Between Faith and History: A Biography of J.A. Kufuor. 136 pp (hardcover), Foreword by Ali A. Mazrui. AUTHOR : Ivor Agyeman-Duah PUBLISHER : African World Press, New Jersey(www.africanworld.com) PRICE : $24.75 REVIEWER : Colin Essamuah Mr. Ivor Agyeman-Dah has with this book, established himself as the official biographer of President Kufuor. This is a task worth the effort for the several salutary lessons that Ghanaian political history should teach us as we gradually become faithful adherents and believers in democratic, constitutional rule. This book is made up of an introduction and eight chapters, with the foreword provided by the world-acclaimed Africanist, Ali Mazrui.
The author is currently the Minister/Counselor and head of the public affairs section at the chancery of the Ghana Mission in Washington, DC. He is otherwise a well-known journalist previously based in Kumasi who worked with both the Ashanti Pioneer and The Ashanti Independent in the 1990’s, positions which offered him a ringside view of the actions of the leading political lights in Ghana’s second city. These politicians also happened to be national figures. The very fact that the foreword was written by Mazrui, a controversial commentator on Ghanaian politics, indicated for me right at the onset, that the author caught his politics from the Adu-Boahen faction, so –called, in the New Patriotic Party. This indeed turns out to be the case in the body of the text.
The political biography of the personality who best symbolizes the current phase in our politics is certainly that of our president and by given us this timely work, Agyeman-Duah has added to the collective democratic memory which alone can sustain the benefits of government by consent rather than by coercion. The perfectly legitimate question can be raised if a biography of a politician still in office is necessary and whether it is possible to distinguish such an effort from mere hagiography. In our part of the world, with our unique history of antidemocratic regimes, I should think that knowing our leaders well enough in a manner that is the staple provided by the press in free societies, must form an essential part of literacy in the tenets of democracy.
This book is thus a short narrative of the birth and upbringing, the education, and the political life of President Kufuor up to the time of his epochal election as the second President of Ghana’s fourth republic in December, 2000. To these obvious advantages, I add the chance it gives the reader to reflect on the lessons of the political career of the president and if possible enable us, even at this time, to intuit what the verdict of history would be on his political career.
Ivor’s work has however, other merits to recommend to all of us. In this short piece apparently encompassing the life of President Kufuor, we have the opportunity to read parts of the political history of Ghana, especially in the democratic, constitutional 1990’s. We also get to know the history of the governing NPP, at least the Kumasi portion of its origins. That all these competing claims on the attention of the reader are present in this work is certainly testimony of the industry of the author.
It is obvious from the author’s style that he is more of a journalist than an historian. There is plenty of historical material here hinted at, like for example, in the fruits of his interviews of Madam Akua Durowaa. But we are served only crumbs from the capacious memory of this significant family source. His readers would certainly have wanted more on the political economy of the society into which the president was born rather than the perfunctory recitation of the centrality of cocoa. We would like to know a lot more about the structure of Ashanti traditional polity because the president is a member of that polity. Thus, the story presented here in bare bone fashion, will definitely require a second edition to provide the detailed and lengthier exposition that this important subject necessarily demands in order to do justice to it. I will definitely agree that uncovering the multi-layered life of any person , much more that of an African politician, is not an easy task.
Again, by focusing more on the period of the 90’s when the author was a staffer on two Kumasi papers, and in addition, as participant/observer, gives the story a heady flavor which recalls the atmosphere of the time, but fails to supply the reader adequately with the tenor of the preceding military rule of the PNDC.
Notwithstanding these caveats, Agyeman-Duah has told the story of the life of President Kufuor from a truthful standpoint. The president is someone who in ordinary parlance, would be described as having been born with a silver spoon in the mouth, courtesy of his mother who as the only woman in a family of several men, inherited them all with their considerable assets. But this seeming advantage in resources and membership of the Ashanti traditional polity did not give him an edge in the long and fierce and lonely struggle to be first, a serious contender for the presidential candidacy of the NPP, and then, the ultimate prize in our politics, election as the President of Ghana in 2000.
