The Toyin Falola Interviews – A Conversation With President Kufour
THE GENTLE GIANT OF AFRICA:
PRESIDENT JOHN KOFI AGYEKUM KUFUOR
It was a privilege for me to have met his Excellency when he was in power—first in England, then in Accra, and later in Kumasi. I was also later invited to review a book on some gifts he received while he was in public service and to write a blurb. Alas! He competed against one of my friends during the primaries of his political party, and I heard fascinating stories about how he became victorious. To my good fortune, I have met four of Ghana’s heads of state. President Kufuor always appears calm and gentle. However, you cannot have power and influence and not have critics.
Nigeria might be the giant of Africa in landmass, population, diversity, natural endowment, and economy, but some African countries parade giants that dwarf the giant on the leadership scale. Often smaller in economy, size, and other apparent variables that characterize Nigeria’s self-styled epithet and its peculiarity, Ghana’s neighboring nation falls among this pack, both in military and civilian governments. The country, Ghana, occupies a strategic space in African politics. The above reference is emphasized both in its historical and contemporary implications. Rich in culture and people that facilitated its growth as the “Gold Coast” throughout the booming years of the trade across the Atlantic and its evolution as the Republic of Ghana, this political entity has for long been a place of attraction for peoples around the world, including the large population of historic Africans in the diaspora. Ghana is only next to Ethiopia as the world capital of black people but a pilgrimage center to many of this population. Regardless of its shortcomings, the stellar leadership of its successive government built the nation to this reputable cadre.
Today, if the United States of Africa, as dreamed by Nkrumah were to come alive, Accra stands the chance of sharing the capital status with Addis Ababa. Indeed, but for COVID-19, Accra was to receive over a hundred thousand visitors from the Diaspora in 2020. I met the key figure in charge of the Diaspora office, a man tasked with spearheading the massive recruitment. So committed is Ghana to this exercise that his office is located at the Presidency. A rebirth is ongoing, with the possibility of new transformational possibilities.
On December 8, 1938, in the emerging city of Kumasi, a leader who would amplify this possibility was born. His Excellency, John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor, the “Gentle Giant,” and the second President of Ghana’s Fourth Republic, came through on this day to grace the stones laid to prepare for the modern Ghanaian state and its historic essence. Though born into a royal household, Kufuor’s ambition and zeal, while growing up, went beyond the privileges and construction of royalty. This is not to deny that he enjoyed the benefits that came with this opportunity, but to highlight the drive of self-will that dot his trajectory to the point of an elderly statesman.
Like some of his contemporaries at the time all over Africa, he had his education in the United Kingdom. In his pursuit of knowledge and self-development, President Kufuor studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Oxford. A couple of years before his Oxford education, he was called to bar at the Lincoln’s Inn, London, qualifying him as a legal practitioner. His political consciousness would not let him stay back in London, hence his return to Ghana, where he became one of the modern state’s founding fathers.
Upon his return from the United Kingdom, he set up his private law firm in the second-largest city in Ghana, Kumasi, which also doubled as his birthplace. In 1967, about a year later, he was appointed the same city’s Chief Legal Officer and City Manager. This would later launch him into the ring of politics in Ghana and on the world stage. With his enviable years of education at the prestigious University of Oxford and experiences gathered over the years, Kumasi literarily baked the Gentle Giant into public service. In less than two years after this, he contested and won a seat at the Parliament in the newly independent state. This election ushered in the Second Republic in Ghana, a transition he helped to engineer. A year before this election, he had been elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly to write the new Republic’s constitution. In his position as a Member of Parliament, the then Prime Minister of Ghana, Professor Kofi Abrefa Busia, appointed Kufuor as his Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. These years—the 60s—marked a remarkable moment in the growth and molding of Kufuor as a deliberate and strategic public servant. The rest of his political career was a stellar account of successes, achievements, and thorough service, not just to his people but also to humanity.
He served in almost all the governments in Ghana, except with the ones he had ideological and unresolvable political differences. On one occasion, he resigned seven months into his appointment as the Secretary for Local Government in the Jerry Rawlings led Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). At its peak, was the millennium election that brought him into power as the President of Ghana on the 7th day of January 2001. Within the period he held this pinnacle (2001-2009), he also served as the Chairman of the regional bloc, ECOWAS, and the African Union. And after his years in office, the global ambassador for peace, sustainable development, and good governance, advocating for eradicating poverty, joint action against climate change, and liberalization of the media space for the enhancement of perspectives in governance, was fully unleashed. In these cardinal areas, the gentle giant carried the African cross across lands and oceans as he continued to emphasize the peculiarities of developing nations that should be considered in any global activities designed to address any of these issues.
