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Ghana: the real Kufuor; A new biography of President John Agyekum Kufuor--Between Faith and History--written by Ivor Agyeman-Duah, reveals the man behind the man at the helm in Accra. Osei Boateng has been reading it.

President John Agyekum Kufuor, one of the tallest presidents to burst onto the African scene, is known as "The Gentle Giant" on account of his quiet demeanour. But two recent foreign policy decisions by him--supporting Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth, and signing an Article 98 agreement exempting American citizens from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC)--have greatly displeased many Ghanaians and Africans abroad who say he is taking his "gentleness" (some call it "sucking up to the West") a touch beyond the politically acceptable.

According to these critics, Kufuor is destroying Ghana's reputation and illustrious pan-African leadership record achieved during the Nkrumah years. But reading Ivor Agyemang-Duah's book, one gets the true measure of Kufuor and perhaps understands better the logic behind the two decisions at the heart of the storm.

The political tradition Kufuor comes from (the Danquah-Busia tradition), has never been radical. Okoto nnwo anoma (a crab does not give birth to a bird)--so goes a Ghanaian proverb. Thus, coming from a political tradition that has always been very pro-West, Kufuor--perhaps--can do no more.

For example, one of his political mentors, Prof Kofi Abrefa Busia (a major pillar of the Danquah-Busia tradition who became prime minister from 1969-1972), is on record to have led an opposition delegation to London in mid-1956, a few days after the Ghanaian parliament under Nkrumah had voted for the declaration of independence, to appeal to the British government not to grant independence to Ghana because (as Nkrumah put it in his autobiography) "the country was not ready for parliamentary democracy".

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On the visit, Busia, then the official leader of the opposition in Ghana, issued a statement which was printed liberally (13 column inches) in the rightwing British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. The paper quoted Busia as saying: "We still need you [the British] in the Gold Coast [the name of Ghana before independence]. Your experiment there is not yet complete. Sometimes I wonder why you seem in such a hurry to wash your hands of us."

With this background, perhaps President Kufuor could be forgiven for following the beaten path of his political tradition. Which, considering his "original" roots--from the warrior empire of Denkyira that preceded the Asante empire by centuries--should worry the president somewhat. At the height of their power, the Denkyiras did not "suck up" to foreign meddling or dictation. They stood their ground and fought to the finish for their principles.

That said, Kufuor's own path to the Ghanaian presidency (starting from his boyhood) is enough of an interesting story to be told in its own right.

Officially known as John Agyekum Kufuor, his real name is Kofi Diawuo. Kofi is the Akan name for a boy born on Friday. And Diawuo was the surname of the great warrior chief after whom Kufuor was named. Nana Kwapong Diawuo was the second Oyokohene of Asante and one of the famous warriors of his time.

When Kufuor was born in 1938, his father, Nana Kwadwo Agyekum, was the head of the Oyoko stool/clan created in the 1700s as part of the Asante political structure. Asante royalty belongs to this clan, and every Asantehene (King of Asante) has had an Oyokohene as an uncle and advisor.

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"In the olden days," as Agyemang-Duah explains in his book, "it was the Oyokohene who had the power to declare war." In fact, the position of warrior and advisor to the king is so important in the Asante political structure that the British colonial government found it necessary to exile, in 1896, the "troublesome" Oyokohene Kwadwo Agyekum together with the then Asantehene, Prempeh I, to the Seychelles Island. Nana Agyekum never returned, he died in the Seychelles.

The Akan is a matrilineal society, and as such children belong to where their mothers come from. Kufuor's mother, Ama Paa (born in 1903), had her roots in Denkyira, the great empire where the first Asantehene, Osei Tutu, went to learn statecraft as a youth. For centuries, the Denkyiras were the overlords of the Asantes. The father of Kufuor's mother, Nana Kwabena Kufuor of Nkawie (near the Asante capital, Kumasi), later became Denkyirahene (king of Denkyira).

From this point in the narration of the Kufuor story, he begins to have a lucky dance with Mother Faith (the first bit of Agyemang-Duah's title). It is said that during his adolescent years in Denkyira, Osei Tutu (the first Asantehene) married a Denkyira woman called Brimpomaa Safowaa. She is the earliest known ancestor of Kufuor's mother, Ama Paa, who in later life would inherit wealth--cash, houses and cocoa farms--from her uncles and brothers.

In no time, Brimpomaa Safowaa's Denkyira roots conveniently dovetailed into that of her Asante husband's (Osei Tutu, the Asantehene), and by the time Kufuor was born in 1938, his family's roots had become Asante through and through. In fact, their family home in Kumasi, Apagyafie, is a stone's throw from the Manhyia Palace, the Asantehene's official residence.

Thus, as a boy, Kufuor naturally got enmeshed in Asante tradition and ritual, One of his sisters, Agnes Addo Kufuor, even married perhaps the most popular Asantehene of the modern era, Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II.

