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Burkina Faso Marks Dual Anniversary

Thomas Sankara, the charismatic former president of West Africa's Burkina Faso who gave the country its name, will be memorialized alongside the celebrations for progress made under the current rule of President Blaise Compaore. Mr. Compaore cam e to power in the coup that overthrew Mr. Sankara 20 years ago. Naomi Schwarz reports for VOA from Dakar.

Four p.m., Monday, October 15 is 20 years, exactly, since Thomas Sankara, himself a former Burkina Faso coup-leader, was assassinated during a coup.

The moment was set to be marked at his tomb. His widow, Mariam Sankara, would see the grave for the first time.

She was greeted with cheers at the airport late Sunday as she arrived from Paris. It is her first trip back to Burkina Faso since her husband was killed.

She said she was very happy to be back in her country.

The president of the committee organizing the commemoration, Cheriff Sy, says this anniversary is important because it marks a full generation since Mr. Sankara's death. It is important to share Mr. Sankara's legacy, he says, with Burkina Faso's youth.

Mariam Sawadogo, a law student in Ouagadougou is among the youth who are celebrating that legacy. She says for her, Mr. Sankara was a man of integrity, who fought, and eventually sacrificed himself, for the country.

Mr. Sankara is called the "father of the revolution" for his role in the tumultuous years in the 1980s when Burkina Faso underwent several coups and experienced infighting among political leaders. He took power after a 1983 coup in which current President Blaise Compaore also took part.

Mr. Sankara renamed the country from its colonial name, Upper Volta, to Burkina Faso, which means Land of honest men.

Supporters says he took important steps to bring democracy, curb corruption, create vaccination and housing programs, and promote women's rights. But detractors say his socialist government failed to bring economic growth.

Mr. Compaore, once a friend and close ally, overthrew Mr. Sankara in 1987 and the country adopted a more capitalist approach with the help of the International Monetary Fund.

Compaore supporters say Burkina Faso has benefited from his rule in the past 20-years.

A ruling party deputy in the national assembly party, Aline Koala, says lots of other countries in the region have had difficulties, but Burkina Faso has stayed peaceful, reduced poverty, and introduced multi-party democracy.

In a set of events running parallel to those commemorating Mr. Sankara, President Campaores party has chosen to celebrate this progress. There are marches scheduled across the country, and in Ouagadougou, a symposium on democracy in Africa with several heads of state attending.

Events commemorating Mr. Sankara's life and death culminate Thursday with a concert featuring artists from around the region. They are singing, they say, for those without voices.

Burkina Faso is one of Africa's largest cotton producers, but remains among the world's poorest countries. It has also faced criticism on human-rights issues and allegations that it was involved in illicit diamond trading with rebels during neighboring Sierra Leone's civil war.