In this pursuit, he was named the United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change by the then head of the world body, Ban Ki-Moon, alongside the former Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg. This appointment came as a culmination and recognition of his efforts through several initiatives, including the Global Leadership for Climate Change established in 2007, in advocating for the imminent danger of the phenomenon. In this capacity, he led states into discussions on the dynamics of climate change and the myriads of risks it portends to humanity’s present and future. Recollecting the memory of this noble mission, Kufuor noted how the position had equipped, deepened, and broadened his understanding of the politics of climate change. Less could not have been expected of him, having led talks on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General, with heads of states and governments worldwide, on the importance of the issue and the focus of the UN on a green-energy future.
By the time the Paris Climate Accord came into fruition at the 21st UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dubbed “COP 21,” in Paris in 2015, the level of intensity and efforts that Kufuor and his counterpart had deployed into the climate talks became evident. His consistent interest in the health of the earth and humanity has taken him to places like China, where the government invited him to witness its efforts at implementing the 2015 climate agreement. In a world where America has revoked its commitment to the deal, Kufuor, among other world leaders, acknowledged the leading role of the Chinese government through the deployment of technology, plantation of grasses and trees, and other ingenious measures.
Equally, President Kufuor acts as the Global Envoy for the Neglected Tropical Diseases Alliance, Global Ambassador against Hunger for the UN World Food Programme, and Chairman of several global movements and initiatives, including the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership, UN Inter-peace Programme. In 2013, he was appointed the Co-Chair of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. These are in addition to his responsibilities as the head of the Kufuor Foundation for Leadership, Governance and Development, a foundation he established after leaving office, to serve as a loop between himself and the rest of the world.
Through his activities, he has promoted the need to protect the freedom of the media for the promotion of democratic practices and good governance. In one of his interviews, he laid out his views and plans for an international fund to support independent journalism around the world. The idea is that the more financially independent practicing journalism is, the lesser government’s interference and the more independent reporting would be. This is also expected to boost investigative journalism and soften the democratic space, especially in developing countries.
At the regional level, he led several peace talks and electoral monitoring delegations to African countries under the ECOWAS and the AU. For his service, he received dozens of awards, including the Chatham House Prize for Good Leadership, and the Grand Cordon in the Most Venerable Order of the Knighthood of the Pioneers, in recognition of his contribution to the restoration of peace to Liberia. Together with the then Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, Kufuor was, in 2011, awarded the World Food Prize by the FAO. People familiar with Latin American politics, especially Brazil, can recall the immense success of the Lula da Silva’s government in employment, industrialization, corruption, and poverty alleviation, culminating in a more prosperous Brazil and healthy Brazilians before the shenanigan cacophony that followed.
Also, not many will quickly forget Kufuor’s success in changing the wheels of development and stemming the tide of hunger in Ghana through policies that mainly targeted the most extensive but most vulnerable constituents in the country – youths, women, and children. During this period, His Excellency, by changing the country’s wheel of development, placed the country on a steady and accelerated pace to reach the designation of a middle-income country, almost a decade before the projection of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
Within the pool of the global economic crisis, the GDP of Ghana, between 2007 and 2008, maintained a consistent 8.4 percent increase. These economic indices imply that his school feeding program, health care services, investment drives, job creation, and other people-centered policies never withered. His reputable performance in any position he served, and the immeasurable grace he enjoyed, earned him the opportunity to always use the constitutional limit of his stay in those positions without being booted out by the people. At the regional, global, or state level, he either exhausted his constitutional limits or resigned to contest a higher position. In his recent advocacy for good governance and collective action against COVID-19, the elderly statesman reiterated the truth that has been the bane of the fight against the virus and general development strides in many African states: “Our governments need to invest in trustworthy information and communication systems… Fulfilling Africa’s future agenda will require us to change the values our societies place on knowledge and expertise and the way we communicate and interact with one another.”
In the Toyin Falola Interviews where eminent figures who have contributed to the development and knowledge of Africa are invited to respond to basic questions that relate to their engagements with the continent, His Excellency, John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor, the Gentle Giant, will bring to bear his unique global experience in demystifying to us, issues related to the current COVID-19 pandemic, governance, climate change, the Bretton Woods Institutions, African development, poverty, security, the media, democracy, and lots more.
The interviewers are two scholars and a cast of students:
- David Owusu-Ansah, Professor of African History and Associate Provost for Diversity/Executive Director for Faculty Access and Inclusion at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia; and
- Nana Akua Anyidoho, Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Social Policy Studies (CSPS) at the University of Ghana. Anyidoho serves on the Executive Committee of theCouncil for the Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the Board of Directors of the African Studies Association (ASA), and is the immediate past president of the Ghana Studies Association. She is also a member of the editorial boards of African Affairs, African Review of Economics and Finance, and Policy Studies.
We welcome him as he shares his thoughts, opinions, and experiences:
Friday January 29, 2021
1:00 PM Ghana
1:00 PM GMT
7:00 AM Austin
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