Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu was in his mid-50s and had been finance minister since 2005, steering one of West Africa’s most promising economies through a period of economic growth fuelled by high prices for gold and cocoa exports.

"The government announces with deep sorrow and shock the death of Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, minister of finance and economic planning," Kwadwo Mpiani, Ghana’s minister of presidential affairs, said in a statement.

"Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu passed away today after a short illness in a South African hospital," the statement said.

The former British Gold Coast colony issued sub-Saharan Africa’s first Eurobond outside South Africa a year ago.

The issue was four times oversubscribed amid optimism over Ghana’s growth prospects after the discovery of offshore oil which is due to come onstream in late 2010.

The country is the world’s No. 2 cocoa grower and Africa’s second biggest gold producer.

Baah-Wiredu hailed from the traditionally gold-mining Ashanti region, like President John Kufuor, who is due to step down after presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 7.

Baah-Wiredu had served in the government since Kufuor’s first term in 2001, first as minister for local government and rural development, then overseeing the education, youth and sports portfolio before his appointment as finance minister. Reuters