President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills 1944 – 2012

Ghanaians on Tuesday, July 24 received news of the death of their president John Evans Atta Mills with anger, sadness but not surprised. People were angry because they believed their president’s death was preventable; they were sad because it happened to a man who did not deserve to be neglected by his handlers; but they were not surprised because he was visibly ill.

President Mills assumed office in 2009 after a hard-fought election that he won by a handful of votes. Leading a party that described itself as social democratic, the amiable professor of law inherited a booming economy cushioned by new oil finds and high gold prices. Ghana in 2009 was a country on the move with infrastructural projects that promised the West African country a new look after three decades of military dictatorship that metamorphosed into a constitutional government. President Mills was for four years between 1996 and 2000 the vice president under the Rawlings administration of the PNDC turned National Democratic Congress (NDC). His victory in 2008 followed three previous failed attempts.

The incessant and bitter criticism of the Kufuor administration of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) that was in office for two terms helped Mills to win the elections in 2008. By the end of the first year of Mills Ghanaians began to question the capability of the administration to continue from where the NPP left off.

The NPP was able to establish macro-economic stability. Small businesses prospered while foreign direct investments increased in leaps and bounds. Investments in the mining and petroleum sectors increased as more oil finds and gold deposits were discovered. Energy supply stabilized considerably. The government embarked on a massive housing project all over the country. Road construction featured prominently in infrastructural development.

The economy began to plunge toward the end of the administration’s two terms. The value of the redenominated Cedi began to pick up some losses in value to the dollar. Inflation that had been contained and even reduced considerably began to rise again. The economy’s discouraging signs was blamed on the imminent global recession that had started in the West, but the Kufuor administration did not help matters with its spending spree, prominent among which included the building of Jubilee House to accommodate Ghana’s presidents and a bulging pay roll.

Expectations grew high among Ghanaians as Mills ascended the high position of president in his country. However, factors both external and internal would stall the plans laid down by the president’s party. By 2009 when he took office economic recession was rocking the world. The NDC inherited a single spine salary system that amounted to several millions of Ghana cedis which, according to the government was not available. Mills’ promise to put money in people’s pocket never materialized. Instead of reducing petroleum prices, the government increased prices several times affecting food prices. The cost of living assumed an upward jolt.

In the meantime, government communicators continued to tout the NDC government’s achievement of single digit inflation. Unfortunately the decreasing inflation did not correspond with a dwindling job market, food prices and a general dearth of housing in the country. Uncompleted projects Mills inherited were left untouched. Portions of the Accra – Kumasi highway, hundreds of apartment buildings and several other projects still remain incomplete.

Early in Mills’ administration, some senior appointees of the government were indicted for obtaining bribes and kickbacks from the British company, Mabey and Johnson.

They included Dr. Sipa Yankey, then Minister of Health and Kwame Peprah, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning in the Rawlings’ government, among a few others.

Even though the courts exonerated Sipa Yankey, it did not stop the perceptions that have been implanted in the national psyche, especially, the opposition.

Toward the end of his life, President Mills would be dogged by his government’s budgeting for and payment of judgment debts. The role played by the quondam Attorney General Betty Mould Iddrissu in the payment of the judgment debts put the president’s control of his cabinet into question.

In a few of the payments made, no contracts existed to support the claims made. Alfred Agbesi Woyome was able to receive 51 million Ghana cedis for no contract and no work done. According to a report by the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) payment was made against the express warnings by the president.

In some cases the previous administration claims to have struck a deal to reduce the payments or the cases were still being argued in court. The NDC government paid anyway and almost in all cases ignored the deals made by the previous administration.

A new development in the judgment debt saga is serialization which, according to the NPP is an attempt to bring it [the NPP] into the picture as having caused some of the debts. Also significant is the readiness of government officials to defend claimants against the government leading opponents to rule in collusion and corruption in the claims. Political pundits believe judgment debts could lead to the NDC’s loss in the elections.

For a person of his quiet and gentle demeanor, Mills would be remembered for employing young and belligerent officials spearheading a campaign of insults and attacks against political opponents and anyone who opposed the government’s policies. He was often accused of his inability to rein in his officials, even though he often advised against politics of insult.

