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Kufuor, John Agyekum

John Agyekum Kufuor


Politician, lawyer

John Agyekum Kufuor—often dubbed the "gentle giant" because of his imposing height of six feet, three inches—was elected president of Ghana in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. His 2000 election victory as leader of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) ended almost two decades of Jerry John Rawlings' rule and was hailed by various commentators as pivotal to the country's transition to democracy and as such was seen as a historic moment for the African nation. It was the first time that Ghana—the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence in 1957—witnessed one elected government hand the reins of power to another through the means of the ballot box.

Ghanaian politics coalesce around two political traditions deriving from the country's pre-independence period, the Nkrumah and the Danquah-Busia traditions. Kwame Nkrumah (1919–1972)—later to become the first leader of an independent Ghana—was general secretary of Joseph Boakye Danquah's United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), but in 1949 he broke away to establish the country's first mass political organization, the Convention People's Party (CPP). Ideologically, the Nkrumah tradition is associated with anti-imperialism, pan-Africanism, socialism, and state involvement in the economy, while the Danquah-Busia tradition, to which Kufuor belongs, is associated with liberal democracy, the sovereignty of the individual, private enterprise, and free markets. Political actors in Ghana readily locate themselves in relation to these two traditions. Indeed the NPP manifesto in 2000 opens with a quotation from Joseph Danquah (1895-1985) and describes the party as "the direct descendant" of the tradition. The NPP identified itself as the party of business and drew its core support from the Asante ethnic group, the urban elite, and the private sector.

The Development of a Political Mind

Kufuor was deeply imbued in the Danquah-Busia tradition, having been exposed to its principles and leading actors from a young age. Born on December 8, 1938, in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana and the Asante capital, he was the seventh of ten children. Like Danquah himself, Kafour could claim royal Asante lineage; his father, Nana Kwadwo Agyekum, was head of the Oyoko royal family, and his mother, Nana Ama Dapaah, was a Queen mother. Kufuor was brought up by his mother and she, like many Asante, was horrified by Nkrumah's vision of a unified Ghana and so promoted the idea of a federal Ghana. The family home became the headquarters of opposition to Nkrumah, initially called the Asante Movement, but later renamed the National Liberation Movement (NLM). It was through this organizational base that Danquah and Kofi A. Busia (1913–1978)—as well as other leading lights in the tradition—came to be regular visitors at Kufuor's home during his childhood and youth.

Excelling academically and in sports, Kufuor graduated from Prempeh College in Kumasi in 1959 and won five of the six prizes awarded to the year's best students. He skipped sixth-form (high school) to study law at Lincoln's Inn, London, where he was able to reunite with Busia. Busia introduced Kufour to his former supervisor at Exeter College, Oxford University, who assured him of a place to read law if he passed his bar exam, which he did in 1961. After a year of reading law, however, Kufuor decided his true interest lay in politics, and switched to read philosophy, politics, and economics, in which he graduated in a record two years. During his time in Oxford, Kufuor fell in love with Theresa Mensah, a fellow Ghanaian who had undertaken nursing training in Britain and sister of Busia's finance minister. He married Theresa in 1962 and together they would have five children.

At the behest of his mother, Kufuor returned to his hometown in 1965 with his wife and two young children where he practised law until 1969. For three years, from 1967 to 1969, Kufuor was also chief legal officer and city manager of Kumasi, a position that, according to his biographer Ivor Agyeman-Duah, exposed him to the practical realities and power politics of public policy.

In and Out of National Politics

Kufuor's first ministerial appointment was in Busia's Progress Party government, from 1969 to 1972, in which he served as deputy foreign minister under Victor Owusu, another old-time visitor to his family home. Reflecting on this period, Kufuor said: "I felt that I was almost being professionalised as a diplomat under Victor," as quoted by Ivor Agyeman-Duah in Between Faith and History: A Biography of J.A. Kufuor. But the political honeymoon was brief and in 1972 the military overthrew Busia's government and imprisoned several high-ranking officials, including Kufour. It was during his year long detention that he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Upon his release Kufuor withdrew from party politics until conditions were more favourable; instead he immersed himself in business and served as chairman of the board of directors of the Ashanti Brick and Construction Company.

In 1979 the political scene opened-up once more, and although Owusu's Popular Front Party (PFP) lost elections to the Nkrumaist Hilla Limann, Kufuor reestablished himself in the political life of the country as opposition spokesperson for foreign affairs. After two years, however, Rawlings staged another military coup. Following Owusu's advice for him to stay in government in order to "control [the] excesses" of Rawlings' government, Kufuor served as minister for local government. However, citing irreconcilable political differences with President Rawlings, he resigned after just eight months.

