In Libya and elsewhere, the best hope lies in literacy

St. Paul, Minn. — After the recent armed conflict in Libya, people there will be working hard to replace 40 years of authoritarian rule with a new democratic system of governance. It will not be an easy task, but one worth the effort and one that will need the continued support of partners from the international community.

History shows such progressive movements, whether against colonial masters or repressive regimes, are no guarantee of embedding democracy. As young men, we saw a similar wave of change sweep through Africa in the wake of the independence movements half a century ago. Like now, hopes were high both in the countries themselves and among those who wished the new states well. These hopes were by no means always fulfilled.

There are many reasons for these setbacks, including ethnic and religious divisions and corroding corruption. But while the causes of democratic failure are varied, there are two ingredients common to success: a determination to educate a country's citizens and a commitment to the rule of law.