Steve Chapman

There was shame as well in the West African nation of Guinea Bissau. At a stadium rally put on by opponents of the military junta, one officer on the scene said, "They all must be killed. They think there is democracy here." When soldiers were done, hundreds of people had been killed or raped.

Somalia, plagued with civil war and piracy, was called "the worst country on Earth" by The Economist magazine of Britain. Dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, which could contest that distinction, was forced into a tense power-sharing deal with an opponent after losing parliamentary elections last year.

A committee set up to give a $5 million annual prize for African leaders who serve well and then relinquish power found no worthy recipient this year. Calling it "an outstanding example of democracy in Africa," President Obama visited Ghana, which has had five consecutive free elections.

Democracy did not fare so well in Honduras, where the military roused President Manuel Zelaya from his bed at gunpoint and put him on a plane to exile in Costa Rica. He managed to return to Honduras, but not to the presidency.

On Election Day in Afghanistan, the man in charge of one voting station discovered the ballot boxes were full -- before the polls opened. Despite rampant fraud, President Hamid Karzai was forced into a runoff. He won by default when his opponent, concluding that a "transparent election is not possible," withdrew.

Iraqi lawmakers approved a new electoral law that will allow balloting in March. If things go well, it will be the first time in Iraq, reported Reuters, "that a fully democratic, full-term parliament hands over to a successor."

Positive developments like that were not as common this year as they were in the glorious days of 1989. But the few that occurred suggest that the important moments in the progress of democracy may not all be in the past.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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