Was John Agyekum Kufuor the best President Ghana ever had?

Fri, 11 May 2012 Source: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

6th May 2012

In the 60s and 70s, Jimmy Cliff’s song, ‘Time will tell’, made the waves. Time therefore is of essence in evaluating the works of our national leaders. In this write up, Osagyefo Kantamanto Oseeadeeyo Odumgya Dr Kwame Nkrumah will be excluded from the analysis because he was a freedom fighter and his era was quite different from the post-post independence period. Since the fall and demise of Nkrumah, we have had civilian leaders like Dr K.A. Busia, Dr Hilla Limann, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, and John Agyekum Kufuor. The military rulers included Generals Ankrah, Afrifa, Acheampong and Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings.

We must understand that each leader comes with a personality of his own and different styles of leadership, different circumstances and different team players, with different motives, aspirations , among others. It is against this backdrop that this discourse and disquisition will take place. One would ask the propriety or otherwise of eulogising someone when they have not passed on, but need we not in this age and time when people reason less and feel more? With emotions overriding deep cogitation of issues, and invectives and mudslinging in the media becoming the order of the day in our dear country, Ghana, why not enter into some eulogising, where befitting? It is not always that you have to praise or eulogise someone with an elegy, when they are dead and gone. I think times have changed and continue changing. As such, we must also change our ways in order to survive as individuals and collectively, as a nation. I think we can also recognise someone’s lifetime achievements whilst he is alive. Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar’s elegy through Mark Anthony, mused ,’ .....The evil that men do lives after them, but the good is oft interred with their bones, so let it be with Caesar...’ Such strong and wise words which resonate many years from the 16th century to our time, and hold gems and nuggets of truth and validity, because human beings have not changed much, despite stupendous strides in technology and science. It is still the dream of some people that they can make gold through alchemy. Ghanaians in the face of economic hardships, have become sadistic misanthropists, or human haters, who would have the roof of heaven cave in on all, so we all perish, both the good and the bad, the hardworking and the indolent, the thinker and the over excitable sensualists, intellectuals, day dreamers, and the action centred activists. What we fail to realise is that, we all together can make it if we recognise our individual strengths and we jell together as one in achieving our collective goals. Let us recognise good things wherever we find them, without reading politics into everything we say or do or read or write. In that spirit, we can march forward. See China with more than a billion and a half people, yet they are making waves in the world. They are 65 times our population in Ghana, yet they have the discipline to forge ahead as a nation and they tolerate one another.

I am using this famous forum to call on our former leaders to write down their memoirs, autobiographies/biographies so that we can gain insight into some of their actions in the past, and lay the ghost of damaging gossip doing the rounds in the rumour mill and grapevine. I am not aware if some of their autobiographies already exist. I, in particular, will be interested to read the memoirs of JJ Rawlings and J.A. Kufuor, and I know that many people and institutions in Ghana and abroad will also patronise such an enterprise. Our research institutions need such autobiographies to guide their analysis and conclusions. The younger generation should know where we are coming from , and where we are now, as well as where we should be, and how we can get there and why. The autobiography/biography of our ex-leaders will serve as a vision to us, just as a will does to individuals who do not die intestate. We are eagerly waiting to read specifically the autobiographies of JJ Rawlings and J.A. Kufuor.

