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Who is Mogae?
Posted on Apr 10, 2009
Kufuor, an Oxford-educated barrister, always wanted to be president. He became a member of Parliament and deputy foreign minister at the age of 30, hoping to achieve his dream from there. But that lasted only two and a half years. The regime was overthrown. Taking to the trenches to be a warlord was, however, not his style, even though he is about 1.93 meters tall (6 foot 4) and weighs over 110 kilograms (240 pounds). He stuck it out as an entrepreneur, once running a brick and tile factory, only to jump back into politics each time democracy was restored. He eventually became his country’s president at age 62 in 2001, after Rawlings defeated him when he ran for president in the 1996 elections. Kufuor’s victory marked the first peaceful democratic transition of power in Ghana since the country’s independence in 1957.
At the end of the stipulated two terms, Kufuor made no attempt to amend the constitution to extend his stay in office and allowed Ghanaians to freely choose their next leader. This was despite the fact that one of the foremost presidential candidates, Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo, represented Kufuor’s political party, the New National Party (NNP). Akufo-Addo eventually lost to the rival party’s candidate.
Ghana’s peaceful transition of power attracted global attention. French President Nicolas Sarkozy described Atta Mills’ election as a “victory for democracy.” Canada’s foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, also said in a written statement: “Canada congratulates the Ghanaian people for the overall peaceful, orderly and transparent manner in which the country’s 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections were conducted.”
Kufuor left office with high popularity ratings. A Primary Research Associates poll shows that nearly 70 percent of Ghanaians think President Kufuor gave the performance of his life in his tenure as president of the republic. Seventy and a half percent of those polled said Kufuor’s government had done “things important to them.” Fifty-eight and a half percent of interviewees expressed satisfaction “with the way the Kufuor government has handled the economy.”
Under his watch, Ghana’s gross domestic product quadrupled from 4 billion U.S. dollars in 2000 to almost $16 billion in 2008. With this windfall, Kufuor halved the level of poverty and increased the number of children in primary school by almost a quarter. He introduced free medical care for the poor in 2004 and free meals in schools. He took Ghana’s daily minimum wage from 58 cents to $2.25, reduced inflation from 42 percent to 18 percent and took measures to enhance press freedom.
Kufuor has company in Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania. After multiparty general elections in Dec. 2005, Kikwete was declared winner by the Electoral Commission and was sworn in as the fourth president of the United Republic of Tanzania on Dec. 21, 2005. If his track record of integrity is anything to go by, he will be handing his office over to an elected successor at the end of his tenure.
Kikwete drank from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s fountain of wisdom. Kikwete, being very close to the Mwalimu (teacher), has a governing philosophy and political views that were greatly influenced by Nyerere. He has been celebrated at home and abroad, especially in the donor community for fighting corruption, investing in people, particularly in education, and pushing for new investments.
His successes led the United States government to grant Tanzania $698 million under the Millennium Challenge Account assistance program. Indeed, then-President George W. Bush voiced a vote of confidence in Kikwete: “I’d like to express my happiness and satisfaction on the way you are committed to improving the economy, good governance and maintaining peace, not only in Tanzania but also Africa and the world at large.” Kikwete’s first notable success as African Union chairman was to help bring a two-month political crisis in Kenya to an end by brokering a power-sharing deal between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.
The benchmarks used to select Tanzania for the Millennium Challenge Corporation agreement were good governance, investment in manpower through education and health care, and economic policies. The U.K. government also granted the country the equivalent of $500 million for education. In recognition of the giant leaps made by the small country, the New York-based Africa-America Institute awarded Tanzania the Africa National Achievement Award in September 2007.
Still, these leaders and their countries are not without issues. For instance, Tanzania is in the bottom 10 percent of the world’s economies in terms of per capita income. And despite Botswana’s diamond wealth, unemployment is 18 percent, and about one-third of the people are poor. The election of Chissano was not uncontroversial. His son was implicated in the death of journalist Carlos Cardoso, a progressive Mozambican journalist who was murdered in 2000. Kufuor is presently under attack for what many Ghanaians believe is an over-the-top retirement package.
Besides, these honest leaders are too far and between for a continent of 54 countries. However, the fact that candidates could be found for the Mo Ibrahim Prize in Africa for two consecutive years shows that democratic change is gradually taking place across the continent. The problem, however, according to Ibrahim, is that the world has been slow to recognize the change. In an interview with The New York Times, he hoped that the prize will contribute to a lively debate about leadership in Africa, especially since “almost everyone knows about Robert Mugabe while far fewer know about Festus G. Mogae.”
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