'.
NARRATOR: Momo and Allen recount to me what exactly happened.
ALLEN: Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Blaise Compaoré, Thomas
Sankara, Domingo Guengeré, and ... Foday Sankoh, as well as the man from
Chad, whose name I can’t recall, had all been trained in Libya and were all
friends. They are the ones who actually organised the Burkina revolution and
installed Sankara as president. Once in power, he set about putting in place
his plans. The next thing you know, the US had infiltrated the liberation
movements and set about overthrowing Sankara, who was leaning too far left.
The Americans were not happy with Sankara. He was talking of nationalising
his country’s resources to benefit his people. He was a socialist so he had to
____________ _________ _________
This section contains a sequence of archive images. What follows is the
commentary accompanying the images.
NARRATOR: Video showing Sankara: Thomas Sankara was president of
Upper Volta from 1983–87, and renamed it Burkina Faso, meaning 'land of
the honourable'. To avoid foreign dictates, he refused aid from the IMF and
the World Bank. Burkina Faso was semi-arid, hungry, indebted and had one
of the highest infant mortality rates, with no hope of going it alone. He had to
fight desertification, achieve food self-sufficiency, and provide healthcare.
The new motto was 'two meals a day and ten litres of water a day for all every
day'. The whole country, especially women, were mobilised to achieve this
goal: to consume only what the country could produce on its own, without
unnecessary imports and military purchases, end waste, privilege and
corruption. He led by example.
SANKARA: Our ministers can only fly economy, not first class. We have
abolished presidential immunity, and are in the process of lowering civil
service salaries. There are court proceedings against those who are robbing
our country, and these are taking place in public.
NARRATOR: Sankara ate millet, like the peasants in his country, travelled
around in a small ordinary car, always wore traditional dress, and never had
any personal property. His presidential salary was a pittance, and he shamed
every other statesman in the world and at home. His example was not
followed with enthusiasm. Roads, railways, schools and hospitals were built,
agricultural production grew and desert was reclaimed. In the space of four
years, the goal of two meals a day and ten litres of water was a reality. But
the spectre of external debt racked up by past corrupt governments loomed.
Sankara was fighting on the global stage against this new debt-slavery.
SANKARA: We must speak in one voice, saying this debt cannot be paid. And
since I am the lone voice, I will be assassinated. We must say together, we
cannot pay, because we have to work to build a future for our people. If only
Burkina Faso refuses to pay, I will not be here at the next conference.
Silvestro’s comments: Sankara did well, and did it for all. He called into
question the delicate power dynamics of the time. It was an issue that needed
to be tackled. Momo Jiba and Cyril Allen, Taylor’s closest allies, recount what
____________ _________ _________
The interview continues
MOMO: My boss told me to approach Sankara for help in taking power in
Liberia. In return, he offered lucrative business opportunities. Thomas
Sankara told him he was not interested and asked him to leave the country.
He told him that he would not help and asked him to find another staging
point for his rebellion. Guengere, who is currently Burkina Faso’s minister of
defence, Blaise Compaoré, Charles Taylor, and Chad’s current president …
you know who he is?
MOMO: Yes, him too.
MOMO: They all met in Mauritania for a whole day … after a while they were
joined by a white man from Paris. The discussions carried on, and then there
was another meeting in Libya, where the Sankara problem was discussed
some more. What emerged was that if we were to use Burkina Faso as a
launching pad, Sankara had to be eliminated. Blaise Compaoré, would
become president, and he would help us…
SILVESTRO: And was Gaddafi okay with the plan?
MOMO: Yes, yes … please remember, this must all remain confidential.
SILVESTRO: Yes, yes…
MOMO: If Gaddafi helped Taylor, and France sent word that they were in
support of the coup d’état … better yet, if France provided funds and
indicated that they would recognise Compaoré’s government, then all was
well. Blaise told Guengere, the current Burkinabe army chief to avail a group
of commandos, Taylor provided other troops, and the coup was staged.
SILVESTRO: Was France the only country involved?
MOMO: France was totally involved.
SILVESTRO: What about the US and the CIA?
MOMO: I am not sure of that … I don’t want to tell you lies.
ALLEN: The Americans and the French sanctioned the plan. There was a CIA
operative and the US embassy in Burkina Faso working closely with the
secret service at the French embassy, and they made the crucial decisions.
SILVESTRO: So the CIA and the French secret service…
ALLEN: And the French secret service decided to eliminate Sankara. Those
are the facts.
MOMO: They sent their men, some commandos, and then there was Prince
Johnson, and myself. We communicated by walkie-talkie, we had all the
information on Sankara … when he left home, and when he returned …
everything was planned.
SILVESTRO: Were you there?
MOMO: Of course, I was in Burkina Faso, I was part of the operation.
SILVESTRO: And were you present when Sankara was assassinated?
MOMO: Of course, I was in the room when he was assassinated.
SILVESTRO: What do you remember of that moment?
SILVESTRO: Sankara was waiting to meet Blaise Compaoré?
MOMO: No, it was not a meeting … there were important discussions taking
MOMO: And Blaise Compaoré, after seeming to have returned home at
exactly midnight, was there, ready to act with the others … he entered the
room and fired.
ALLEN: He fired the first shot … Sankara was seated and Compaoré was
across the table. Then there was a second shot, Sankara sank into the chair
and died … a few seconds before that, he had been speaking to Compaoré.
MOMO: I was right there when Thomas Sankara said, 'Blaise, you are my best
friend, I call you my brother, and yet you assassinate me?' Blaise made an
irritated gesture and said something to him in French – I don’t understand
French very well – and then he fired a shot.
ALLEN: If Blaise Compaoré had not shot Sankara, Guengere would have
done so, and would now be president. All of this was part of America’s interest
in controlling Burkina Faso.
NARRATOR: Whatever the case, one thing is certain: The good will is gone
and Burkina Faso is once again one of the world’s poorest countries.
____________ _________ ________
We hope this documentary will contribute to the search for the truth, and lead
to more vital testimonies.
We do not fully believe the version of events where Sankara was
assassinated at midnight in the presence of Blaise Compaoré, who fired the
fatal shot. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the assassination took
place between 16:00 and 17:00. However, we must remain open to this.
For a long time, Liberians have been suspected to have been implicated in
the death of Sankara. Up to this point, not a single Liberian had offered an
explanation as to what their role was. We have serious doubts as to the
veracity of this account of the day he was assassinated, but the Liberian
connection is confirmed.
We unearthed a fresh confirmation of the accusations against France and
Of great importance here is the implication of the CIA. Neither is this the first
time that Liberians have confirmed it in detail. Charles Taylor would surely
have collaborated with the CIA to infiltrate African revolutionary circles.
There are already several accounts that express surprise at Taylor’s escape
from the US. Shortly before the release of this documentary, Taylor himself
recounted his surreal 'liberation escape' during the Special Tribunal on Sierra
Leone, and confirmed that he had received assistance.
The producer can confirm that this documentary was shot before the release
of the Liberia Truth Commission report that implicates the current president
and several other personalities.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Silvestro Montanaro is an Italian journalist working for RAI3.
* This documentary was aired on 15–29 July 2009 on RAI3. The content is
also available at Farafinamag. The Italian version is available from Thomas
Sankara and RaiTV.
* Translated from French by Josh Ogada
* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka. org
or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Italian revelations on the
assassination of Thomas Sankara
Thursday, September 3, 2009 9:38 PM
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Spirit of a Dove - Black