John Agyekum Kufuor was president of Ghana from 2000 to 2008. He had scooped the general elections held in 2000. It was a sweet victory for the opposition NPP and most Ghanaians who were sick and tired of the previous regime of JJ Rawlings, who had been in power for 19 years. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt. Of course, in African political history, we have had leaders who have clung on to power for more than three or four decades, and sometimes I wonder whether they do not get tired of their one -man shows and monologues. JJ Rawlings therefore made Ghana proud by graciously conceding defeat and relinquishing power after 19 years in the hot seat, in an extraordinarily peaceful transition, paving the way once more for true democracy to flourish in Ghana. I remember the euphoria and elation that greeted that victory, as the streets of Accra went agog with wild celebrations, with drivers endlessly honking their horns and jubilant die-hard party fanatics daubed their bodies and faces in the NPP party colours of blue, white and red. The blue coloured elephant symbol of the party was ubiquitous and conspicuously visible everywhere, as it was emblazoned on the ramparts and every nook and cranny of Ghana. Indeed, ‘Osono Blue’, the moniker of NPP, unfurled and brought down the Akatamanso Umbrella symbol of the NDC, amid singing and taunts such as ‘eshi eei, eshi eei, eshi worada worada, emie dwo eei’, a song in the Ga language of the Accra people, meaning he will come down, he will come down quickly and that it will all simmer down (pardon me for my translation as I do not speak Ga). The Akan speaking street vendors and market women in Accra had their own aphorism in Akan,’ ehuru a, ebedwo ‘, meaning the same that whatever boils over, eventually simmers down. Kufuor on account of his gargantuan stature and genteel demeanour, was dubbed the Gentle Giant (from JJ to GG). I guess it should have been ‘the Genial Giant’ or ‘the Genius Giant’.

When we talk about statesmen in Africa, we can count the likes of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Joachim Chissano, Festus Mogae, Kenneth Kaunda and the late Julius Nyerere. The New Webster Dictionary defines a statesman or statesperson as one who shows vision, wisdom, and skill in managing public affairs. The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary also gives the same meaning. The Collins Dictionary on my cell phone defines a statesman as an important, experienced, capable and widely acclaimed politician who carries himself with deportment, comportment and dignified mien and decorum. To me, a statesman is one who guards his public utterances jealously, and whose political influence and lifetime achievements extend beyond the confines of his or her country, and even impacting on the lives of future generations. Statesmen are indeed very influential beings, with lots of personal charisma. Most world renowned statesmen are highly principled, selfless, hardworking and extremely humble in nature. Here, I am reflecting on people like Woodrow Wilson, Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi, Jawarhalal Nehru, Abraham Lincoln, Disraeli, Franklin Roosevelt, Kemal Ataturk, Mikhail Gorbachev, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. We may also include other leaders such as Suharto/Sukarno, Josef Bronz Tito, Gamel Abdul Nasser, among others. I may here add that in the context of Ghanaian politics, a statesman is one whose public utterances do not cause public disquiet, apprehension and panic. Need we add that a statesman is also a patriot who is imbued with a high sense of duty of care for state assets, and the advancement of the welfare of their citizens, wherever they may be. Some of these highly acclaimed statesmen are rarely heard of in the media for the wrong reasons, as they only speak on germane occasions and they make the right noises in the right fora at the right time. They bid their time and are extremely patient. They avoid brinkmanship. These are qualities which are also required of diplomats. Was Nkrumah a statesman? Yes and no. Some critics saw Nkrumah as a megalomaniac, and a through and through left-leaning politician, even though he claimed to be non-aligned. He was of the school of democratic centralism, in other words, a socialist who would tolerate and fraternize with communism. Nkrumah was seen to be leaning too much to the east in the latter part of his reign, as the earlier collaboration with the west had been truncated with the demise of his friend, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Aid flow from the west came with many strings attached, and Nkrumah was impatient to translate his mega dream into action. He was really caught in the throes of the Cold War, between the east and the west. His flirtations with the east, and ultra nationalistic and Pan-African zeal, made him a demagogue, or a supra-national internationalist, therefore defying his description as a statesman. That cap of statesman did not fit him well in his messianic mission of using the independence of Ghana as leverage to precipitate and cascade the independence of other non-independent African countries. In that role, he had humungous success. Hence, he was not a statesman but a supra nationalist internationalist.

