In the heady days of 1989, nondemocratic regimes fell like dominoes to the peaceful march of activists across Eastern Europe. Even China briefly appeared vulnerable to popular demands for a voice in how the country is ruled -- until the crackdown at Tiananmen Square.
The spread of democratic rule was at its apex a decade ago, when many of Africa's strongmen went the way of the discredited European Communists. Free elections brought to power a new generation promising to wrest the continent from poverty.
Since then, though, democracy has been on the wane. Economies have been undermined by the global recession. Skimming public funds in secret has been replaced by blatant corruption. Fragile democratic institutions have been manipulated by autocrats masquerading as advocates of equality and freedom.