Ghana says goodbye to a good man
ACCRA – When Ghana's voters delivered their verdict in a presidential election on Sunday, many may have regretted that the man they really wanted was absent from the ballot paper. President John Kufuor, the Oxford-educated barrister who has led Ghana since 2001, is doing a strange thing for an African leader.
He is standing down, in accordance with the constitution, after a mere eight years in power and at the relatively early age of 70.
Despite his genuine popular following, Mr Kufuor will hand over next month. Under his stewardship, Ghana’s gross domestic product has quadrupled from £2.6 billion in 2000 to almost £11 billion today.
Instead of squandering this windfall, Mr Kufuor halved the level of poverty and increased the number of children in primary school by almost a quarter.
He introduced free medical care for the poor in 2004 and free meals in schools. All this has made Ghana one of Africa’s rare success stories – and the third biggest recipient of British aid on the continent. "It has to be said that it is pretty impressive stuff, especially if you consider our neighbours," said William Ahadzie, a senior lecturer at the University of Ghana. "There are definitely big challenges still ahead, but he has put in place a series of substantial policies which have targeted alleviating the hardships of the poor."
Mr Kufuor, a scion of a royal Ashanti family, was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn and read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Exeter College, Oxford.
His aim is to elevate Ghana to a "middle income country" by 2015 – and last year’s discovery of at least 600 million barrels of oil was a step along that path.
But Mr Kufuor has plenty of critics – and they fear that oil will cause more corruption, just as it has elsewhere in Africa.
"Zero corruption is a myth, Ghana is at exactly the same corruption rating today as it was in 2002," said Vitus Azzeem from Transparency International.
Alex Vines, the head of the Africa programme at the Chatham House think tank, said: "Kufuor will clearly be remembered more positively than negatively, but the challenge is ensuring smooth elections and after that dealing properly with the oil revenue. Oil is easy money for politicians."
Yesterday’s election pitted Nana Akufo-Addo, from the ruling New Patriotic Party, against John Atta Mills of the opposition National Democratic Congress. The winner will take office in January.