Nowhere has popular faith in incremental democratic change been as evident as in Kenya. Despite episodes of violence, the majority of the people continue to have faith in constitutional reform. In fact, the post-election violence in 2008 was fanned by the failure of efforts to craft a new constitution. Today, Kenya's democratic march has resulted in a new constitutional order as well as discernible economic growth. Not everyone has benefited from it; income disparities have widened. But this has not dampened popular aspirations for a brighter, more democratic future.
In Kenya as elsewhere on the continent, new industries like money transfer and mobile banking have given people hope that a more liberal environment might expand economic opportunities. Political and economic freedoms feed off one another to reinforce the general sense that incremental change is working. And the dramatic, negative impact of Kenya's 2008 post-election violence on the economy may also have served as a reminder that radical political change comes with some serious upfront costs.
Simply put, Africa doesn't need revolution to grow. According to the African Economic Outlook 2011, the continent's economy is projected to expand 3.7 percent in 2011 and 5.8 percent in 2012, overall figures that conceal rapid economic renewal in countries such as Ethiopia, Congo, and Zambia.
The most important source of stability, both economic and political, will come from Africa's concerted efforts to promote regional integration -- offering a powerful alternative to the ethnic splintering that has often paralyzed countries. This is being pursued through regional economic communities, of which eight have been recognized by the African Union as the building blocks for continental integration. Africa is pushing regional economic and trade integration even further by starting to merge existing regional bodies into larger free trade areas.
Recently, for example, three such bodies (the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the East African Community, and the Southern African Development Community) came together into a Cape-to-Cairo Grand Free Trade Area. This will cover 27 countries with a population of about 700 million and a combined GDP of $1 trillion.
But to achieve the aspirations of the grand trade area, the member states will have to significantly invest in infrastructure, including energy, transportation, water, and telecommunications. It is estimated that Africa will need to invest nearly $50 billion a year for the next decade. If made, these investments will lay the basis for future growth and provide short-term employment benefits. More importantly, such investments will send positive signals about the future, which in turn will influence perceptions about political stability.
The prospect of joining larger economic trade areas already seems to be influencing the way countries resolve long-standing internal conflicts and embark on democratic transitions. In Burundi, for example, a decades-long civil war fueled by ethnic tension has been ended in part due to the country's aspirations to join an emerging East African Community (EAC) and embark on a new path of economic reconstruction. South Sudan, which has its own internal conflicts, plans to join the EAC as well, hopefully a move that will have a positive influence on political conduct in the new country.
No doubt there will yet be violent episodes along sub-Saharan Africa's democratic march, many of them offshoots of internal processes that have been under way for decades. But unlike the Arab Spring, associated with sudden political shifts that have engulfed old institutions, a slow-burning African Summer will remain a dominant feature of the continent -- and it's a good thing, too.