At last week's UN racism conference, African nations failed to extract an apology and reparations from Europe for the slave trade. But in unusual diplomacy elsewhere, they did achieve something far more current and critical: a pact to save Zimbabwe from catastrophe.
The pact was brokered by Nigeria and South Africa, the continent's two respected giants. It would end a violent confrontation over the transfer of white-owned farms by having the country's former ruler, Britain, compensate the farmers.
That may be the easy part, assuming Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's authoritarian leader, doesn't distribute the land to political allies rather than to the poor, as he has done before.
The more difficult part will be to restore Zimbabwe's democracy in time for a presidential election in March. The agreement requires Mr. Mugabe to honor the rule of law and thwart the thugs who terrorize his political opponents and white farmers. Outside pressure may be needed again to ensure he fulfills those goals.
Feelings of insecurity among Zimbabwe's white minority are palpable, says Sule Lamido, Nigeria's foreign minister. "Africa cannot afford another war, not least one with racial overtones. The current situation, if not addressed in a forthright and definitive manner, can only do incalculable damage to our quest for a peaceful and stable Africa," he added.
The crisis had the potential to spill into South Africa, not only through a flood of refugees but with attacks on white-owned property there. Wiser heads in Africa used their influence to show Zimbabweans that prosperity lies in building a peaceful democracy.