Words like "contentious" have been much used about this week's elections in Zambia. Usually, that implies deep flaws in the political process. On this occasion, however, it is a hopeful sign; this has been a closely fought election in which democratic parties have an important stake.
In other words, despite the thuggery of Robert Mugabe in neighbouring Zimbabwe and the war-torn nightmare of Congo, there are still rays of light in Africa. The optimism after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, when there was much talk of an African renaissance, has largely vanished. But the long, patient queues at the ballot stations in Zambia remind us of reasons for hope. For millions of Zambians, the hopes for democracy are real. The government of President Chiluba is much criticised, not least for corruption. But, helped on his way by popular protests, Mr Chiluba ceded power (almost) gracefully. That may seem a small achievement to celebrate. For those living in anti-democracies, however – of which there are still too many on this continent – it is the difference between night and day.