On October 15, 1987 a military coup d'état took place in Burkina Faso, and the president Thomas Sankara was assassinated. Sankara himself had gained power in 1983 when he had toppled the Ouédraogo regime in a coup d'état that was organized by Blaise Compaoré and supported by Libya. In an ironic twist of events, it was Blaise Compaoré who went on to lead the subsequent coup d'état in 1987.
Although he was only in power for four years, Thomas Sankara had become an incredibly popular leader. He had declined foreign aid and adopted an anti-imperialist foreign policy. His domestic policy centered around poverty reduction; agrarian self-sufficiency land reform; public health and the vaccination of 2.5 million children; literacy and a commitment to women’s rights that saw him outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy. His radical and progressive policies seemingly required greater control of his society though and Sankara became increasingly authoritarian in his governance of Burkina Faso, banning unions, free press and anything else that he saw to stand in his way.
Sankara’s popularity rose to dizzying heights amongst the poorest and most vulnerable of his citizens, but his policies and authoritarian practices began to alienate some very powerful people, including the Burkinabè middle class, tribal leaders and those with foreign trade ties to France (Sankara had maintained strong ties with Libya and Ghana). France backed Blaise Compaoré in leading the 1987 coup d'état in which Sankara was assassinated.
Air Force Lieutenant Etienne Zongo was President Sankara’s chief military officer and had served at his side since October 1983. He went missing on the day that Sankara was assassinated, and for several agonizing days, his family thought that he had been killed in the coup d'état, only to discover that his name was not on the list of the dead. When Everything Has Fallen is an autobiographical account of these events written by Etienne Zongo’s daughter Nathalia Zongo. This is a deeply personal memoir that follows the immediate aftermath of the coup d'état and the family’s struggles to pick up the pieces in the following years. The book details military raids on the family household as soldiers searched relentlessly for Lt. Zongo and his release into custody that was negotiated by the Ambassador of Cuba and the Embassy of Ghana. Lt. Zongo had his passport confiscated and was then interrogated, tortured and held under house arrest before being detained without trial for two years. Released in August 1989, Lt. Zongo fled to neighboring Ghana in fear of his life and disappeared from his family for seven years.