Though he was perceived to be tolerant, the late president would also be remembered for his government’s sensitivity to criticism and his government’s readiness to employ strong-arm tactics to deal with those who criticized him and his government.

According to former President Jerry John Rawlings, Mills was battling throat cancer that affected his ears and eyes and so could only work for two or three hours a day. Reports in foreign media also indicate that the ex-president had throat cancer. His handlers and Mills himself, however, would never admit and continued to deny and shroud the president’s state of health in secrecy. Could it be the reason he saw doctors outside Ghana?

It was such lack of transparency about the president’s health that fueled rumors in the country. News of his death was reported in the rumor mill on a few occasions. It was following one such rumor that Mills emerged at the Kotoka International Airport with his officials emplaning for New York for medical check-up. In a characteristic response to a get-well wish sent to the president by NPP’s flag bearer Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo President Mills’ handlers described Nana Addo’s gesture as ill-intentioned. The NDC was miffed at Nana Addo’s use of “treatment” instead of “check-up.”

Mills’ death questions the continuous lack of transparency on his health status and the reasons behind that act by the party and the government.

So many questions arise from the sad departure of Ghana’s president. First of all, what killed him? Was it his decision to deny himself the benefit of a thorough medical attention? Did any of his handlers play a part in what culminated in his demise?

Why Mills himself denied that he was ill and encouraged his party to do so same runs along the lines of the story in T.S. Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. Did the president set himself up for martyrdom or did he intentionally sacrifice his well-being for his nation, and what was it worth? Like Archbishop Thomas Becket Mills probably knew his true condition and the consequences but chose to ignore it against the advice of his doctors. Those who met the president in his final moments speak about the nasal twang in his speech which was abnormal. The usual response was that it was the public address systems that produced the twangs.

According to Brig. Gen. Nunoo Mensah, the national security advisor to the president, Mills attempted several times to resign but he [Gen. Nunoo Mensah] egged him on. Mrs. Naadu Mills also kept pressuring her husband to resign largely because she could not handle the ugly criticisms leveled against him. Perhaps, if Mills had listened to his wife and to his own voice he would be alive today.

Post-mortem analysis in the media is largely focused on the cause of the president’s death, reasons for the administration’s combative responses and what many consider as less than truthful explanations. The government seeks to posit the issue of the president’s health and death as a private matter, but most Ghanaians opine otherwise. The president becomes public property once elected and everything about him becomes public. If the tax payer funds his medical treatment overseas, then the people deserve to be duly informed. So far the funeral committee has announced that the funeral would cost Ghanaian taxpayers 30 million Ghana cedis; that is in addition to funds being raised from private sources.

Ghanaians’ response to the death of their president has been unique. All political activity has ceased. The ruling party and the opposition parties have all joined hands in mourning. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, the NPP’s flag bearer had to break away from campaigning in the Western Region. Former President J. A. Kufuor and the leaders of the other opposition parties have all paid their respects to the late president. Complementary to the unified approach of the political parties is the masses response to the death which has been equally remarkable.

The trauma of President Mills’ death emanates from it being the first time in the country’s history. The leadership vacuum that a president’s death creates could be cause for power struggle among the ruling classes. In some countries it could generate a long period of instability. Within less than 12 hours of the death of President Mills, however, Ghanaians swore in his vice as prescribed by the constitution. Shortly thereafter, the new president also nominated his vice. The show of solidarity among the political parties and the people, and the order of events following the death of President Mills have shown the depth of democracy in Ghana. Hopefully the same maturity would guide the upcoming elections in December.

John Evans Atta Mills by all accounts was a very decent person, peace-loving and a man of integrity. He served his country well, as teacher of law, tax commissioner, vice president and president. He deserves to be honored by his countrymen. One lesson learned: as observed by Kwaku Baako, Managing Editor of the New Crusading Guide, the administrative structure around the presidency needs to be carefully scrutinized and managed for transparency, good governance and to reflect the personality of the sitting president.

President Mills died too soon. At 68, he was not too old. He might have lived longer if the right measures had been put in place. But Providence dictates its own order of events that mere mortals cannot comprehend.

Posted by on Aug 13 2012. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply