Former President John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor is 81 years old today.
Born on December 8, 1938, in Kumasi, J. A. Kufuor served as President of Ghana from January 7, 2001, to January 7, 2009, and handed over to the late President Prof. John Evans Atta-Mills.
Kufuor was the 7th of 10 children born to Nana Kwadwo Agyekum and Nana Ama Dapaah, both royals.
He is married to Theresa Kufuor; they have five children.
The former president had his education at Osei Tutu Boarding School in Kumasi from 1951 to 1953 and proceeded to Prempeh College also in Kumasi from 1954 to 1958.
He then enrolled at one of the four Inns of Court in London from 1959 to 1961 whence he was called to the English Bar as a Barrister.
He studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the prestigious Oxford University in England in 1964.
John Agyekum Kufuor won the year 2000 presidential election as the NPP candidate. In the first round, held on December 7, Kufuor led with 48.4%, while John Atta-Mills, Jerry Rawlings’ Vice-President, came in second at 44.8%, thus forcing a run-off election.
In the second round, held on December 28, Kufuor was victorious, polling 56.9% of the valid votes cast. When Kufuor was sworn in on January 7, 2001, it marked the first time in Ghana’s history that an elected president had peacefully transferred power to the opposition.
Kufuor was re-elected on December 7, 2004, with 52.45% with his party also increasing its parliamentary majority.
As President of the Republic of Ghana, the ‘Gentle Giant’ reconstructed and rehabilitated some sports stadia, the Flagstaff House which he renamed Golden Jubilee House and the Accra-Tema commuter railway line.
He also built the Keta Sea Defence Wall, the Bui Dam, and Bui City, the Boankra Inland Port (still under construction), and major Feeder and Trunk roads.
His major road projects are Accra-Kumasi, Aflao-Kasoa-Cape Coast, Accra-Aburi, and several by-passes in Accra and Kumasi including the Asafo interchange.
The restoration of Peduase Lodge and the drilling of several boreholes culminating in the solution to the then perennial water problems in Cape Coast and Tamale were also major issues he addressed.
Kufuor also expanded the Aboadze Thermal Plant, built the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE), and relocated the Anloga carpenters in Kumasi to a wood village at Sokoban in Kumasi.
He expanded 56 of the best secondary schools into Model Secondary Schools, elevated some of them to Science Resource Centres and supplied them buses.
Though laudable the model schools became a political weapon later for the opposition when in his own party’s 2008 manifesto, the NPP could show only 14 new secondary schools compared to over 200 under 19 years of the previous administration.
He also introduced the President’s Special Initiatives (PSIs) mainly through Kwamena Bartels, his minister for private sector development and Alan Kyerematen, his trade and industry minister.
The PSIs promoted cassava for industrial starch, oil palm, and garments, taking major advantage of the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) of the United States.
Kufuor also started the Affordable Housing Projects, a cocoa processing plant in Kumasi and promoted the West African Gas Pipe Line project with colleague West African heads of state.
During his tenure the expansion of the road network was very visible; from 39,000 km in 2001, Kufuor left a legacy of 65,000 km.
In health, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was introduced to replace the “obnoxious cash-and-carry system” in his first term. Today, though wobbling, the NHIS boasts of some 11 million subscribers. He also established the National Ambulance Service in response to the May 9 Accra Sports Stadium disaster and built more than 205 hospitals and clinics.
Kufuor further introduced Free Maternal Health Care tenable at government-funded hospitals for all expectant mothers.
In education, Kufuor institutionalized Capitation Grant for basic school children, starting with three cedis per child per annum, and began the School Feeding Programme, whereby school children were given one hot meal a day.
He changed the Senior Secondary School curriculum from three years to four years and renamed it Senior High School.
Kufuor also launched the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC), with US$50 million. This made small loans available to entrepreneurs.
He further introduced the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty Program (LEAP), which provides direct cash transfers to the poorest households in Ghana.
