Tue, 10 Oct 2000

On U.S. pledge to support struggling democracies

Like toddlers, democracies crawl before they stand and walk before they trot. ... Emerging African nations are in that early stage, taking their first, shaky steps toward becoming free societies. Some have stumbled and crashed badly, held back by legacies from the colonial and Cold War periods, when outside forces sought to keep them from walking. They've also been tripped up by civil and ethnic war of their own making, and by dreadful leadership.

Whether it takes two days or 200 years to walk to freedom, it is a human imperative to try. ... Four sub-Saharan African nations -- South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana and Nigeria ... (have) taken the first step of holding elections. Now those elected governments must develop the strength, skill and confidence to become mature, self-sufficient democracies. They must set the course and do the work, but they are also reaching out to the developed world for help.

America and its people must reach back. The United States, the richest and most powerful nation in the world and the model for democratic pluralism, has an obligation to support struggling democracies. The support begins with debt relief, certainly, but extends also to generous financial aid, to sharing knowledge and building competence, in health care, education, business and law, and perhaps most of all in creating the base for a vibrant civil society. ...

Wisely targeted aid, education, training and advice should go to every nation capable of using them well. The goal is to build capacity and empower African nations to stand on their own as productive contributors to the global family.

-- Star Tribune, Minneapolis