John Agyekum Kufuor Biography

President of Ghana

Born December 8, 1938, in Kumasi, Ghana; son of Nana Kwadwo Agyekum (a clan leader) and Ama Paa (a political activist); married Theresa Mensah; children: five. Education: Oxford University, B.A. and M.A., 1964.

Addresses: Office —Office of The President, P.O. Box 1627, Castle Osu, Accra, Ghana. Website — E-mail—


Named chief legal officer and town clerk of Kumasi, Ghana, 1967; member of Ghana's constituent assemblies (constitutional conventions), 1968-69 and 1979; served as deputy foreign minister and led Ghana's United Nations delegation, 1969-71; elected to parliament, 1969 and 1979; secretary for local government in Ghana's national government, 1982; unsuccessful candidate for president, 1996; won presidential elections, 2000 and 2004; president of Ghana, 2001—; elected chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, 2003.


John Agyekum Kufuor helped bring democracy back to Ghana after a long history of coups and military rulers. His defeat of longtime president Jerry Rawlings in elections in 2000, and the peaceful transfer of power that followed, Ghana's first, marked a significant triumph for democracy in Africa. His diplomacy across West Africa has promoted

John Agyekum Kufuor
peace in the region, and his reforms at home have improved Ghana's economy and won the respect of other world leaders. Tall but quiet, he is nicknamed "The Gentle Giant," and his 2004 reelection cemented his reputation as one of Africa's most prominent elected leaders.

Kufuor was born in 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana's second-largest city. His father was the Oyokohene of Kumasi, a powerful clan leader, and his mother was a strong supporter of a party opposed to prime minister and president Kwame Nkrumah in the 1950s and 1960s. Kufuor was such a star pupil at a school in Kumasi that he was admitted to study law at the prestigious Exeter College at Oxford University in England in 1961, and was admitted to the bar as a lawyer in England and Ghana in 1962. (He met his wife, Theresa, who was studying midwifery at Oxford, in 1961 and married her in 1962.) He then earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Oxford in 1964.

Once he graduated, Kufuor returned to Ghana, and was appointed town clerk and chief legal officer of Kumasi in 1967. His political stature increased quickly. He was a member of the assembly that drafted the constitution for Ghana's second republic in 1968-69, then was elected to parliament in 1969.

The prime minister, K. A. Busia (a former Oxford professor who had encouraged Kufuor to study there), named Kufuor deputy foreign minister; Kufuor also headed Ghana's United Nations delegation from 1969 to 1971. However, the government was overthrown in a 1972 coup, and Kufuor spent time in political detention. Once released, he worked as a lawyer and businessman until civilian government returned in 1979, when he again attended the constitutional assembly and was elected to parliament.

Jerry Rawlings, president of Ghana throughout the 1980s and 1990s, was Kufuor's great rival. Rawlings twice took power in Ghana through coups, in 1979 and on the last day of 1981. After the second coup, Kufuor was one of the members of the opposition invited to take part in the government. Kufuor served as the secretary for local government in Rawlings' cabinet for seven months, but resigned. "The regime started committing brutalities. I wrote Rawlings that I disagreed and resigned," Kufuor told a Reuters reporter, according to a Chicago Tribune article. "The murder of three magistrates was for me the main reason to resign."

Rawlings ruled Ghana for 18 years, first as a Marxist military dictator, but during the 1990s, he embraced capitalism and responded to pressure for democratic reforms. Meanwhile, Kufuor pursued success in business and helped found the New Patriotic Party, built on a pro-capitalist, moderate-conservative ideology. His party won about a third of the vote in 1992, and Kufuor challenged Rawlings in the 1996 presidential elections, but lost.

In 2000, however, Ghana's constitution prohibited Rawlings from running for re-election, and very high inflation and unemployment had made him and his party less popular. Kufuor ran for president again, this time against Rawlings' vice-president, John Atta Mills, and beat him, 48 to 45 percent in the first round of voting and 57 percent to 43 percent in the runoff election in late December. Mills promised a smooth transition, and in early January of 2001, Ghana saw its first peaceful, democratic change of leaders. "With these elections, Ghana has demonstrated that democracy and its institutions continue to take root in Africa," United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, a native of Ghana, commented, as quoted by Kwaku Sakyi-Addo in the Washington Post. "The international community should rejoice at this orderly and democratic transfer of power."

