John Agyekum Kufuor (born 1938) was one of the prime movers bringing democracy back to Ghana after the country had been subjected to a long line of coups and military dictators. In 2000 he became president of Ghana, defeating Jerry Rawlings, who had been in office for 20 years. It was a peaceful transfer of power, perhaps signifying that peace and democracy had at long last triumphed in Ghana. Kufuor has proven to be a good diplomat, and the West African nation has seen a period of peace since his election. Ghana has managed to improve its economy as well, and much of the improvement seems due to Kufuor's policies, which have been applauded by many leaders around the world.
John Agyekum Kufuor was born on December 8, 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana, the country's second largest city and the Asante capital. He was born the seventh of ten children to Nana Kwadwo Agyekum, head of the Oyoko royal family, and Nana Ama Dapaah, a Queen mother. The family had royal Asante lineage. Kufuor was raised by his mother. At the time the ruler, Kwame Nkrumah, had a vision of a unified Ghana that had chords of socialism and dictatorship about it. Kufuor's mother was completely against such a thing, and before long Kufuor's home became the center for people who were opposed to Nkrumah's plans for Ghana. The group called themselves the Asante Movement, although they later renamed themselves the National Liberation Movement. The group originated in Kufuor's home, so he was introduced at an early age to many leaders of the liberal movement.
At school Kufuor was good at both academics and sports. He liked school and so after graduation went on to attend and graduate from Prempeh College in Kumasi in 1959. At his graduation he was awarded five of the six awards given to the best students. He went on to study law at Lincoln's Inn in London, England. He passed his bar exam in 1961 and went on to Exeter College at Oxford University to pursue legal studies. After only one year of studying law, however, Kufuor realized that his passion lay not in the law but in politics. He switched degrees and started studying philosophy, politics, and economics. He graduated a mere two years later.
While he was studying at Oxford, Kufuor met and fell in love with a woman named Theresa Mensah, who was also from Ghana and had gone to England to study nursing. The two married in 1962, and had five children together. In 1965 Kufuor's mother convinced him to bring his family—at the time his wife and two young children—back to Ghana. He agreed and took up law there until 1969 as a way to make a living. He became the chief legal officer and the city manager of Kumasi in 1967, posts he held until 1969. Both of these posts allowed Kufuor a view of politics from the inside that he had never had before, and they inspired him on his future path.
He left the law in 1969 to take up his first ministerial appointment in the Progress Party government, as a deputy foreign minister under Victor Owusu, one of the men who used to visit his home when he was a boy. In 1972 the government was overthrown by the military, and many officials were thrown into jail, including Kufuor. After his release he took up a career in business. He became chairman of the board of the Ashanti Brick and Construction Company.
Kufuor spent a long time in business before he returned to politics. It was not until 1992 that he ran for the office of chairman for the New Patriotic Party, which had just been formed. He was not elected to the post until 1996, but was then re-elected in 1998. He faced a lot of competition each time he ran, but refused to give up, and eventually succeeded in being elected. He next turned his sights towards becoming Ghana's president. He was confident of being elected president, and in fact predicted it to U.S. President Bill Clinton when he visited in 1998.
Kufuor was indeed elected president in 2000, defeating longtime president Jerry Rawlings. It was considered by many to be a turning point in Ghana's future. In 1957 Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to claim independence from colonists. The country was then basically handed from one man to another through a system of personal and political loyalties, and without the benefit of democratic elections. There are two distinct groups in Ghana: the Nkrumah, who are anti-imperialistic, pan-Africa, socialist, and believe in government involvement in the economy; and the Danquah-Busia, who believe in democracy, the sovereignty of the individual, private enterprise, and free markets. Kufuor belonged to the latter.
After such an extended period of rule by one person, many were nervous about how the turnover of power would go, but the change went smoothly. Kufuor managed to win the election with the platform of "zero tolerance for corruption." The country had been rife with it before, and so the idea was appealing to many. The country was also doing poorly economically, mostly because of such corruption, and people were ready for a change. Kufuor was nicknamed the "gentle giant" because he was tall—at six feet, three inches—and quiet, and yet he seemed to instill confidence in those he was to lead.
In 2001 Kufuor made his first trip to the United States as president of Ghana. He went there to take part in the United Nations General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS. He attended a luncheon set up to establish links between Ghana and black American business leaders, with the goal of forging links that would help his country in the future.
Although he was called the "gentle giant," Kufuor meant business. In 2002 he set up a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to examine abuses of power occurring under the five governments that had ruled Ghana since 1966. Some felt these measures were undertaken in order to discredit anyone opposing Kufuor's government. But whatever the opposition Kufuor faced, he was reelected in 2004. This time his campaign message was "So far, so good," showing that there had been progress in Ghana in his first term.
More than 80 percent of the population turned out to vote in the 2004 elections; it was the largest turnout in west African history. After Kufuor won his second term in office the PR Newswire said, "Domestic and international election observers agreed that the contest was free, fair, and transparent. Ghana, many observers noted, is one of the few countries in Africa to have held four consecutive multiparty elections since 1992."
By August of 2005 Kufuor had visited over 63 countries as president of Ghana, and Kufuor had great support from the international community. He helped Liberia achieve peace, was the first ruler to submit his country to review by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, and was a spokesperson for the six leaders from Africa who attended the G8 summit in 2004. He has been seen as one of a handful of leaders of an African Renaissance, helping to bring stability and success to Africa.
Kufour has been called a "boring" leader by some in his own country, but that is something that does not upset the ruler. He has said that if boredom has brought with it the peace and stability his country needs, then he thinks there should be more boredom in the world. African Business said of Kufuor, "True, he does not go for fiery, clenched-fist speeches that seem to characterize some of Africa's more 'charismatic' leaders, but he has unmistakable gravitas, a disarming sense of humor and most important, people listen when he speaks and then go home and think about what they have heard. He treats ordinary people as sane, reasonable human beings who will respond to sane, reasonable propositions rather than as a mass who can be manipulated through demagoguery." Ghana, however, was not out of trouble completely. In 2004 the country had a poverty level of 40 percent, and it was Kufuor's goal to reduce the number significantly.
In 2005 Kufuor worked to update the country's railway system, establishing the Ghana Railway Development Authority. In 2006 he declared a Year of Action in Ghana. He met with his Investment Advisory Council and declared, according to African Business , that "talking was past and that this would be the year of 'implementation, implementation and implementation.'" Kufuor's goal was to turn Ghana into a middle income country by the year 2015. Although the rate of growth has been about 5.8 percent in recent years, that rate was not high enough to fulfill Kufuor's goal, and much more was needed.
With this goal in mind and the realization of how difficult it would be, Kufuor looked internationally for aid. In 2006 he appealed to South Korea for support in attracting private investments. He also met with U.S. President George W. Bush to discuss receiving aid from the Millennium Challenge Account. The world was watching Kufuor at the beginning of 2007, and much was expected of the determined ruler.
Contemporary Black Biography , Volume 54, Thomson Gale, 2006.
Newsmakers , Issue 4, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations: World Leaders , Gale, 2003.
African Business , February 2001; January 2005; April 2005; May 2006.
Economist (U.S.), December 14, 1996; April 28, 2001; May 26, 2001.
PR Newswire, December 17, 2004.
Xinhua News Agency, October 5, 2006; November 8, 2006.