Troubles after the coup. Burkina Faso's new leader seeks to win over disaffected population and mend ties with African neighbors and the West
Abidjan, Ivory Coast — One month after the violent overthrow of President Thomas Sankara, tension has eased in Burkina Faso. But the new government of Capt. Blaise Compaore faces an uncertain future. His rule is not readily accepted by many of the rural people who form most of the country's population and were the backbone of Mr. Sankara's support. And, he has already faced opposition within the Army.
Many city dwellers, however, felt their living standard had fallen under Sankara, and are ready to back Mr. Compaore.
One of the new leader's biggest tasks will be balancing the demands of Burkina Faso's many political factions, especially the once-powerful trade unions and communist groups Sankara had alienated.
In choosing his Cabinet, Captain Compaore seems to have given such groups representation, but not an overwhelming presence. It includes five ministers from the former Sankara Cabinet and three ministers come from the more moderate communist groups.
He reduced the number of women in the Cabinet from five to three. He also eliminated the post of minister of Family Affairs and National Solidarity, and let go its head, Josephine Ouedraogo, who had done pioneering work in family law and women's rights.
Compaore says he intends to continue the ``People's Revolution'' he helped establish four years ago with the charismatic Sankara, who was killed in the Oct. 15 coup d'etat. According to Compaore, Sankara was overthrown because his policies had begun to undermine the ideals of that revolution.
In a desperately poor country where 90 percent of the people are subsistence farmers, the revolution could be stalled unless Compaore can mobilize rural residents, most of whom see his hands as indelibly stained with Sankara's blood.
``The people in the countryside loved Sankara, and they were willing to work for him because he brought our villages schools and clean water,'' said a Burkinabe laborer in Abidjan who just returned from Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta). ``They will not follow Compaore.''
His sentiments were echoed by several Burkinabe interviewed recently. ``Even if Compaore does a good job, the people will never, never forgive him for killing Sankara,'' said a prominent Burkinabe living in Abidjan.
Many Burkinabe fear that a dangerous precedent has been set by Sankara's murder, the first assassination in five coups Burkina Faso has had since independence in 1960. ``Now that they've started killing, people are afraid that this government will continue to kill,'' said a Burkinabe in Abidjan.
Compaore has spent a lot of time since the coup explaining the overthrow, since some reports counter his statements.
Compaore says Sankara planned to have him and two other officials killed the afternoon of the coup, and opened fire when Compaore's men went to arrest him. Some reports, however, say that Sankara was unarmed when Compaore's men gunned him down.
Sankara, Compaore says, had steered the revolution off course by advocating ``bureaucratization, militarization, and the assertion of personal power.'' Sankara had begun advocating a one-party system, which Compaore and his colleagues opposed, and had stopped consulting the people on major policy decisions, says Compaore.
To increase democratic participation, Compaore has sent delegations to rural areas to consult with the people on what he calls ``rectification of the revolution.'' After those consultations, he says he will announce a national program.
But his delegations have frequently been met with cool, and sometimes hostile reception. Additionally, some marches organized to support the new regime had to be canceled for lack of participants. One dissident military garrison, whose commander refused to pledge allegiance to Compaore, was taken over by force. The officer in charge allegedly fled to neighboring Ghana - whose radical leader was very close to Sankara.
Conservative leaders of West Africa, many of whom did not get along with Sankara, are positive about the change. Compaore has announced that one of his priorities is to mend relations with Burkina Faso's neighbors and with Western countries, such as France and the United States.