Kufuor promised free-market reforms to attract foreign investment and trade. He hoped to improve Ghana's economy enough to pay off the massive domestic and foreign debt accumulated during the Rawlings era. His reforms, he promised, would go deeper than Rawlings' lip service to capitalism. "If this means my being unpopular, it's just unfortunate. I'm ready to be very tough, but tough for a purpose," he told George B.N. Ayittey of the Wall Street Journal. While Rawlings' government had often used price controls, Kufuor raised the prices of fuel, electricity, and water in his first year in office. Rawlings, in opposition, loudly criticized Kufuor. He also suggested that Kufuor did not have the military's confidence, a remark that was considered a threat of another coup, but the military declared it supported Kufuor.

In his first year in office, Kufuor and his government entered into the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, a decision the opposition criticized. Entering the HIPC requires carrying out reforms that countries often find painful. However, the end result is that some of its foreign debt is cancelled as long as the money that would have been spent on debt relief goes to social programs such as poverty reduction. Kufuor's government not only submitted to the program's requirements, it successfully argued that it should be able to use 20 percent of the money freed by foreign debt relief to pay down its domestic debt.

By 2004, Ghana's foreign creditors had agreed to write off more than half of the country's foreign debt over the following 20 years. Ghana also received funding from the United States' Millennium Challenge Account, which only gives money to countries that have shown a commitment to economic freedom and investing in their people. In June of 2004, John B. Taylor, the United States undersecretary of international affairs, visited Ghana to see the impact of its reforms. "We are impressed with Ghana's democracy and [the] government's policies on governance, education, health and freedom of the press. We are also impressed to see inflation down," Taylor said, according to George Frank Asmah of African Business.

During his first term, Kufuor became a diplomat who pressed for more democracy and peace in Africa, especially in Ghana's West African neighbors. He and the presidents of Mali and Senegal visited the White House in 2001 and joined United States President George W. Bush in a statement opposing governments that take or hold on to power by unconstitutional means, a remark that was considered a criticism of Zimbabwe's longtime president, Robert Mugabe. When a civil war ended in Sierra Leone in 2002, Kufuor commemorated the moment by joining Sierra Leone's president in setting fire to a pile of thousands of rifles and automatic weapons.

In early 2003, Kufuor was elected chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a group that not only promotes economic cooperation in West Africa, but has also worked as a peace-maker, mediating military disputes and sometimes deploying peacekeeping troops. That year, Kufuor brought the Ivory Coast's prime minister and rebel leaders together for peace talks in Accra, Ghana's capital. His efforts could not end the war there. But as the world pressed for an end to the civil war in Liberia in 2003, Kufuor pledged that West African nations would send a peacekeeping force there once the fighting ceased. When Liberian president Charles Taylor stepped down later that year, ending the civil war, Kufuor spoke at the ceremony at which Taylor handed over power.

Kufuor faced some criticism for two foreign policy decisions toward the end of his first term. One was signing an agreement to exempt American citizens from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court, which the United States does not recognize. The other was his support for suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, an international organization composed of former members of the British Empire. Critics said Kufuor was trying too hard to please Western nations, but his stance on Zimbabwe, at least, was consistent with his opposition to undemocratic governments.

When Ghana's next elections came in December of 2004, Kufuor again faced Mills in the presidential contest. He ran on a platform of having improved Ghana's economy. "Judge me by my works," he told voters at campaign appearances, according to Asmah in African Business. Mills accused Kufuor's government of being too dependent on foreign donors and called for a more self-sufficient economy. But Kufuor won almost 53 percent of the vote in the election to Mills' 44 percent.

In his State of the Nation speech in February of 2005, Kufuor pointed to a declining inflation rate and increased stability in Ghana's national currency as signs the country's economy was improving. He promised to improve education in Ghana, support business growth, and pass laws to increase the flow of government information and protect government whistleblowers. "Let's work together to make this nation the just, humane, and prosperous one it can be," he said, according to Kwadwo Mensah of the New African.



African Business, December 2004, p. 44.

Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, OH), June 29, 2003, p. A6.

Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1996, p. 17; February 16, 2003, p. 8; December 10, 2004, p. 27.

New African, February 1, 2004, p. 42; March 2005, p. 47.

New York Times, December 30, 2000, p. A4; May 4, 2001, p. A25.

Philadelphia Inquirer, August 12, 2003, p. A1.

Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2001, p. A18.

Washington Post, December 30, 2000, p. A19; June 29, 2001, p. A5.


"Biography of J.A. Kufuor," 4 More Years for JAKufuor, (May 21, 2005).

"Debt Relief Under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative," International Monetary Fund, (May 30, 2005).

"ECOWAS elects Niger's Tandja as new head, slams Cote d'Ivoire,", (May 30, 2005).

—Erick Trickey

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