For the first time in Ghana’s history, borrowing from banks became so affordable and widespread to more of those with formal employment and even the self-employed; microfinance companies and major banks actually went on to the streets and encouraged small-scale businessmen and women to apply for loans. Removal of the Secondary Reserve requirements of the Bank of Ghana and declining Treasury Bill rates also contributed to this situation whereby banks had excess cash to lend.
His major economic successes, especially in the banking and finance industry, started when he took advantage of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative of the IMF/World Bank, against popular opinion. HIPC resulted in debt forgiveness by bilateral and multilateral Development Partners.
Under HIPC, even though Kufuor inherited an external debt of some USD8bn which was then about 70 per cent of GDP, he left office having taken some loans and yet leaving the external debt at USD4bn.
Thus the prospects for the banking sector and private financing were real.
Societe General found it attractive to buy the then Social Security Bank, a state asset and converted it into SG-SSB, now SG.
UBA, Zenith and Access banks from Nigeria were among foreign banks which jumped at the opportunity and partnered local businesses.
Ghana Telecom which had been struggling to declare profits and pay taxes to the government, the sole shareholder, was initially handed to Telecom Malaysia as Managers and finally in a bold move in 2008, Vodafone was brought on board as shareholders.
That upwelling pride in national assets influenced Kufuor’s earlier decision to maintain perennially troubled Ghana Airways.
He could not. Later he established Ghana International Airlines which was a major failure; resulting in a huge controversial debt.
Under Kufuor, the Ministry of Works and Housing sold state acquired lands at Ridge, Cantonments and the Airport West in Accra as well as in Adum, Kumasi, to outgoing ministers and officials.
His successor Prof. Atta-Mills simply built the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices on the land.
Kufuor could not answer questions about corruption with clarity, saying once at a press conference that corruption has been with us “since Adam”.
In the first few months of assuming office, he renovated his Accra Airport West residence with state funds, saying he preferred to not stay in the Christiansborg Castle occupied earlier by his predecessor Jerry Rawlings. Kufuor later said that a farmer had refunded the 41mn cedis (now 410,000 cedis) state funds used, on his behalf.
He kept Richard Anane at the Ministry of Health, despite numerous allegations. Anane had an affair with a foreigner during an HIV/AIDS conference and could not answer how USD90K was transferred to Ms O’brien, for the upkeep of the child born out of the affair. Later, at the Ministry of Roads and Highways, Anane facing a probe by CHRAJ resigned his post for about nine months, while a “Minister of State at the Ministry of Roads and Highways” held an acting cabinet position until Anane was returned to that same cabinet position after the probe.
Whilst Kufuor’s road construction and reconstruction are a major achievement, his cozy relationship with Anane was seen as a means to award contracts through a reliable crony.
Months before Kufuor left office, Kwadwo Mpiani, his Chief of Staff replaced Francis Poku, the national security minister under unclear circumstances.
In all these, perhaps the one achievement that won JAK maximum respect as a statesman was when he released a press statement calling on all his appointees to “prepare their handing over notes and get ready to hand over power”. This was at a time when Nana Akufo-Addo, his party’s presidential candidate was contesting the entire Volta Region’s election results and had prayed a high court to freeze the Tain constituency ballot which for logistical constraints had been postponed to 3 January, 2009, the outcome of which was needed to declare a clear winner, who MUST be sworn in on 7 January.
Kufuor is fondly remembered for his frenemy relationship with his predecessor Jerry Rawlings whom he called “Sasabonsam”, to wit, Satan after the latter had labelled him “Ataa Ayi”, likening him to a notorious armed robber.
That “sasabonsam” quip is the only known foul language ever used by the Kufuor on the campaign trail. He later apologized for the slip.
At 81, JAK’s presence still evokes memories of vigorous and brave campaigning to take over power from Rawlings, a former military leader who had ruled for 19 years, first through a coup d’etat.
Kufuor’s campaign promos “Gentle Giant”, “JAK”, “Awurade Kasa” and “We need a man to save Mother Ghana” masterminded by Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, his preferred Campaign Manager and strategist of blessed memory, still reverberates in the memories of the middle-aged.
Ghanaweb wishes JAK a happy 81st birthday, long life and prosperity.