Feature Article of Sunday, 12 August 2012
I have seen a few funerals in my few decades in the land of our birth, but one thing stands out at these solemn occasions- Only good people die in Ghana. Tributes, Biographies, and other narrations eulogize the spirit that once occupied human jacket lying in the casket. But the praises and genuine grief expressed by Ghanaians after the death of the third President of the fourth republic, Professor John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills, I dare say, are unprecedented. This is the man whose performance as a president was hailed daily by his supporters as much as it was berated by his political opponents in his three and half years in office. But the voice of the critics has suddenly fallen with the demise of the man. After his death, even his fiercest critics have something good to say about the man Prof. Mills. The glorious tributes to the fallen President do not suggest that he was infallible, neither are they hints of hypocrisy. Our tradition has rather bequeathed to us wisdom that has bubbled up to the fore with the departure of the King of Peace in Ghana politics. There is no perfection in man, but there is great goodness in all Men that we can celebrate daily and reap great benefits as a nation. It seems our ancestors didn’t want anything to do with Shakespeare’s line in Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”. No, in Ghana we don’t bury the good with the man, we sing it at his funeral, because that is the meaning of tribute.
For a man I only knew through the scenes and acts of public office, I think President Mills broke the myth that our political space is a preserve of tough-talking firebrands. He has proven that humble men can win the applause of the people without wearing a false cloak of machismo. Many have come to assume that because of our past, one can only win an election by throwing tantrums and making a nuisance of all that is decorous. He kept the arsenals of vile tongue darts far from his public discourse. He proved that soft power can be used to devastating effect when he ignored all the public insults and disrespect shown him by his former mentor, President Rawlings, and his wife, but crashed the so called invincibility of President Rawlings’s support in an election by handing his wife what is perhaps the most humiliating defeat in Ghana’s political history at the Sunyani congress that elected him as the NDC flag bearer for 2012 presidential election.
You can throw anything at President Mills, but you can never describe him as corrupt. Long before Prof’s demise, Kwame Pianim, a member of the opposition NPP, declared that there is no corruption found in him. That is the greatest tribute that can be paid to a leader from this continent where it is common knowledge that most leaders fleece the States they head. He never came across as a property grabbing president; neither did we hear rumours that his wife was stashing away wealth on his behalf. When Nana Konadu’s campaign team accused him of spending ninety million cedis on his campaign to get re-elected in Sunayani, he found it so amusing he couldn’t stop the ‘un-presidential’ laughter which he interspersed with words of disbelief in his native Fanti language. That laughter is one of the media’s favorite sound bites of him.
Of course, Prof was not a man without blemish. For his reputation as Asomdwehene (King of Peace), President Mill’s demeanor didn’t seem to have rubbed-off many of spokes-people as they traded mud with the spokes-people of the opposition NPP. Because there were no open admonitions of his own men, it appeared the young men and women who run riot with verbal diarrhea had the Prof’s tacit support. A few weeks before the Prof’s death, there were false rumours of his demise. In reaction to the rumours he blamed on the opposition NPP, Mr. Okudzeto Ablakwa, a deputy minister of information, was reported to have said, “anytime they say Prof Mills is dead, one of them dies”, in reference to the demise of Mr Owusu Ansah a member of parliament from the NPP side. He denied the departed MP the very courtesies President Mills is being accorded now. When Rawlings boomed several times in the Kuffuor regime using unsavory language, there was little or no effort to distance then candidate Mills from such trash talk. The NDC and the ex-president only found them unpalatable when Rawlings turned his guns on them.
Perhaps the biggest blot on the Prof’s reputation is the difficult to explain judgment debt payment to business man and NDC party financier, Alfred Agbesi Woyome. Mr. Woyome is currently defending himself in court against accusations of fraud preferred against him by the State after fervent defense of his conduct from people very close to Professor Mills.
But all said and done, Prof was a model politician whose career path many young Ghanaians will love to tread. There is no doubt that he was a good man. A man you love to love and hate to hate. Prof is gone to live with the fathers in a world where the aftermath of life is no more a mystery. As he yielded to the stroke that conveyed his spirit into the afterlife, he freed himself from all pain and every cancerous cell in his mortal body. He has played his part in the drama of life perfectly acting out his role as the Man John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills.
The grave has consumed another saint. But the greatest tribute we can pay to him is to make our politics cleaner and the insults leaner. His death has reminded us that we only contest ideas in the political space but not the Men who carry them. Like us, the conveyers of the ideas we detest are saints the grave is waiting to swallow.
Fare thee Well Mr. President.