African politics were shaped in the past year by two disastrous presidential elections - that of Kenya in December 2007, which ended in a fraud-marred impasse and triggered ethnic violence in which more than 1,000 people died; and Robert Mugabe's first-round defeat and second-round theft of a Zimbabwean poll, which has prompted a catastrophic national collapse.
But democracy in Africa is not dead, as the small but influential nation of Ghana demonstrated over the past month. Its two-round election for president ended with a razor-thin margin of victory for the opposition candidate. There was no major fraud or violence: The winning candidate, John Atta Mills, promised to "be president for all"; his opponent, Nana Akufo-Addo, accepted defeat and publicly congratulated his opponent.
On being sworn in Wednesday, Mr. Atta Mills became the second opposition candidate to peacefully succeed an elected president since Ghana returned to democracy in 1992. A pioneer of Africa's independence movement in the 1960s, Ghana is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to accomplish that political feat.
For the rest of the continent - including its giant and perpetually unstable neighbor, Nigeria -- Ghana offers a demonstration that such political maturity pays off. Ghana's average annual growth rate of 5.6 percent during the past six years has been one of Africa's highest, and the country has become a favorite of foreign investors as well as donors.
Mr. Atta Mills faces serious challenges, including growing transshipment of cocaine through Ghana to Europe - and the corruption that the drug trafficking has engendered. He will also need to skillfully manage the country's recently discovered offshore oil, which could propel Ghana to greater prosperity or mire it in the political and economic diseases that afflict Nigeria and other petro-states.
For now, however, the new president and his country can bask in the congratulations that have poured in from the European Union, the United Nations and the United States - not to mention from Ghana's neighbors.
"The conduct of the people of Ghana provides a rare example of democracy at work in Africa," said Kenya's prime minister, Raila Odinga. As Mr. Odinga knows all too well, it's an example from which Kenya, Zimbabwe and other states could learn.