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Opinions of Saturday, 6 December 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

John Kufour betting on history

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

It seems only yesterday that John Kufour entered the Ghanaian political scene, yet its legacy time. Does Kufour have anything to fear from the judgment of history? Well, from the look of things and considering Ghana’s political narration, history will be kind to Kufour.

Like most countries in West Africa, Ghana is still grappling with issues of stability and democratic consolidation. The measure of Kufour would be more his domestic productions than foreign schemes. Legacies of Presidents are calculated against the record of other leaders and their abilities to labour through daunting issues. Here, by the President’s list of accomplishments or by whether the President left his/her nation and party in better shape than he/she found them.

The accomplishments aren’t necessarily only in terms of infrastructural features [such as the new sports stadia in Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi-Takoradi and Tamale and the magnificent Golden Jubilee House, the new seat of government, Kufour built over the last eight years] but also the growing of values as lubricator of progress. Though human rights had been Kufour’s high mark, he was able to tie freedoms to progress and democratic enlargement.

Personally, in his early years Kufour has to grapple with a Rawlings legacy that was mired in fear, impatience and quick to anger, prickly and rigid. The democratic space was fuzzy. Aware of this, Kufour, a skilled manager, worked his way into successful presidency by cleaning most of Rawlings’ undemocratic attributes, armed with good political timing, mature political strategy and “a big organizing idea.” Kufour’s initiatives were immediate successes, un-entangling any unnecessary wrangling with the Parliament of Ghana.

Freedoms? Fine, more on his growing of freedoms, history will be kind to Kufour against the backdrop of a Ghana that has suffered 21 years of senseless military regimes, 6 years of imperially threatening one-party systems, and ex-President Jerry Rawlings constant heckling the democratic process. Under Kufour, Ghanaians have come to experience Thomas Jefferson observation that “When the government fears the people, you have liberty; when the people fear the government, you have tyranny.” In Kufour, Ghanaians the government had feared Ghanaians.

Culture? A tricky issue. The immense work on the cultural front for the past eight years shows a President who has good grasp of Ghana, think from within Ghanaian values up to the global level, and attest to his attempts to not only use the positive values of the Ghanaian culture for progress but also highlight the negative ones for refinement. As part of his democracy deepening project, Kufour has enlarged the decentralization process by awakening the cogs of traditional institutions, once slumbering, for progress. Posterity will be kind to Kufour for attempting to use freedoms to open-up Ghanaian cultural values and attempting to mix them with the neo-liberal Western development ideals running Ghana for development balance, in a Ghana which development paradigms are dominated by foreign development ideals.

More seriously, by recognizing that certain cultural values hinder progress and need to be refined, Kufour has set in motion a gradual enlightenment mission and opened the Ghanaian culture for scrutiny under his progress project, within the framework of his freedoms assignment. No doubt, there are emergent Ghana-wide campaigns to refine inhibiting cultural values for advancement and this is enhancing the intellectual climate for development.

The economy? Well, despite the global economic financial meltdown, rises in prices of food and increases in oil prices, Kufour have been able to maneuver pretty well though Ghanaians still suffered some pains. Kufour’s commitment to HIPC economic condition at the beginning of his first term in January 2001 against the background of a poorly managed economy left behind by the National Democratic Congress is gradually showing signs. The non-partisan Council of State praised Kufour for being a good economic manager and building over successive governments’ fields of education, health, energy and infrastructure within the last eight years.

A former businessman, for the past eight years Kufour has fostered business and investment friendly climate under a vigorous push for his free market enterprise doctrine that attempts to open the closed traditional economy. Kufour’s management is seen in the progressing development indicators since he came to power in 2000. Previous to 2001, the economy was a US$4 billion Gross Domestic Product but now at US$16 billion GDP. Prior to Kufour the minimum wage was US$0.50 cents but now at US$2.25. Before Kufour inflation was around 42 percent but now down to 18 percent. Against the fuller view of these Kufour successful business picture is banks chasing people for loans to invest and do business.

Corruption? Simultaneously a serious issue and mixed outlook! Much of Ghana’s development troubles wheel around corruption that have brought regimes down. As businessman cast somehow in the shadow of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, Kufour’s anti-corruption mantra of “zero tolerance” is seen by the opposition as a sham in the face of the perception that sleaze is on the high. Though Kufour knocked some heads, Ghanaians think more should have been done. Despite some new anti-corruption institutions created by Kufour, they are generally seen as weak and needs more autonomy and resources to tackle the corruption cancer.

Stability-wise, Kufour has proved to be a complex historical surprise, surviving in the sizzling Ghanaian political climate where Nkrumah, Busia and Limann couldn’t as civilian leaders. Kufour, who has the best index of experiences as public figure among all those who have ruled Ghana, appears to have mastered the security game, putting potential forces of instability at bay and simultaneously keeping freedoms intact. As Kufour increasingly work to democratically secure the state, he is drawing from the history of instabilities and democratic stasis, apparently immune even to West Africa’s disease of instabilities. This is increasingly deepening his historical size and democratic force.

Democracy? That’s Kufour’s VIP task. In the past eight years, Kufour has built up democratic structures and enriched freedoms. Democracy is vigorously getting roots and this is lowering tribalism – a deadly African disease. Gender equity is on the up-swing. Human rights have become a big part of the Ghanaian development gourmet and Ghanaians are experiencing high freedom energy for progress. By eradicating certain legal statutes that inhibited freedom of the press since independence, Kufour has further help the fuller growth of the mass media as a freedom and development concerns. All these are increasing the national confidence needed to drive progress.

History. The never-do-better military Heads of States aside, the few civilian leaders Ghana have had have not been analyzed by opinion polls to test whether they performed better or not as they left power. Kwame Nkrumah, Kofi Busia and Hilla Limann were overthrown by military coup detat except Rawlings. Opinion of contemporaries is more important, as the main receivers of public goods and services. Over 70 percent of Ghanaians approve of Kufour’s performance, according to Primary Research Associates opinion poll, Ghanaians believing Kufuor has performed superbly in his tenure as president.

So Kufour don’t have to pin his hopes too much on posterity. The odds are in favour of him, because posterity takes its indication from contemporaries. Yet, perspectives can change. But in a Ghana that is increasingly finding its bearing through Kufour’s motoring, Kufour has a better bet on history.