The legacy opportunity J. A. Kuffour missed
Every president worries about how he will be graded by historians after his term of office has ended. Particularly, if anything mattered to the president of the 4th Republic, John Agyekum Kuffour, then it was how he wanted to be remembered not just after his term of office but also long after he’s been called by his Creator. This was demonstrated by the grandiosity of the public programmes Mr. Kuffour was willing to institute irrespective of their sustainability, timeliness, and adverse remnant effects on the Ghanaian economy. The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Public School Feeding Program, Golden Jubilee House are but a few of Mr. Kuffour’s audacious (pun intended) attempt to keep his name in future history books.
The enormity of the nature of problems addressed by Kuffour’s government will definitely earn Mr. Kuffour a place in the history books; what’s debatable is how well he will be remembered? I am sure authors of the next history books have started to grade the overly ambitious ex-president on grounds of the judiciousness of his policies and the success of the programmes he introduced. Many have questioned the rationality of introducing good but unsustainable and bankrupt public programmes like the NHIS. Others have questioned the rationality of celebrating extravagant national anniversaries while over 70% of the population struggle to afford a ball of kenkey every day. And definitely, historians would consider the prominent role Kuffour’s government played in sending us from debt-free (after HIPC) to highly indebted again (debt ratio was over 50% of GDP when Kuffour was leaving office).
I, however, don’t have any intention to grade the ex-president (certainly not in this article). Rather, I intend to show how Mr. Kuffour could have easily crafted the enviable reputation he seemed to work so hard for. Mr. Kuffour’s presidency couldn’t have happened at a better time – right after the seemingly eternal rule of J. J. Rawlings. In fact, even though the last eight years of Rawlings’ reign was democratic, people rather see the beginning of Kuffour’s presidency as beginning for true democracy in Ghana. Because of the long military reign of Mr. Rawlings, it was hard to believe that the military Rawlings was different from the civilian Rawlings. Hence, Kuffour was the breath of fresh air that a significant majority of Ghana was anxiously gasping for. With that favorable public support, Kuffour didn’t need the biggest public programmes (that breaks the national bank) to leave a good mark on Ghanaians’ brains. Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the most elegant. Mr. Kuffour could and should have been the role model for NATIONALISM – the willingness to put country first and if necessary dying for her.
With Ghana’s limited budget, meaningful development cannot come from government alone; it will only result from the additional willingness of all citizens to sacrifice towards national growth. This means: doctors continuing to go to work even if they feel they are underpaid; politicians putting country first before party and making policies that are rather in the interest of the nation; policemen enforcing the law so that all citizens (rich or poor) feel empowered to go about their daily lives. And Mr. Kuffour could have led this effort by being the ultimate example of putting Ghana first. But what did Mr. Kuffour do? He blew it!
Mr. Kuffour crafted programmmes that looked pro-growth on the surface but were actually manufactured to enrich himself and his loyalists. Kuffour’s government showed politicians how to be legally corrupt: Introduce a huge public programme (whether or not sustainable) and delegate it to loyalists. A classic example was the extravagant national birthday celebration that the inept NDC attorney general failed to prosecute. Taking a hint from Kuffour’s stratagem, the NDC government also has shown desire for huge public programmes like the unsuccessful STX deal and proposal to purchase five airplanes (all of which would render us more indebted, and consequently, more economic dependent). I still wonder why Kuffour rushed to build a very important building – Jubilee House – in the shortest possible time (about six months); if that doesn’t smell fishy, then I don’t know what does! Kuffour’s selfish intentions became evident when he secretly passed the unpardonable ex-gratia package where he demanded things in six figures.
Such behaviour from such a historic leader taught Ghanaians to rather put themselves first and probably worry about country later. This explains why doctors refuse to go back to work for slight salary disagreements at the expense of priceless human lives. And this is why policemen continue to take a couple of cedis and allow the dangerously drunk driver to continue his long journey from Kumasi to Bolgatanga. And ultimately, this is why Mr. Kuffour was not able to make any significant progress to deliver Ghana out of poverty like he had promised in his campaign. I will let historians decide but, to me, President Kuffour’s legacy cannot stand the test of time.
By Gyasi Kwabena Dapaa