This background, amply chronicled by Agyemang-Duah in his book, explains why even though Kufuor is today generally considered an Asante, he is yet a Denkyira by root and by Akan traditional mores.

From this point, Kufuor's history in Asante opposition politics (or the Danquah-Busia tradition) takes over the story. His family home in Kumasi became the headquarters of the Asante opposition to Kwame Nkrumah's government. Initially called the Asante Movement, and later renamed the National Liberation Movement (NLM), the Asante opposition against Nkrumah was founded on the demand for a federation in Ghana.

At the forefront of this opposition was Baffour Osei Akoto, the senior linguist of the Asantehene, Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, Kufuor's brother-in-law. Baffour Osei Akoto also happened to be the father of one of Kufuor's elder brothers (born before Kufuor's mother's marriage to his father).

Kufuor's mother herself was an ardent supporter of the NLM's cause. "Meetings were held in her Apagya house and she gave large sums of money for political organisation and strategies," Agyemang-Duah reveals. "The first Jeep to be used for political campaign by the NLM (which later became the United Party) was donated by Apagyafie."

As a boy, Kufuor watched all these political goings-on in his home with keen interest, and imbibed a lot from the opposition politicians who met there. He was a bright student even in those early days.

"By the time he got to the fifth year [at Prempeh College in Kumasi]," writes Agyemang-Duah, "Kufuor was already a superstar intellectually and was as popular in sports as in academics. At the close of school in 1959, he collected five of the six prizes annually presented to the best students. The sixth prize, Geography, was given to another student who [had] the same points, at the plead of the subject instructor."

His Fifth Form exam results were so good that he leapfrogged Sixth Form and A-Level education to Exeter College (Oxford University, UK) in 1961 to read law. But a year later, having been called to both the British and Ghana Bars in 1962, his interest in law waned and, after much persuasion, his professors allowed him to study for a two-year degree course in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) which he passed in 1964.

It was during his student days in England that he met (in 1961) his future wife, Theresa Mensah, who had finished her nursing training and was about to begin a four-year mid-wifery course at the Oxford University Hospital. Mother Faith was smiling on Kufuor again.

Their "traditional" engagement in July 1962, at his mother's home in London, was presided over by the Asante royal and lawyer, Barima Kwaku Adusei, who would later become the Asantehene Opoku Ware II (who reigned from 1970 to 1999).

In September 1962, Kufuor and Theresa had their "Western" wedding at the Bloomington Catholic Church opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbrige, London. The marriage has since produced five children--three boys and two girls.

After his studies at Oxford, Kufuor wanted to stay on in London for some time and work. He had, in fact, been employed as manager and legal officer at the London branch of the Ghana Commercial Bank, but his mother summoned him home (after only three months in his new job) to come and look after the family silver. "So Kufuor left London in late December 1964 [with his wife and two small children] in the middle of a severe winter ... He had been abroad for six years."

Back home, Kufuor joined the chambers of Victor Owusu, a descendant of the great traditional priest Komfo Anokye who played a pivotal role in the founding of the Asante Empire in the 1700s. Victor Owusu would later make a gallant but unsuccessful attempt for the Ghanaian presidency. He died in London in 2000 without achieving his ambition.

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According to Agyemang-Duah, Kufuor cut his political teeth at the age of 28, by becoming the town clerk of the Kumasi City Council. He spent three years there--1967-1969--before Faith again smiled on him. Nkrumah's government had been overthrown in February 1966, and the elections held in 1969 had been won by Kufuor's political mentor, Prof K. A. Busia who became prime minister.

Nkrumah's Convention People's Party had been banned by the soldiers who overthrew him, so power was more or less thrust onto the lap of the NLM-UP opposition (now calling themselves the Progress Party) headed by Dr Busia. Kufuor himself had stood and won as an MP on Progress Party ticket in the Atwima Nwabagya constituency in the Asante Region.

Busia had had a hand in Kufuor going to Oxford University. The new prime minister had been a professor at Oxford, and had encouraged the young Kufuor to go there to study. When he became prime minister in 1969, Busia remembered his young protege. He appointed Kufuor as deputy foreign minister, serving under Victor Owusu, the new foreign minister. It was a perfect match.

But their government lasted only 27 months. It was overthrown in January 1972 by another group of soldiers, and Kufuor was detained. It was here that Kufuor, a strong believer in traditional values and also a staunch Anglican, switched his religious allegiance to Catholicism. Agyemang-Duah tells the story better:

"After the overthrow of [Busia's government], Kufuor was arrested and imprisoned. Throughout his stay in prison neither the Anglican bishop of Accra nor any of the leading church elders visited him. Other political prisoners had their bishops come and pray for them. Bishop Peter Akwasi Sarpong, the Catholic bishop of Kumasi, travelled to Accra to pray for Kufuor. After his release, his sister Agnes advised him to take God seriously and so he did by joining the Catholic Church in anger, and also to be sure that when he needed God, at least his representative would be there to inspire him."