At a Glance …

Born John Agyekum Kufuor on December 8, 1938, in Kumasi, Ghana; married Theresa Mensah, 1962; children: five. Education: Oxford University, BA, MA, Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, 1964. Religion: Raised Anglican, converted to Roman Catholicism, 1972.


Private law practitioner, Kumasi, 1965-69; Kumasi, chief legal officer and city manager, 1967-69; Republic of Ghana, deputy minister of foreign affairs, 1969-72, opposition spokesman for foreign affairs, 1979-81, secretary for local government, 1981, president, 2000–.


Ashanti Brick and Construction Company, chairman of the board of directors; Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), chairman.


Office—Office of the President, PO Box 1627, Accra, Ghana.

Kufuor re-entered national politics in 1992 when he ran for the chairmanship of the newly formed NPP, placing third. He was to wait another four years before being elected chairman of the party in 1996 and again in 1998, two years before national elections were due. In both cases, Kufuor faced bitter opposition and at times lacked support even from friends and family. Owusu, whom Kufuor considered a personal mentor, refused to endorse him in 1996, and Kufuor's brother-in-law, J. H. Mensah, who had served as finance minister in Busia's government, stood against him. The party primaries in 1996 were so acrimonious that Mensah urged party delegates to reject Kufuor like "expired cassava," according to Agyemen-Duah. Yet Kufuor was imbued with self-confidence and in 1998, when President Bill Clinton visited Ghana, Kufuor told the visiting delegates that the next time they came to Ghana they would greet him as president of the country.

Kufuor and "Positive Change" for

In an alliance with smaller Nkrumaist parties, Kufuor led the NPP to victory in the 2000 presidential elections under the slogan "Zero Tolerance for Corruption" and the promise of positive change. Both promises held great pertinence for the Ghanaian electorate: corruption had boomed since 1992 and on the eve of the election Ghana was in the throes of a severe economic crisis, including a sharp depreciation of the cedi (their currency), a downward spiral in oil import prices, and plummeting prices of cocoa and gold, which together constituted two-thirds of Ghana's exports.

True to the Danquah-Busia tradition, in his first post-inauguration speech Kufuor promised his country a "golden age for business" and economic growth through liberal freedoms and the rule of law. One of the most significant early actions of the Kufuor government was to sign up to the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. This secured a three-and-a-half billion dollars in debt relief, but at the same time it stimulated a tumultuous domestic debate because, for many, Ghana had been demoted from being a star pupil of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to a highly indebted country that was at the mercy of the IFIs. Defending the decision, Kufuor argued that "all we have done by opting for the HIPC initiative is that we decided to tell the truth to the nation, which was that Ghana was poor and heavily indebted and could not service its debts," as quoted by Frank Asmah and Godfred Boakye in New African.

The controversy surrounding this important policy turn did not dissipate and the area in which Kufuor lived as president came to be known as the "HIPC Junction." The stringent conditions attached to reforms imposed by the IFIs—such as a 100 percent increase in fuel prices and a 300 percent increase in the price of water and electricity, coupled with the freezing of public sector pay—led to prominent labor actions on the part of nurses, doctors, teachers, and students. Critics of Kufuor's government have suggested that it is "in bed" with the IFIs and that it blindly obeys their directives. In response to such criticism, Kufuor's foreign minister argued that "our position and views as a centrist government happen to coincide on many occasions with the position and views of the IMF/World Bank.…It is much more a meeting of minds," according to Ankomah Baffour in New African.

Kufuor's government established a Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) in May 2002—modelled on those in South Africa and Nigeria—in order to examine abuses under the five military regimes that ruled Ghana since Nkrumah's government was overthrown in 1966. Critics argued that the TRC should have been mandated to examine the entire period of Ghana's independence, because abuses of the type to be considered also occurred during periods of civilian rule, including Busia's government in which Kufuor served. Opposition parties suggested that the entire exercise was a charade and anti-democratic because the NPP sought to use the TRC as a mechanism to discredit and dismantle the opposition, thereby keeping the media spotlight away from Kufuor's Ashanit-dominated government and its controversial economic reforms.

Kufuor travelled frequently and by August 2005 had visited sixty-three countries during his tenure as president, showing, his supporters suggested, that he had a reliable team which functions whether he is present or not. Two foreign policy decisions that elicited much domestic criticism were his support for the suspension of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe from the Organization of African Unity and the signing of an agreement with the United States to grant that country immunity from the International Criminal Court. Nonetheless, Kufuor gained much international support: he placed Ghana at the center of efforts to bring peace and stability to Liberia, he was the first to submit his country to peer review under NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development), and in 2004 was spokesperson for the six African leaders who attended a G8 summit in Georgia. Consequently, he was commonly perceived by the Western powers as one of the new brand of forward-looking leaders of the "African Renaissance."

