In the early 1960s, when I started my career in development assistance, the experts were convinced that tyranny, poverty and social injustice could be successfully combated by a combination of decolonization, good policies, and the financial, technical and moral support of the advanced democracies. Democracy and capitalism, many thought, were rooted in human nature, and all that was necessary was to remove the "artificial" obstacles to progress created by colonial powers, irresponsible and greedy oligarchies, and incompetent politicians, economists and administrators.
John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, where I worked, was symbolic of the optimism of the time. Inspired by the success of the Marshall Plan, the architects of the alliance foresaw within ten years a democratic, rapidly developing Latin America immune to the Cuban revolutionary infection. Yankee good intentions, know-how and money would help enlightened Latin American leaders to transform the region. Similar approaches following decolonization in Africa, the Middle East and Asia would produce similar results.
But with a few conspicuous exceptions, mostly in East Asia, almost a half-century later the optimistic scenario has not materialized. As Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia demonstrate, democracy is far from consolidated in Latin America, and sustained, transforming economic growth has eluded all but Chile. Africa's post-colonial hopes have been replaced by despair in the wake of irresponsible, often tyrannical leadership and frequent civil wars. In the entire continent, only Botswana has approximated the optimistic scenario. The Islamic world, a millennium ago a leader of human progress, lags far behind the West and East Asia, a condition underscored by female illiteracy rates in excess of 50 percent in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan and Bangladesh.