Across Africa, Steady Steps Toward Democracy

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DAKAR, Senegal — After 50 years of independence, the path to democracy does not follow an obvious, straight line in this region, just as it did not in the West — the model for most citizens here — where it was centuries in the making.

That is the most obvious lesson from the sharply contrasting experiences of two West African nations over the past week: Senegal, where power is being transferred peacefully after a fair election on Sunday, and Mali, where after two decades of relative success, democracy was snuffed out in a military coup on Thursday.

Across the region, democracy, even amid setbacks, seemed to inch forward. In Niger and in Guinea, military rulers gave up power to the people over the last 18 months, while any subsequent encroachments were vigorously resisted. In Ivory Coast, a power grab provoked a citizen uprising, later amplified by foreign firepower. In Liberia, a losing opposition candidate cried foul last fall after an election widely seen as credible, hoping that citizens would follow him, but few did. And in Nigeria, even the chaotic and bloody election of last spring is celebrated as an improvement.

What remained constant is both the aspiration and the discernment of the people. The ordinary citizens wanted a voice, and seemed to know — even in the most depressed slums of Conakry, Niamey, Bamako or Dakar — that democracy was the best way to get it....

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