Former President John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor is 81 years old today.
Born on December 8, 1938, in Kumasi, J. A. Kufuor served as President of Ghana from January 7, 2001, to January 7, 2009, and handed over to his successor, the late Prof. John Evans Atta Mills.
Kufuor was the 7th of 10 children born to Nana Kwadwo Agyekum, who was a royal in the Asante Region and Nana Ama Dapaah, who was also a queen mother.
He is married to Theresa Kufuor and together they have five children.
The former president started his education at Osei Tutu Boarding School in Kumasi from 1951 to 1953 then proceeded to Prempeh College also in Kumasi from 1954 to 1958. He then enrolled at one of the four Inns of Court in London from 1959 to 1961 and was then called to the English Bar as a Barrister.
He also attended the prestigious Oxford University in England in 1964 where he earned a master’s degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
John Agyekum Kufuor won the year 2000 presidential election on the ticket of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the first round, held on December 7, 2000, Kufuor came in first place with 48.4%, while John Atta-Mills, Jerry Rawlings’ Vice-President, came in second with 44.8%, forcing the two into a run-off vote.
In the second round, held on December 28, 2000, Kufuor was victorious, taking 56.9% of the vote. When Kufuor was sworn in on January 7, 2001, it marked the first time in Ghana’s history that an elected government had peacefully surrendered power to the opposition.
Kufuor was re-elected in another presidential election held on December 7, 2004, earning 52.45% of the popular vote in the first round, thus avoiding a run-off, while at the same time Kufuor’s party, the New Patriotic Party, was able to secure more seats in the Parliament of Ghana.
As President of the Republic of Ghana, the ‘Gentle Giant’ as he is affectionately known, constructed and rehabilitated some sports stadia, the Presidential Palace (Golden Jubilee House), the Accra-Tema commuter railway line, the Keta Sea Defence Wall, the Bui Dam and Bui City Project, the Boankra Inland Port (under construction), major feeder and trunk roads (Accra-Kumasi; Aflao-Kasoa-Cape Coast; Accra to Aburi; several by-passes in Accra and Kumasi including the Asafo interchange, the restoration of Peduase Lodge, the drilling of several boreholes culminating in the solution to the perennial water problems in Cape Coast and Tamale.
He also expanded the Aboadze Thermal Plant, built the Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in ICT, a state-of-the-art wood village at Sokoban in Kumasi for Anloga carpenters, the accident centre at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH).
He expanded 56 of the best secondary schools into Model Secondary Schools and supplied Science Resource Centres with buses.
Though laudable it became a political weapon later for the opposition when in his own party’s 2008 manifesto, they could show only 14 new secondary schools they had built compared to over 200 under 19 years of the previous administration.
He also established the President’s Special Initiatives on cassava, oil palm and garments, taking major advantage of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of the United States.
Kufuor also started the affordable housing projects, the cocoa processing plant in Kumasi, promoted the West African Gas Pipe Line project with colleague West African heads of state.
During his tenure the expansion of the road network was very visible; from 39,000 km of accessible roads when he took office in 2001, he left a legacy of 65,000 km.
In health, the National Health Insurance Scheme to replace the then so-called cash-and-carry system was established and 11 million Ghanaians were registered under this scheme. He set up the National Ambulance Service in response to the May 9 Accra Sports Stadium disaster and built more than 205 hospitals and clinics.
Kufuor also introduced Free Maternal Health Care in public hospitals for all expectant mothers.
In education, Kufuor institutionalised the capitation grant for school children at the basic level and started the National School Feeding Programme, whereby school children were given one hot meal a day.
He changed the Senior Secondary School curriculum from three years to four years and renamed it Senior High School.
Kufuor also launched the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC), a US$50 million fund that makes microloans available to the productive population, and further introduced the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty Program (LEAP), which provides direct cash transfers to the poorest households in the country who could not support themselves.
For the first time in Ghana’s history, borrowing became so cheap and available that microfinance companies and major banks actually went on to the streets and encouraged small-scale businessmen and women to apply for loans.
His major economic successes, especially in the banking and finance industry, started when he took advantage of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) against popular opinion. HIPC resulted in debt forgiveness by bilateral and multilateral development partners.
Under HIPC, even though Kufuor inherited a debt of some USD8bn which was then about 70 of GDP, he left office having taken some loans and yet leaving the external debt at USD4bn.
Thus the prospects for the banking sector and private financing was real.
Societe General found it attractive to buy the then Social Security Bank to form SG-SSB.
UBA, Zenith and Access bank from Nigeria open branches here and partnered local businesses.
Ghana Telecom which had been struggling to declare profits and pay taxes to government, the sole shareholder, was initially handed to Telecom Malaysia and finally in a bold move in 2008, sold in a controversial deal to Vodafone, among concerns over national pride.
That upwelling pride in national assets influenced Kufuor’s decision to maintain Ghana Airways. He could not. Later he established Ghana International Airlines which was a major failure; it left a huge controversial debt.
Kufuor’s attempt to sell state acquired lands in Accra’s Ridge, Cantonments and Airport area as well as Adum in Kumasi, to outgoing ministers and officials was another major dent on his career with his successor Prof. Mills reverting the airport lands back into a state asset and building the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on it.
Kufuor could not answer questions in corruption with clarity. In the first few months of assuming office, he renovated his Accra Airport West residence with state funds, saying he preferred not to stay in the Christiansborg Castle occupied by his predecessor Jerry Rawlings, and later said a farmer had refunded the state funds on his behalf.
He kept Richard Anane at the Ministry of Health who had an affair with a foreigner, and yet could not answer how USD90K was transferred to the lady for the upkeep of the child. Later, at the Ministry of Roads and Highways, Anane facing a probe by CHRAJ was relieved of his post for about nine months, while a minister of state held temporary position; Anane was returned to that same cabinet position after the probe.
Whilst Kufuor points to roads as a major achievement, his cosy relationship with Anane was seen as a means to award contracts through a reliable crony.
Kufuor also left office under a shady security cloud, with his chief of staff Kwadwo Mpiani sacking Francis Poku, his national security minister to South Africa within 24 hours, and Mpiani taking on the additional security role.
In all these successes and failures, perhaps the one achievement that united the nation was when he released a press statement calling on all his appointees to prepare their handing over notes and leave office. This was at a time when Nana Akufo-Addo, his party’s presidential candidate was contesting some runoff election results and the legitimacy of the impending Tain constituency ballot which was to determine some 7000 votes needed for Akufo-Addo to overturn Atta-Mills’s lead.
Kufuor is fondly remembered for his frenemy relationship with his predecessor Jerry Rawlings whom he called “Sasabonsam” to wit Satan after Rawlings had labelled him “Ataa Ayi”, likening him to a notorious armed robber.
That “sasabonsam” quip, which J.A Kufuor also called JAK by his admirers is the only known bad language ever used by the Kufuor on the campaign trail or elsewhere.
At 81, JAK still evokes memories of vigorous and brave campaigning to take over power from Rawlings, a former military leader who had ruled for 19 years.
His campaign promos “Awurade Kasa” and “We need a man to save Mother Ghana” invented by Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, his preferred campaign manager and strategist of blessed memory still reverberate in the memories of the middle-aged.
We wish JAK a happy 81st birthday, long life and prosperity.