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Mar
05

LETTER FROM THE NORTH: THE GENTLE GIANT

J A KUFUOR: Tenacious but gentle giant

CAMERON DUODU: LETTER FROM THE NORTH  The Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg Jan 05 2001 00:00

The presidential election run-off that took place in Ghana on December 28 will go down as one of the most ­exciting days in the nation’s history — even more exciting than March 6 1957, when Ghana gained independence from Britain.

More exciting than March 6? Yes, because independence was expected! Few people, however, could imagine an incumbent African ­government, headed by an Air Force officer whose thirst for power had led him to carry out two coups, allowing itself to be voted out of power by the civilian populace.

Ghanaians feared that president Jerry Rawlings would rig the vote in favour of his ­”puppet”, John Atta Mills. They worried that even if the vote was not rigged, Rawlings would find a way to declare a state of emergency and prevent the result from being declared. Or that he would simply march up to the microphone on December 31 — the anniversary of his last coup — and suspend the Constitution that required him to step down after serving two terms in office. But it all came to nothing.

On December 30 Mills conceded defeat to John Kufuor, who had won 57% of the vote. It was all over. The handing over of power will take place on January 7. If all goes smoothly — the use of the word “if” is well-advised as there are still some who expect the worst from Rawlings — it will be the first time one civilian government has been democratically changed for another in Ghana.

In 43 years of independence, Ghanaians have only known of civilian governments ­being overthrown by the military (1966, 1972, 1981), which then hands over to a civilian govern­ment (1969, 1979, 1992), only to overthrow it again at some future date.

So, who is this man who has written himself so indelibly into the history books of Ghana and Africa?

The amazing thing is that Kufuor is not at all the sort of politician who sets emotions alight. Aged 62, he is known as “the gentle giant” — tall, almost ungainly and possessed of a voice that can send you to sleep in an unguarded ­moment. What he has plenty of is courage, deter­mination and immense tenacity of purpose.

A lawyer by profession, Kufuor is also well versed in business. He trained at Oxford Univer­sity and Lincoln’s Inn, London. On his return to Ghana, he engaged in private practice in ­Kumasi between 1965 and 1967, before becoming city ­manager and chief legal officer of the ­Kumasi City Council from 1967 to 1969.

It was through city politics that he gained access to the powerful Ashanti ­political cabals that coalesced into the government ­party, the Progress Party, in 1969, the opposition Popular Front Party in 1979 and now the victorious New Patriotic Party.

Kufuor first entered national politics in 1969 when he was elected an MP and appointed deputy minister of foreign affairs by Ghana’s then prime minister, Dr Kofi Busia. Busia’s government was overthrown by the military in January 1972 after holding ­office for less than two and a half years. The politicians were carted off to jail and many became disillusioned.

But Kufuor stuck to ­politics. In 1978/79, he got elected into a Constituent Assembly (though an earlier Constitution he had helped to write in 1969 had been torn up by the military in 1972). In September 1979, Kufuor re-entered Parliament, where he became opposition representative on foreign affairs and deputy leader of the parliamentary opposition.

He was hauled off to jail by soldiers in December 1981, when ­Raw­lings seized power for the second time. Amazingly, Rawlings appointed Kufuor ­secretary (minister) for local government. But he did not last long in the Provisional ­National Defence Council regime (as it was called), its violent nature proving repugnant to him.

When Rawlings decided to opt for constitutional government in 1992, Kufuor was one of the candidates who offered to challenge him through the biggest opposition party, the ­National Patriotic Party (NPP). But Kufuor was beaten within his own party by a political novice, Professor Adu Boahen. Boahen was in turn defeated by Rawlings in an election that the opposition charged was “stolen”.

In 1996, Kufuor was elected by the NPP to challenge ­Rawlings. Again, Rawlings won, and again, the opposition cried foul. When the time came for Rawlings to stand down last year, Kufuor was seriously challenged in his own party by people who thought that having been defeated by Rawlings in 1996, he would stand no chance against Mills, who had been chosen by Rawlings to be the candidate of the National Democratic Congress. But Kufuor fought off the opposition within his party, and ran a confident and efficient campaign that brought him victory in the end.

Kufuor is extremely charming. When I met him recently, he gave me a nice smile and said: “As for you, you refuse to grow old.” Not true, but it is the sort of thing that helps a politician to reach wherever he wants to go, isn’t it?

I was also struck by his quiet confidence. He refused to get worked up over the possible rigging of the election. “We are working on that”, he said simply. As it turned out, he had taken enormous precautions, and they paid off. I think anyone who seeks to deprive him of victory would be very ill-advised.

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