The breeze of Belgrade is sweeping through the African continent

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Whether it's the breeze of Belgrade, or the miracle of modern communications technology, the popular overthrow of a tyrant in south-eastern Europe reverberates across a distant continent. The eviction from power of Slobodan Milosevic after he tried to steal an election in Yugoslavia has provided a model for the deposing of General Robert Guei, who attempted an even cruder theft in the Ivory Coast, and has given fresh heart to the opponents of Robert Mugabe, who pulled off his own democratic robbery in Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections.

Whether it's the breeze of Belgrade, or the miracle of modern communications technology, the popular overthrow of a tyrant in south-eastern Europe reverberates across a distant continent. The eviction from power of Slobodan Milosevic after he tried to steal an election in Yugoslavia has provided a model for the deposing of General Robert Guei, who attempted an even cruder theft in the Ivory Coast, and has given fresh heart to the opponents of Robert Mugabe, who pulled off his own democratic robbery in Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections.

Both developments are highly encouraging. They suggest that Africa's deepest malaise - the habit of so many of its rulers of treating power as a personal treasure chest rather than as an obligation towards all their people - is not incurable. They offer the chance of a new departure for two countries that have fallen far and fast from their previous roles as advertisements for Francophone and English-speaking ex-colonial Africa respectively.

For three decades, the Ivory Coast was a haven of prosperity and stability in impoverished, coup-ridden West Africa. Zimbabwe, too, upon independence in 1980 inherited a flourishing industry and agriculture, a relatively developed infrastructure, as well as a vast stock of international goodwill - only for these assets to be squandered by Mr Mugabe as he declared race war on his white farmers, entered a ruinous war in the Congo, and led what should be one of sub-Saharan Africa's richest countries to runaway inflation, food riots, and the verge of economic collapse.

But there is no guarantee that either story will have a happy ending. In the Ivory Coast, the socialist leader, Laurent Gbagbo, who clearly won the elections that the former military leader sought so outrageously to steal, has promised to heal national wounds and extended a hand of reconciliation to the army. But the flight of General Guei will not be followed automatically by democracy. All Mr Gbagbo's good intentions may not be enough to head off a protracted struggle for power.

In Zimbabwe the omens are brighter. The description of Robert Mugabe by many of his countrymen as the "Milosevic of Africa" long pre-dates the peaceful revolution in Belgrade, while the machinery of a functioning constitution survives, despite long years of abuse by the president and his henchmen. The challenge to Mr Mugabe is being mounted not - or at least not yet - by mobs trying to storm the state radio and television headquarters, but by means of the impeccably constitutional process of impeachment.

It will not succeed, given that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is in a minority in the Harare parliament. But impeachment provides a perfectly legitimate avenue to vent criticism of the regime and increase the pressure on Mr Mugabe to withdraw from the scene.

Africa has experienced too many winds of unfulfilled change. We hoped for better things when the old leaders of the first post-independence generation, of whom Mr Mugabe is the last representative, were obliged to leave power. The last but one, General Mobutu, plumbed new depths of despotism in the Congo until he was forced from power in 1997. His departure, alas, was followed by the war in which Mr Mugabe's Zimbabwe and half a dozen other countries are today embroiled. Let the breeze from Belgrade become a tempest.

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