From prison, Kufuor went back to practising law and setting up a string of businesses. He was successful in both. But his main love was politics, and he yearned for better days to get into it again. He had a long time to wait, however, as a series of coups kept the civilians out of politics until 1979.

Even then, the Progress Party (now calling itself the Popular Front Party, led by Victor Owusu) lost badly in the 1979 elections, although Kufuor himself won his Nwabagya seat again and joined the opposition ranks in parliament. That government, headed by Dr Hilla Limann, was overthrown by Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings on 31 December 1981, and Kufuor was back to square one--almost.

After the coup, it suddenly dawned on Rawlings that his regime could not go it alone, and so he appealed to the opposition parties in the country (then organised around a loose coalition called the All People's Party--APP), for help. Kufuor was one of the politicians nominated by the APP to serve under Rawlings. He was appointed minister for local government, but Kufuor resigned after eight months in the job.

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This dalliance with Rawlings, short as it was, would become a millstone around Kufuor's neck. His opponents, even today, still taunt him, saying but for the succour he and the other APP politicians gave Rawlings, the young military regime of 1982 could not have survived the turbulent early years and become the "hegemon" it metamorphosed into--for 19 long years!

Kufuor defends himself by explaining that he served under Rawlings at the behest of the APP and Victor Owusu, his party leader, who asked him and two others to join the military regime in order to control its excesses from within.

When he resigned from the regime, Kufuor faced another long wait. Elections would not be held until 1992. This time, Kufuor did not only fight for his Nwabagya seat, he also fought for the party's presidential nomination, and lost to Professor Adu Boahen. In fact, some of his own Asante people did not believe he had the requisite leadership qualities. Even Victor Owusu, his longtime mentor who was ill in London at the time, refused to endorse him.

When the elections came, Adu Boahen was beaten by Rawlings in the presidential vote, and the opposition cried foul. The acrimony was such that Adu Boahen and Kufuor's party (now calling itself the New Patriotic Party--NPP) boycotted the 1992 parliamentary elections held a few weeks after the presidential. Though Kufuor would have won his Nwabagya seat again, he was now back in the political wilderness.

Four years later, his time finally came. He defeated Adu Boahen for the NPP's presidential nomination in the 1996 elections, after a rather acrimonious party primaries during which Kufuor was savaged by his brother-in-law, J. H. Mensah (sister of Kufuor's wife and who had served under Busia as finance minister).

As Agyeman-Duah put it: "Ofori Atta who had nominated Adu Boahen in 1992, thought it was time to take a bite [at Kufuor]. J. H. Mensah, the oldest of them all, was the brother-in-law of Kufuor, and there were interesting and embarrassing moments when the brother-in-law had to publicly abuse his sister's husband."

But Kufuor took it all on the chin, and went on to run against Rawlings. He was beaten. And the NPP descended into another period of in-fighting, with some arguing that Kufuor (normally not a particularly good public speaker), "lacked the courage" to take important decisions, and thus retarded progress.

For the 2000 elections, which would bring Kufuor to power, the NPP held its party primaries two years to the time (in October 1998), with the aim of giving its presidential candidate enough time to prepare for the elections.

Looking back on that primaries, and what was said about Kufuor by some of the people now serving in his cabinet, one gets the measure of how fickle politicians can be.

For example, J. H. Mensah, Kufuor's brother-in-law, again, "spoke contemptuously [about Kufuor], telling the delegates at the party congress to reject him like an expired cassava". According to Mensah, "Kufuor had become useless, a declaration which was met with boos and catcalls such that [Mensah's] whole rendition for the evening was incoherent," writes Agyemang-Duah.

One newspaper in Accra even had the audacity to predict that Kufuor would lose the primaries, because he was "not articulate enough, neither did he have the grasp of the issues". Yet cometh the hour, cometh the man. When the results of the primaries were announced, Kufuor had trounced all and sundry (he had 1,286 votes to his nearest rival's 628 votes).

"A happy J. A. Kufuor", writes Agyemang-Duah, "gave his victory speech, a joyous wife by his side. J. H. Mensah had quickly reverted to the position of a brother-in-law and stood by Kufuor's side." Today, J. H. Mensah serves as a "senior minister" in Kufuor's government. All acrimony forgotten. But the biggest prize was yet to be won. Kufuor worked hard in the 2000 campaign, traversing the country in his usual quiet way and winning the hearts of the people.

When the Election Day finally came, Kufuor won decisively (57% of the vote) after a run-off against Professor Atta Mills, the successor to Rawlings. The boy from Apagyafie had finally made it! And he is more likely to win a second term in December 2004.

On the whole, it is a good biography, except in places where Agyemang-Duah let his antipathy to Nkrumah cloud his judgement.

(Between Faith and History is published by Africa World Press, P.O Box 1892, Trenton, NJ 08607, USA. $24.95 hardcopy, 136 pages) including index)
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Title Annotation:Feature
Author:Boateng, Osei
Publication:New African
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:2781
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