SALT LAKE CITY
In the West African city of Accra on a steamy night in 1957, I was in the government buildings as the clock ticked steadily toward midnight. At that hour, the British colony of Gold Coast would become the sovereign nation of Ghana. Africans whooped as the time grew nearer, shouting "Free-DOM, free-DOM, free-DOM," at white British colonial officers who would soon be departing. The British shouted back "And justice, justice, justice."
It was a vignette that captured the Africans' jubilation and hope for democracy, and the Britons' skepticism that Africans could make it work in an orderly way.
Ghana led a process that transformed black Africa from a continent under the colonial rule of the British, French, Belgians, and Portuguese to a string of sovereign nations.
Over the years I've witnessed a succession of other lands winning freedom in the face of adversity: Kenya after the Mau Mau; South Africa after apartheid; Malaysia after a terrorist insurrection; the Philippines after Marcos; Indonesia after Sukarno; the Soviet bloc after communist tyranny. Just as the departing Britons doubted Ghanaians' ability to govern wisely, there've been doubts and skepticism, and certainly the transitions have not always been tidy. There have been pitfalls and sometimes ugly periods of civil strife and bloodshed as such nations found their way. But mankind's desire for liberty is a powerful force, and the collective reach for democracy is unstoppable. It may take time to come to fruition, as in China, but it's inevitable.
So now, with this week's handover from the US command that liberated and occupied it, to an interim government of its own, it's Iraq's turn. With the transition comes the opportunity to make the process messy or successful. If the process in Iraq stalls, the world will not come to an end. But it would have dramatically negative consequences for the rest of the Arab world, for which Iraq could become a beckoning example of democratic order and economic progress.