By: John Boonstra on March 14, 2008 The Washington Post‘s Craig Timberg reports on the progress made by many of the counties in the region: Civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have ended, and although Ivory Coast has yet to hold its first postwar vote, Liberia and Sierra Leone have elected leaders with popular mandates. Regional giant Nigeria, where military rule ended in 1999, has had a series of deeply flawed votes, but the disputes are being settled in an increasingly independent court system. These countries are all freer, more stable and more democratic than they were a decade ago, regional analysts say. Peace, however fragile, is the norm rather than war. And citizens of these nations increasingly are demanding responsive governance from their leaders. Why is West Africa experiencing this improvement, when much of East Africa is embroiled in conflict? Timberg focuses much of his article on the positive influence of burgeoning democracies like Ghana, which has benefited from its peaceful electoral transitions and successful handling of any regional or ethnic tensions. Along with this explanation, though, Timberg highlights another factor: The exile and prosecution of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, who spread conflict to the country’s neighbors, has helped stabilize the region, as have U.N. peacekeeping missions. UN peacekeepers are not just a band-aid to respond to emergencies. The secure environment that they provide, as their success in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone demonstrates, provides a foundation for long-term development across the entire region.