Kufuor's three decades of public service are littered with comments, from detractors and admirers alike, intonating that he was a poor and uninspiring public speaker and even that he lacked charisma. Kufuor seems unfazed, however. In response to a question from the BBC's Mark Doyle as to whether he was boring, he said: "If boredom gives us peace and stability for people to go about their normal businesses and live in dignity, then I would say let's have more boredom." Boredom, however, was not the primary issue of concern for the forty percent of Ghanaians who continued to live below the poverty line of one dollar a day in 2004. Kufuor's ability to contribute to the increase in the living standards of the majority of Ghana's poverty-stricken citizens would be the real litmus test of the success of a leader that Africa Confidential called a "tall and cordial Ashanti prince."



Agyemen-Duah, Ivor, Between Faith and History: A Biography of J.A Kufuor, Africa World Press, 2003.

Hutchful, Eboe, Ghana's Adjustment Experience: The Paradox of Reform, James Currey, 2002.

Jonah, Kwesi, "Political Parties and the Transition to Multi-Party Politics in Ghana," in Ghana: Transition to Democracy, Kwane N. Ninsin, ed., Codesria, 1998.

New Patriotic Party, An Agenda for Positive Change: Manifesto 2000 of the New Patriotic Party, Accra, 2000.


Africa Confidential, November 24, 2000; May 4, 2001: June 1, 2001; August 31, 2001; April 5, 2002; May 16, 2003; November 7, 2003; August 6, 2004; December 3, 2004.

Africa Research Bulletin, November 1-30, 2001; August 16-September 15, 2002; December 1-31, 2004.

African Affairs, Issue 100, 2001.

African Business, February 2001.

Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 41(1), 2003.

New African, June 2001; September 2001; March 2003; March 2004; August-Sept 2004.


Doyle, Mark, "Why Being Boring Is Good for Ghana," BBC News, (August 17, 2005).

"John Agyekum Kufuor," Biography Resource Center, 12, 2005).

—Naira Antoun and

Liam Campling

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Kufuor, John Agyekum

John Agyekum Kufuor

John Agyekum Kufuor (born 1938) was one of the prime movers bringing democracy back to Ghana after the country had been subjected to a long line of coups and military dictators. In 2000 he became president of Ghana, defeating Jerry Rawlings, who had been in office for 20 years. It was a peaceful transfer of power, perhaps signifying that peace and democracy had at long last triumphed in Ghana. Kufuor has proven to be a good diplomat, and the West African nation has seen a period of peace since his election. Ghana has managed to improve its economy as well, and much of the improvement seems due to Kufuor's policies, which have been applauded by many leaders around the world.

Descended from Oyoko Royalty

John Agyekum Kufuor was born on December 8, 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana, the country's second largest city and the Asante capital. He was born the seventh of ten children to Nana Kwadwo Agyekum, head of the Oyoko royal family, and Nana Ama Dapaah, a Queen mother. The family had royal Asante lineage. Kufuor was raised by his mother. At the time the ruler, Kwame Nkrumah, had a vision of a unified Ghana that had chords of socialism and dictatorship about it. Kufuor's mother was completely against such a thing, and before long Kufuor's home became the center for people who were opposed to Nkrumah's plans for Ghana. The group called themselves the Asante Movement, although they later renamed themselves the National Liberation Movement. The group originated in Kufuor's home, so he was introduced at an early age to many leaders of the liberal movement.

At school Kufuor was good at both academics and sports. He liked school and so after graduation went on to attend and graduate from Prempeh College in Kumasi in 1959. At his graduation he was awarded five of the six awards given to the best students. He went on to study law at Lincoln's Inn in London, England. He passed his bar exam in 1961 and went on to Exeter College at Oxford University to pursue legal studies. After only one year of studying law, however, Kufuor realized that his passion lay not in the law but in politics. He switched degrees and started studying philosophy, politics, and economics. He graduated a mere two years later.

Entered Politics in Ghana

While he was studying at Oxford, Kufuor met and fell in love with a woman named Theresa Mensah, who was also from Ghana and had gone to England to study nursing. The two married in 1962, and had five children together. In 1965 Kufuor's mother convinced him to bring his family—at the time his wife and two young children—back to Ghana. He agreed and took up law there until 1969 as a way to make a living. He became the chief legal officer and the city manager of Kumasi in 1967, posts he held until 1969. Both of these posts allowed Kufuor a view of politics from the inside that he had never had before, and they inspired him on his future path.

He left the law in 1969 to take up his first ministerial appointment in the Progress Party government, as a deputy foreign minister under Victor Owusu, one of the men who used to visit his home when he was a boy. In 1972 the government was overthrown by the military, and many officials were thrown into jail, including Kufuor. After his release he took up a career in business. He became chairman of the board of the Ashanti Brick and Construction Company.

