In 1990 Freedom House recorded just three African countries with multiparty political systems, universal suffrage, regular fraud-free elections and secret ballots. “Progress comes in waves,” says Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank. Mali aside, the rest of West Africa has enjoyed a democratic boom. Sierra Leone and Liberia, both violent basket-cases not long ago, have set up respectable if imperfect political systems. Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire overcame spasms of strife and returned to democratic rule. Coup-prone Guinea-Bissau held a calm election on March 18th. Nigeria and Niger ran their best polls in recent memory last year. Ghanaian democracy has been praised by President Barack Obama.