By Arthuir Kobina Kennedy
Last Wednesday, December 8, 2010 was ex-President John Agyekum Kufuor’s 72nd birthday. While anyone’s birthday is an occasion to rejoice, this birthday for this man, was special.
He is worth celebrating for a number of reasons.
First, in the last couple of years, some, particularly in the NDC, have expended a lot of time and energy trying to dim President Kufuor’s luster in the mistaken believe that pulling him down will help their government. Indeed, when he failed to win the ‘Moh Ibrahim” Prize, there were rumours that some in the NDC had lobbied hard against him and had celebrated exuberantly when he failed to win.
Secondly, as the outpouring of tributes following the death of Clend Sowu showed, Ghanaians are inclined to celebrate the dead more than the living. I am sure the former Parliamentarian would have been gratified to hear all the praises that were heaped on him after his death. I think we should start celebrating people while they are alive and can appreciate our gratitude.
Thirdly, Kufuor, thej immediate past head of state of this republic, has been a very consequential man and President.
In his remarks during the festivities marking the day, the former President, perhaps stung by the criticisms of his detractors, went out of his way to recite the achievements of his government. He did not need to. He can rest assured that no matter how hard his detractors work, they cannot erase his achievements. Those achievements will live forever, in the hearts of Ghanaians.
Like every mortal, Mr. Kufuor has made mistakes, some significant and a few minor. Amongst these were serving in the PNDC administration, his far-sighted but ill-timed acquisition of the Presidential jets and Jubilee House and awarding himself a medal.
However, these blemishes are miniscule beside his accomplishments, as a politician and a President.
His journey to the top was long and difficult. On the way, he was written off often and derided occasionally. But he persevered and triumphed in the end.
As a politician, Mr. Kufuor has been the embodiment of courtesy, humility and accessibility.
Many will testify to his unfailing courtesy and humility. So many years after the fact, many still testify to these qualities that were first noticed in him as a candidate and have endured to this day. Despite the considerable gaps in our ages, the former President has always been more courteous and accessible to me than many of my contemporaries who were in his government.
As President, he has been one of the best, for our country, our continent and our times.
While many will dispute which of his achievements were most significant, here is my list for the most significant.
1: He took us to HIPC, against the advice of many in his government and the vociferous opposition — leading to the forgiveness of billions of US Dollars in debt and attracting significant resources for our development. The resources that started flowing to us with the beginning of HIPC are still flowing and will flow for years to come.
2: He built significant infrastructure—in education, in health and in transportation, touching the lives of millions. These resources in education increased primary school enrollment by a third and doubled enrollment in our public Universities while increasing the number of Polytechnic students by half. These are numbers that have not been seen since the Nkrumah era.
3: He fought poverty, reducing it by nearly a third, through the introduction of the NHIS, the School Feeding Program and many others.
4: He deepened decentralization by increasing our districts by a third, from 110 to 170. This brought power and development closer to many people.
5: He found oil and started the BUI dam. He did this by refocusing the GNPC on its core mission and finding the financing for the construction of the Bui dam.
6: He made the Presidency more accessible by introducing the “Peoples’ Assembly” where people could ask the President questions directly. This activity, which was moved around from region to region, improved access to the President significantly.
7: He was and is a peacemaker on our continent. Kenya, Liberia, and Ivory Coast, amongst others, all stand in testament to his peace-making skills. Our continent, particularly our sub-region, is more peaceful, in part, due to his work.
8: He increased our prestige in the family of nations. His Chairmanship of ECOWAS and the AU, as well as his regular attendance of G-8 and G-20 summits all bear testimony to his clout as a world leader. Indeed, according to some wags, during his second term, we really had G-9 summits, with the 9th country being Ghana. Of course, he did not achieve these things all by himself.
Politics is a team sport and he was helped by his party to the Presidency and his Ministers to achieve all that he did. However, without his leadership, there may never have been an NPP administration or one as successful as we had. Thus, just as many blame him alone for the failures of his administration, he must get the most credit for the successes of his administration.
Even in retirement, Mr. Kufuor has been exemplary. Beside continuation of his international activities, for development and for peace, he has been a model ex-President. He has been very circumspect in criticizing his successor and/or his predecessor.
Since leaving office, the question of the former President’s place in history has been discussed endlessly.
While many give him credit for his many accomplishments, others have sought to undermine his credibility and to diminish his accomplishments. Those who are diminishing the former President are misguided.
We are a big enough country to have many successful Presidents or leaders. Our politics should not be a zero-sum game where one can only advance or earn renown to the detriment of others.
Some say that his failure to win the “Moh Ibrahim” prize was a major blow to his reputation. Not really. He has received more significant recognition for his achievements.
First, in 2007, he was invited to Britain by the Queen and spent some days in Buckingham palace. That is an honour reserved for very few.
Furthermore, in 2008, he was honoured with a State Dinner by US President George Walker Bush. President Kufuor was one of only eight leaders from around the world honoured with a State Dinner by Mr. Bush.
Finally, in 2009, when the only black person to be elected President of the United States, Barrack Obama, chose to celebrate the land of his ancestry, he could find no better example of democracy and development than Ghana—so he chose Ghana.
That choice was in large part, an acknowledgement of Mr. Kufuor’s exemplary stewardship and the significant strides we made during that time. Those who celebrated the visit but do not want to celebrate Mr. Kufour are at best inconsistent and at worst hypocrites. Ultimately, however, Mr. Kufuor’s honour rests on the esteem in which he is held by Ghanaians. Ghanaians know that he is a democrat, a builder of his country, a peacemaker for Africa, an international statesman who brought honour to our country and a gentleman.
In the words of the popular song, we can say or sing, to President Kufuor the words “Mpenpensuo a wode yen abedu yi, yeda wo ase” which translated means roughly “For how far you have brought us, we thank you”
May the former President have many happy years and may God give Ghana more leaders like him.
Wherever you see him, in the next week or so, just put on one of his favourite songs “Di wo hene” so that he can move his head and tap his legs to the rhythm. The Ebo Quansah Column will appear on Thursday.