Kufuor, an Oxford scholar, adopted a low profile approach to governance as he kept the vociferous Ghana media at bay by not reacting to their taunts, insults, insinuations and gutter journalese tactics. Indeed in his time, we saw the flourishing of unfettered press freedom, hence the ceaseless vitriolic vilification currently ongoing in the Ghanaian gutter press. Kufuor was a cut above his vocal critics. In 2008, when Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the former ECOWAS Secretary General, was seeking nomination and election to the high office of Secretary General of the African Carribean Pacific (ACP) Organisation, based in Brussels, Kufuor rose to the occasion by personally accompanying Ibn Chambas to the AU in Addis Ababa, to canvass support from other African countries. Readers will recall that Dr Ibn Chambas, a lawyer, politician and diplomat, served in the NDC government in several capacities as MP for Bimbilla, Deputy Minister of Tertiary Education, Deputy First Speaker of Parliament, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Director in the Ministry of Education, and member of many government delegations to international conferences. Notwithstanding the fact that he was coming from the NDC stable, Kufuor gave him all the support he needed to achieve his objective. What more can we expect but a gentleman and a large-hearted man, Kufuor is! Kufuor made it abundantly clear that he was running an inclusive and open government. So when he once came visiting Lusaka in 2001 for the AU Summit of Heads of Government, there was a strong opposition party representation on his entourage. What a shining example of a lesson in democracy!

When he met the Ghanaian community in Lusaka, he explained to us his philosophy of inclusivity in governance, to our utter chagrin and admiration. Kufuor was charting new oceans in governance in Africa. Kufuor mingled freely with us, allowing photo sessions with him at the hotel. There was however, this aid called D.K. Osei, who spoiled the atmosphere for us as he went about with a chip on his shoulder, preventing us access to the president, who was ready to chat with us. Some Ghanaians! I found Kufuor affable, humble, and warm. Kufour comes along as a man of foresight. During his tenure, he endeavoured to eradicate or minimise poverty in Ghana through interventions such as using shuttle diplomacy to get our huge external debt cancelled in 2002. He made Ghana accede to the HIPC Fund and the Millennium Challenge Corporation Account. He secured a loan of 30 million dollars from the US for the upgrading of the Accra-Cape Coast road (readers will recall the fatal accident which claimed lives of Aburi Girls Secondary School students on that road). Kufuor worked hard to implement some of the dreams of Nkrumah , such as the construction of the dual carriageway from Accra to Aburi, to afford easy access to Peduase Lodge by visiting dignitaries. The Aburi Hills, part of the Akwapim-Kwahu-Kintampo Range of mountains, afford a panoramic and scenic view of Accra and surrounding areas. The N1 Highway, also known as George Bush Highway, was also initiated by Kufuor at a cost of 42 million dollars. After its completion and inauguration in 2011 by current President, John Atta Mills, it is seen as a masterpiece of construction. Kufuor sourced for a 30 million dollar loan from India for the construction of the Golden Jubilee Presidential Palace, which is alleged to have cost between 45 and 50 million dollars on completion in 2008. It is one of the prominent features in the skyline of Accra, a veritable tourist attraction, and an architectural marvel. It is however, bizarre and sad to observe that the current government is not putting it to its full use, because of perceived corruption connected to the previous regime of Kufuor. Kufuor initiated mass transit buses in Accra and other parts of Ghana, popularly called ‘Kufuor Bus’. Kufuor initiated many educational reforms in the JSS and SSS (secondary school system). He set up the Anamuah -Mensah Commission to examine how we could better the existing educational system. He initiated the Capitation Grant to fund schools and introduced the School Feeding Programme in 2005. Kufuor built many schools, colleges and polytechnics. Under his tenure, many private universities sprung up. He introduced the Akuafo Pa Kookoo scheme to pay fair prices to cocoa farmers. He did that in partnership with Cadbury Schweppes, and the tremendous success achieved with the scheme has made it an economic model, which is being replicated around the world. The National Health Insurance Scheme, which has caught on so well with the Ghanaian populace, was initiated by him. He also started the scheme to provide financial support to the non-pensionable aged senior citizens, as it is done in Kenya and Namibia. Under his aegis, Ghana successfully hosted the MTN- sponsored CAN 2008 football fiesta, leading to massive improvement in our sports infrastructure, with world class stadia being built in Kumasi, Takoradi, Tamale and Accra. It was under Nkrumah’s time in the 60s that the idea of a second HEP station at Bui was mooted, yet it was under Kufuor’s reign that the project received a massive boost. Kufuor sought a loan of 25 million dollars from his friend, ex President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, to build our portion of the West African Gas Pipeline Project. He commenced the Aboadze Thermal Electricity project in the Western Region. During his fortuitous tenure, oil was discovered in commercial quantities in the western part of Ghana, offshore at Cape Three Points. Kufuor was honoured with the chairmanship of the African Union, and he used his good offices to douse many a raging fire on the continent, in places such as Ivory Coast, Kenya, Sierra Leone and others.