Elected President of Ghana

Kufuor spent a long time in business before he returned to politics. It was not until 1992 that he ran for the office of chairman for the New Patriotic Party, which had just been formed. He was not elected to the post until 1996, but was then re-elected in 1998. He faced a lot of competition each time he ran, but refused to give up, and eventually succeeded in being elected. He next turned his sights towards becoming Ghana's president. He was confident of being elected president, and in fact predicted it to U.S. President Bill Clinton when he visited in 1998.

Kufuor was indeed elected president in 2000, defeating longtime president Jerry Rawlings. It was considered by many to be a turning point in Ghana's future. In 1957 Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to claim independence from colonists. The country was then basically handed from one man to another through a system of personal and political loyalties, and without the benefit of democratic elections. There are two distinct groups in Ghana: the Nkrumah, who are anti-imperialistic, pan-Africa, socialist, and believe in government involvement in the economy; and the Danquah-Busia, who believe in democracy, the sovereignty of the individual, private enterprise, and free markets. Kufuor belonged to the latter.

Turnover of Power Went Smoothly

After such an extended period of rule by one person, many were nervous about how the turnover of power would go, but the change went smoothly. Kufuor managed to win the election with the platform of "zero tolerance for corruption." The country had been rife with it before, and so the idea was appealing to many. The country was also doing poorly economically, mostly because of such corruption, and people were ready for a change. Kufuor was nicknamed the "gentle giant" because he was tall—at six feet, three inches—and quiet, and yet he seemed to instill confidence in those he was to lead.

In 2001 Kufuor made his first trip to the United States as president of Ghana. He went there to take part in the United Nations General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS. He attended a luncheon set up to establish links between Ghana and black American business leaders, with the goal of forging links that would help his country in the future.

Set up Truth and Reconciliation Committee

Although he was called the "gentle giant," Kufuor meant business. In 2002 he set up a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to examine abuses of power occurring under the five governments that had ruled Ghana since 1966. Some felt these measures were undertaken in order to discredit anyone opposing Kufuor's government. But whatever the opposition Kufuor faced, he was reelected in 2004. This time his campaign message was "So far, so good," showing that there had been progress in Ghana in his first term.

More than 80 percent of the population turned out to vote in the 2004 elections; it was the largest turnout in west African history. After Kufuor won his second term in office the PR Newswire said, "Domestic and international election observers agreed that the contest was free, fair, and transparent. Ghana, many observers noted, is one of the few countries in Africa to have held four consecutive multiparty elections since 1992."

Traveled After 2004 Re-election

By August of 2005 Kufuor had visited over 63 countries as president of Ghana, and Kufuor had great support from the international community. He helped Liberia achieve peace, was the first ruler to submit his country to review by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, and was a spokesperson for the six leaders from Africa who attended the G8 summit in 2004. He has been seen as one of a handful of leaders of an African Renaissance, helping to bring stability and success to Africa.

Kufour has been called a "boring" leader by some in his own country, but that is something that does not upset the ruler. He has said that if boredom has brought with it the peace and stability his country needs, then he thinks there should be more boredom in the world. African Business said of Kufuor, "True, he does not go for fiery, clenched-fist speeches that seem to characterize some of Africa's more 'charismatic' leaders, but he has unmistakable gravitas, a disarming sense of humor and most important, people listen when he speaks and then go home and think about what they have heard. He treats ordinary people as sane, reasonable human beings who will respond to sane, reasonable propositions rather than as a mass who can be manipulated through demagoguery." Ghana, however, was not out of trouble completely. In 2004 the country had a poverty level of 40 percent, and it was Kufuor's goal to reduce the number significantly.

Fought Poverty and Lack of Amenities

In 2005 Kufuor worked to update the country's railway system, establishing the Ghana Railway Development Authority. In 2006 he declared a Year of Action in Ghana. He met with his Investment Advisory Council and declared, according to African Business, that "talking was past and that this would be the year of 'implementation, implementation and implementation.'" Kufuor's goal was to turn Ghana into a middle income country by the year 2015. Although the rate of growth has been about 5.8 percent in recent years, that rate was not high enough to fulfill Kufuor's goal, and much more was needed.

With this goal in mind and the realization of how difficult it would be, Kufuor looked internationally for aid. In 2006 he appealed to South Korea for support in attracting private investments. He also met with U.S. President George W. Bush to discuss receiving aid from the Millennium Challenge Account. The world was watching Kufuor at the beginning of 2007, and much was expected of the determined ruler.


Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 54, Thomson Gale, 2006.

Newsmakers, Issue 4, Thomson Gale, 2005.

Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations: World Leaders, Gale, 2003.


African Business, February 2001; January 2005; April 2005; May 2006.

Economist (U.S.), December 14, 1996; April 28, 2001; May 26, 2001.

PR Newswire, December 17, 2004.

Xinhua News Agency, October 5, 2006; November 8, 2006.

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