Something unexpected has been happening in Africa—and not just Northern Africa, the locus of democratic revolutions since January 2011, when a winter's discontent produced an early Arab Spring. Over the last several years, several sub-Saharan African nations have held democratic elections, produced new constitutions, and even partitioned themselves in relative peace, despite the often dire predictions of foreign governments, media, and election-monitoring organizations.
In many cases, the constitution and reconstitution of these states has been accomplished by means of the referendum vote—sometimes viewed as the anti-democratic purview of special interests in the developed West, but having greater respect and utility as a tool of democracy in the developing South. Kenya produced a new constitution in 2010 by a referendum that has been lauded by international observers for its peaceful process and outcome. The Kenyan referendum followed general elections in 2007, whose results were marred by violence in early 2008. The nearby countries of Zambia and Tanzania are currently in the process of constitutional reform, drawing lessons from Kenya's unexpectedly harmonious proceedings. In all three countries, the constitutional review processes have raised, among other issues, questions of legal pluralism, religious freedom, and relations between the Christian majority and Muslim minority.