I was gathering my thoughts to perform my weekly ritual of communicating with you through this medium when I chanced upon a piece titled “Happy 81st birthday, Kufuor” by Dr. Benji. I couldn’t help but drop all that I was doing to read the sweet eulogy. Having been inspired by the piece, I’ve decided to dedicate today’s discussion to ex-President John Agyekum Kufuor, aka ‘The Gentle Giant’.
I was in the last of my teens when I first saw and interacted with him. That was in August 1992, when 1,980 delegates from the Elephant stock congregated at Legon to elect a flagbearer for the December 1992, elections. I was then in upper six and could aptly be described as a political neophyte. Like many other students, I was so fired up for change that nothing could prevent me from attending the delegates’ conference.
Prof. Albert Adu Boahen won the flagbearership slot with 57% votes, with the Gentle Giant coming 3rd with 16%; just 1% behind Dr. Kofi Dsane Selby. Though my candidate had won, I was most impressed by the candour, humility and graciousness of Mr. Kufuor. That was the day I fell in love with the affable politician.
But the party failed to prevail against the military regime that had metamorphosed into a political party. The party’s defeat at the 1992 presidential election, the boycott of the parliamentary elections and the subsequent authorship of the “Stolen Verdict” are events aptly etched in our memory.
Then began the search for a new leader for the 1996 polls. Mr Kufuor’s desire to lead the party into a presidential election had not diminished. At Legon again the party gathered in April 1996. This time the Gentle Giant surprised everyone by winning the flagbearership slot, beating the party’s 1996 flagbearer in the process. But not even the ‘Great Alliance’ with the People’s Convention Party (PCP), which made Ekow Nkensen Arkaah his running mate, could ensure victory at the presidential polls.
To Sunyani the party headed in 1998 in search of a flagbearer for the 2000 polls. I could not attend because I was then sojourning in Obroniland. My heart was for Candidate Nana Addo, while my head was for Candidate J. A. Kufuor. The latter won and subsequently won the presidential race against then Vice-President Atta Mills in a runoff.
The country witnessed a lot of positive developments under his able leadership. The economy, which was on life support, was revived by the then Economic Management Team. The hardworking Finance Minister, Yaw Osafo-Marfo, ensured that interest rate was reduced from over 40% to a little less than 30%.
The economy was so efficiently managed that banks started chasing customers for loan. Yes, you heard right! Banks were chasing people to come for loans during Kufuor’s reign. I vividly remember how I had the luxury of choosing between three banks for a loan. Indeed, the first two rooms of my four-bedroom house were completed using the loan I contracted from one of the banks.
It was also under President Kufuor’s tenure that the killer policy “Cash and Carry” was replaced with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). I remember with glee how the scheme saved many a dying patient who otherwise would have embarked on an early trip to Samanfoland under “Cash and Carry”. The Ras Boateng led NHIS was not perfect; but it was far better than Cash and Carry, which was sending the poor patient to an early grave.
The country also witnessed the birth of the Free Maternal Health policy, which allowed pregnant women to give birth at the hospital for free. The policy was indeed progressive, considering the fact that many rural women were spared the dangers of delivering at home at the risk of losing their babies or their own lives. Records showed that the policy had improved infant mortality rate for the period.
My fondest memory of President Kufuor was his love for his people and humility as president. He has proven by his actions how a politician can show love and respect to his people. Not even an insult in the face by Asem Foforo, a Zu-za fanatic, could make him lose his patience. His patience under extreme provocation shamed Asem Foforo, who ultimately apologized for his uncultured action.
Even as ex president, the man continues to impact the lives of many through the Kufuor Foundation. In 2018 alone, 20 tertiary students received scholarship from the foundation to undergo a leadership training programme. It was explained that the rationale behind the programme was to equip the scholars with traits and values such as nationalism, accountability, integrity and patriotism. Which leadership traits could be better than those?
So Mr President, do accept my warmest felicitations on the occasion of your 81st birthday. You are an inspiration to millions, young and old. Even your political opponents cannot help but sing your praises because you epitomize the word ‘statesman’. I wish you joy, light, peace, wisdom and Mawu’s continued guidance and grace.
I shall return for another interesting konkonsa, Deo volente!