It can be argued by some that as far as the story of Ghanaian politicians who had sought office democratically is concerned, he had worked the hardest and longest to reach his goal and very probably suffered the most as a result. A clear example of his tenacity, perseverance and industry in the service of his ambition is the simple fact that from 1992 to 1998, when he became the presidential candidate of the NPP for the second and successful time, he was NEVER the most popular aspirant in his home region, Ashanti, in spite of his solid links with the Ashanti court and his chairmanship of Asante Kotoko Football Club and his earlier crucial endorsement by Victor Owusu, who had much more going for him during the 3rd Republic 20 years earlier but who failed to secure the ultimate prize.
Perhaps a major part of this perception that JAK will get nowhere stemmed from his service in the early days of the PNDC when he served as the Secretary for Local Government. For myself, I can say that was a major barrier. But on hindsight, those of us in the UP tradition who were opposed to the PNDC and who saw this as proof of his crass opportunism, forgot entirely in our blind hatred of the regime that opportunism in politics is sometimes the easiest way for one to achieve one’s ambitions. Nkrumah had done it with the UGCC, Busia had joined the 1966 coup-makers, why did Victor advise only his protégé to join a regime that had displaced our historical opponents in the CPP and turned around to urge us and others to oppose the same regime? Of course, the socialist, anti-capitalist bent of the earlier PNDC did not invite liberal participation but this was not necessarily an insuperable problem. The opportunism we had disdained is what in our circumstances, Napoleon would have called luck in politics. For the only one true PP person amongst the leading figures in the NPP who won the leadership contest and went on to win the presidency is the very person who was maligned for serving Jerry Rawlings. The short answer to why he served Rawlings that Agyeman-Duah would want us to agonize over is straightforward: so what?
The other part of the difficult path that President Kufuor had to tread to become what he is today is the perception of weakness which is rendered in a positive light in the accolade Gentle Giant. Why all of us believe that a person who wants to become an African president is weak and indecisive even though he was prepared to struggle in the open with seemingly much more strong and decisive contenders is something we much cure ourselves of. Compare this with the case of Hilla Limann who had no serious political ambitions whatsoever. Yet even in this, Mr. Kufuor’s so-called gentle nature must have assisted ordinary Ghanaians to back him as a different proposition from the mercurial and robust Jerry Rawlings. It also certainly helped in getting the other minority parties specially the CPP on board in 1996 and again in 2000. His gentle nature is what has effectively destroyed the most dangerous political party, historically, to the UP tradition. Of course, I believe that effectively, the NDC is the successor party to the CPP as the latter has disappeared under the twin charms of President Kufuor and the party’s strange and inexplicable refusal to claim the inheritance of Limann. This, in the long run, would be the direct political effect of the gentle nature of the president.
What then can we learn from the political career of President Kufuor? It is said each period has its specific story to tell and its lessons to offer. It is fair to surmise that John Kufuor as president would be judged on both his style of leadership and on what he would have done for the people of Ghana at the end of his tenure. On both, he would have the misfortune in some cases, to be compared with Jerry Rawlings even though they are of different political faiths and styles. The invidious, melding the two, would have a field day. It would serve the facts better to compare him to our civilian leaders, both democratic and undemocratic and then also to those who struggled in his party for the same prize like Victor Owusu, Paa Willie Ofori-Atta, and Adu-Boahen. On this plane, he is very likely to outshine all of them due to the fact that he struggled the longest and hardest and therefore triumphed against odds greater than any they faced. If he completes his tenure, that alone will make him the greatest civilian head of state this country has had since independence. This is because it is his skills as a leader that will preserve the constitutional order, an achievement none of his civilian predecessors can claim. By giving us a preview of such a future judgment, we should be grateful to Agyeman- Duah.