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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2011

Africa stirs

The relatively successful conduct of peaceful, multi-party presidential elections in Nigeria, in contrast to upheavals in Burkina Faso and Swaziland, offer evidence that the democracy that may be coming to parts of North Africa and the Middle East is working in Africa.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to generalize about prospects for democracy in Africa’s 54 nations. Some have held reasonable elections. Some hold what might appear to be democratic elections, but the same person always wins. Other countries are unabashed dictatorships.

Each of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa has a different history, a different ethnic and religious mix, and different economic circumstances. Still, the reasonably orderly elections just held in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 160 million people, offer a good example of what can be done.

Nigerians elected Goodluck Jonathan president. The elections were not perfect. The losing candidate, former Gen. Muhammadu Buhari — who was president in the 1980s — is trying to exploit a major division in Nigeria: north-south, Muslim-Christian cleavage.

Violence has resulted. Mr. Buhari no doubt looks back fondly on when the military ruled Nigeria, with a predictable lock on the country’s oil revenues.

Current troubles in Burkina Faso, in western Africa, and Swaziland, in southern Africa, present a contrast to Nigeria. Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Campaore, is generally considered a reasonably competent leader. He has been in power since 1987, when he took power in a military coup d’etat.

Mr. Campaore has made himself vulnerable by not giving the Burkinabe military as much money as officers think they are entitled to. They are now mutinying across the country.

Swaziland is also suffering unrest. With a population of 1.2 million, the country has been a monarchy for hundreds of years, since well before British pre-independence rule.

Swaziland’s king, Mswati III, has made some gestures toward more-representative rule, but basically remains an absolute monarch. He is noted for choosing a new bride each year at the country’s annual Reed Dance, when eligible young women dance topless before him.

Swazis, like their North African and Middle Eastern counterparts, have become much more in touch with the outside world in recent years. They are increasingly impatient with royal rule.

Will Nigeria continue to move forward? Will Mr. Campaore and King Mswati hold on? The impact of the winds to the north is observed and felt farther south on the African continent. More change is likely.



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