Ghana: President Mills Goes Home
Cape Coast — President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills has gone to his maker. His death and the manner in which it occurred have led to heated exchanges and demands for an inquiry.
There is a time to be born and a time to die. A time to sow and a time to reap. A time for sorrow and a time for joy.
While the circumstances of his death still remain to be clarified, we can begin a celebration of his life. The day has ended for President Mills and it has been a full day. His greatness and from whence it came will be debated for years. Was he a great man?
As Shakespeare put it,
“Be not afraid of greatness;
Some are born great,
Some achieve greatness,
And some have greatness thrust upon them.”
Whether he was great or not, the former Achimota School Prefect has done some great things. Amongst these were his decisions to concede defeat to President Kufuor, not just in the second round of the 2000 elections, but also in the 2004 elections, against the wishes of many in his party.
Those decisions, particularly in the 2000 elections, were significant contributions to the stability of our democracy.
Furthermore, in the face of repeated defeats at the polls, he showed admirable perseverance. Unbowed and undeterred, he kept on as many, including some in his party, wrote his political obituaries.
In 2008, his time came and he won. All of a sudden, the loser had become the winner and those who had written him off only a short while before became his praise-singers.
I did not know President Mills very well but I have been moved by his life and his death.
As we prepare to bury the President, I want to share some of my recollections about the President, to show that we can develop good and respectful relations with people of a different political persuasion.
Even though I had heard and read a lot about the President, I first met him one on one in 2004.
Accra Mayor, Okoe Vanderpuije, then resident in South Carolina, had organized a symposium at Claflin University for the then NDC flag-bearer to address the University on Africa’s democratic development.
President Mills delivered the lecture very well. During question time, I asked a question. “Mr. Vice-President, you are a respected law Professor. Why did you serve under President Rawlings who had such an appalling human rights record?”
The former Vice-President began his answer by showing that he knew who I was and thanking me for my service to Ghana. Then he turned to my question. “I served President Rawlings when he was an elected President of Ghana. This is a contrast to President Kufuor who served him as a Secretary during the PNDC era. ”
Even though his answer was not entirely correct, I thought it was a good answer. As soon as the lecture was over, he walked over to me. “Doctor, it is really a privilege to meet you personally. I have heard so much about you!”
In response, I invited him to tour the facility that I was running as CEO, the Family Health Centers’ Inc. He accepted on the spot and I spent the next thirty minutes giving him a tour of the facility and chatting about Ghana.
At that time, he was full of admiration for his mentor and former boss, President Rawlings. He remarked that Ghanaians were very complex people. Said the then NDC candidate: “Sometimes when Jerry tells you about what certain people have done or said and you look at their public reputations, you will open your mouth!”
Then he changed the topic. The next time I met him was at Hon. Hawa Yakubu’s funeral in 2007. He was greeting people when he saw me in the second row. He reached out for me and embraced me in a big hug. “Doctor, wo ho tse den?” He asked, seeming genuinely happy to see me. After exchanging pleasantries, we parted.
Our next meeting was the night of the 2008 Presidential Debate in Accra. Right after the end of the debate, as he walked off the stage, I was the first person below the stage. I said, “Congratulations and good luck, Sir”. Once again, he was very warm towards me.
Our last meeting was when he inaugurated the Clinical Teaching Center of the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Cape Coast last year. I got there late because I was seeing patients on the ward. When I got there, all the seats were taken. Therefore, I stood off to the side and slightly behind the Presidential dais.
After a few minutes, Director of Communications, Koku Anyidoho, spotted me. “Oh Doctor, Prof was just asking for you. He said he had not seen you around.” I thanked him for the information and continued standing there while the ceremony was going on.
A few minutes later, Deputy Chief of Staff, Alex Segbefia, also spotted me. “Doctor, Prof was looking for you.” He paused for a moment and then suggested that I go up to greet the President.” He will be happy to see you,” he said.
When there was a gap in the activities, I walked onto the dais to greet the President who was seated. When I reached out my hand to greet him, he got up and gave me a long warm embrace.
“Oh Doctor, wo ho tse den?” he asked. As I walked away from the ceremony, many of the NDC activists, taking a cue from the President, engaged me in warm and friendly conversations.
I remember, shortly after this incident, having a conversation with the Dean of the Medical School, Prof. Amonoo-Kuofi when the President’s name came up. The Dean informed me that since I joined the faculty of the School, he had met the President about four times. “Each time we met”, the Dean said, “the President asked me how you were doing.”
That was the essence of President Mills. He radiated care and concern for those he met. I grief that his personal warmth and decency was unable to rub off on his party, our politics and our country. His personal conduct showed us that we could be opponents without being enemies.
I believe that our best tribute to him is to let his death bring us the decency he was never able to bring us in his life. Unfortunately, it is clear that despite the outpouring of grief following his death, we have no intention of mending our ways.
Already, even before we bury the President, partisanship is in full bloom. Indeed, painfully, his death appears to be fuelling our partisan juices. Amazingly, there are different clothes for the parties for his funeral.
According to news reports, the NDC plans to show out in full force with the cloth, “SE ASA” meaning “IT IS ENDED” while the NPP plans to counter with “ABOA BI BEKA WO A, NA EFIRI WO NTOMA MU”, meaning “THE ENEMY IS WITHIN”. When I read this, I wept.
For one of the very few times in my life, I was ashamed as a Ghanaian. For God and our country’s sake, could we not take a break from partisanship just to bury the President? Can’t we attend the President’s funeral just as Ghanaians instead of NDC or NPP members? Will President Mills feel at home in such an atmosphere?
Sadly, even the generally gentlemanly President Mahama has joined the partisanship with ill-timed remarks on vilification and the site for the President’s burial.
I believe that instead of empty words lauding the President, we should show our respect for his life by improving our politics. Anytime people in the political arena show respect for one another, we will be celebrating the former President.
Whenever we share ideas instead of trading insults, we will be celebrating President Mills. Anytime we lower our voices, we shall be celebrating President Mills. Let his legacy be tolerance and generosity in our politics. That was his style and his aspiration. Let us move forward – together, beginning with his burial.