OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO (AP) – Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaore returned to the West African country on Thursday, the first time since being ousted in a popular uprising eight years ago.
The former leader arrived at the Ouagadougou airport, according to Western diplomats and the Emir of Lipatko, a traditional leader.
Compaore, who’s been in exile in neighbouring Ivory Coast since 2014, came back to be part of an unprecedented meeting yesterday between the head of the junta that seized power in January and former heads of state to discuss Burkina Faso’s future, said a statement by the government.
Compaore joined past presidents Michel Kafando, Yacouba Isaac Zida, Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo and Roch Marc Christian Kabore, according to the statement. It’s unclear how long Compaore will stay in the country.
Yesterday’s meeting had been called by the ruling junta led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba who seized power in a coup in January and has had himself appointed interim president.
The summit meeting of former leaders comes as Burkina Faso grapples with soaring extremist violence linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group that has killed thousands and displaced nearly two million people.
Compaore, who seized power from his long-time friend and revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara in a 1987 coup, ruled Burkina Faso with an iron fist for nearly 30 years.
He was known for both fuelling regional conflicts in West Africa and playing peacemaker, supporting warlords like Liberia’s Charles Taylor.
However, Compaore was praised by the United Nations for contributing to peace and stability in Mali when the neighbouring country was nearly overrun by extremists a decade ago.
Compaore was ousted in 2014 after weeks of protests sparked by legislative proposals to remove term limits, which would have allowed him to extend his rule.
Compaore’s return has sparked mixed reactions.
He was recently tried in absentia and sentenced to life in prison after being found complicit in Sankara’s murder in 1987 and for undermining state security.
Lawyers for the Sankara family have called for his arrest upon arrival, said a statement issued earlier this week seen by The Associated Press. The military junta said yesterday’s meeting doesn’t “hinder legal proceedings” against some of those attending, but didn’t elaborate on what that meant.
Compaore’s return is controversial and a step backward for the conflict-riddled nation, said conflict analysts.
“As much as current authorities are trying to make this look like part of reconciliation efforts, it also sends the wrong message,” said senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Moroccan-based organisation, Rida Lyammouri.
“Removing Blaise from power in 2014 was celebrated as a victory against an authoritarian regime, but his return is yet another step back in Burkina Faso and its fight for a better democracy,” said Lyammouri.