When the first republican president, Kwame Nkrumah’s wife , Madam Fathia Nkrumah passed away in Cairo, Kufuor brought her mortal remains to Ghana for her to be buried beside her husband ,in the Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra. What a wonderful gesture by a man from the Busia-Danquah-Dombo-Matemeho stable! In 2007, Kufuor made Ghana the cynosure of all eyes, when he laid on an exquisite Golden Jubilee celebration, which lasted a whole year. The message was clear. We are one people with a common aspiration, despite our different political affiliations. The incumbent president, John Atta Mills, has launched the Green Book, which chronicles the achievements of his NDC government, to date. I have not seen one yet. One can juxtapose this chronicle with some of the points raised here, and draw a conclusion. However, as suggested in the beginning of this article, it is very dicey to do political comparisons, because the metrics and criteria cannot be easily drawn up due to many incalculable variables involved. All in all, I hope this write-up has provided evidential substantiation to confront the question posed, which is the heading of this article. The ball is in the court of readers to make their own judgements. This chronicle of Kufuor’s achievements may not be compendious or encyclopaedic, deliberately so that readers can freely add some more achievements in their feedback via their comments. That is what I term as interactive communication with readers.

Knowledge is not the exclusive preserve of one person, as we live in an era of information sharing. Besides, ghanaweb is vast and it is read by people all over the world.

When Kufuor was leaving office in 2008, he was given an unprecedented befitting banquet by Her Royal Highness, the Queen of Great Britain, Queen Elizabeth II, at Buckingham Palace. The former President, George W. Bush of the USA, also invited him for a banquet in Washington, the first African head of state to be so honoured. Thereafter, Kufuor has been a regular attendee of major global summits, and he has been since conferred with a confetti of awards, the most prestigious being the World Food Programme Award in June 2011, jointly with the former President of Brazil, Lula Da Silva. He has been elected onto the boards of many world renowned institutions. However, he did not win the Mo Ibrahim Award because the media in Ghana made the wrong noises at the time, even though he was one of the most eligible candidates. The award was not given in 2009. The low points of Kufuor’s two terms of 8 years were the beheading of the Ya Na in Tamale, the Accra Stadium disaster, the perceived dubious circumstances surrounding the sale of Ghana Telecom to Vodafone, and the manner in which it was portrayed in the media that he gave public offices to his relatives. To many Ghanaians, Kufuor is either a villainous villain or a sagacious sage and saint. History will be the better judge, as time will tell (cf. Jimmy Cliff).

Leader Years in Power

Kwame Nkrumah 9 years ( March 1957- February 1966)

Dr K.A. Busia 2 years ( October 1969- January 1972)

Gen I.K. Acheampong 7years ( January 1972- July 1978)

Flt Lt J.J. Rawlings 19 years ( January 1981-January 2000)

J.A. Kufuor 8 years ( January 2000- January 2008)

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

Email: kwesiattasakyi449@gmail.com

My website: poetry4Life.hpage.com

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta