LONDON — When the results from Nigeria’s election this week signaled the nation’s first peaceful replacement of a governing party by its rival, there were many — not least the contenders — who argued that the country had finally completed its shift away from the dictatorial past.
“Change has come. A new day and a new Nigeria are open to us,” said the winner, Muhammadu Buhari, himself a former military strongman.
“I promised the country free and fair elections,” said the losing Goodluck Jonathan. “I have kept my word.”
But the outcome resonated in more ambivalent ways across a continent whose lands still offer a motley patchwork of governance. In some, incumbents maneuver to sidestep limits on their terms in office. Others, like Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe, maintain a grasp on power for decades. And here in London, the shift in Nigeria inspired some to ponder a broader message.
“In a number of ways it will have a positive impact,” said Hakainde Hichilema, a prominent opposition leader in Zambia who happened to be visiting and whose land has written its own chapters in the annals of African democracy since the demise of one-party rule in 1991.
For one thing, Mr. Hichilema said, the Nigerian example will re-energize a belief among Africans that “you can go out and campaign hard” and secure victory. For another, it validated the notion of gracious defeat, exemplified by Mr. Jonathan.
In a conversation, though, Mr. Hichilema raised a question that seemed much more startling: If it is to escape corruption and mismanagement, does Africa need a new kind of leadership altogether, scrapping the models of the post-independence era?
There should, Mr. Hichilema said, be a “clear break away from the traditional political approaches” that have allowed elites to become entrenched, encouraging one another “to find loopholes in their laws, their constitutions, to stay in office. Once they stay long they are afraid to leave” for fear of reprisals.
“Africa now needs a new generation of political leaders that will partner with business,” he said. “The type of people who should run our politics should be people who have gainful income outside politics” and whose families do “not have to depend on a political position to survive.”
People, perhaps, like Mr. Hichilema himself, a 52-year-old economist, millionaire, executive, rancher and serial contender for high office who came a close second to Edgar Lungu in a presidential by-election in January following the death last year of President Michael Sata.