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08.02.2009 Feature Article

Kufuor: Ghana's gentle giant

For John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor, becoming the president of Ghana has been a long-held ambition, comparable to that of a barefoot child who kicks a rotten orange about in the backyard and sees himself as a soccer star - say, George Weah or Abedi Pele.

He grinds slowly, but extremely fine. He keeps an open mind, but once his mind is made up, he closes it

Kufuor associate
But, while the dreams of millions of youths tend to fade with the unfolding of time, Mr Kufuor will be swearing the oath of presidential office on Sunday.

Mr Kufuor is 62. He comes from the gold-endowed Ashanti ethnic group, whose proud people fought the British colonialists.

He was the seventh of 10 children, born to Nana Kwadwo Agyekum, head of the Oyoko Royal family of Kumasi, the Ashanti capital, and Nana Ama Dapaah, a Queen mother.

He went to Oxford University where he studied law, and earned a Masters degree in philosophy, political science and economics.

He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in London 40 years ago, but did not spend much time in the courtroom.

Instead, after a stint at the Kumasi City Council, he took to politics. He was a member of the Constituent Assemblies, which drafted Ghana's republican constitutions in 1969 and 1979.

Mr Kufuor became a member of parliament, and deputy foreign minister at the age of 30 in the government of Prime Minister Kofi Busia, which lasted just two and a half years.

He ran a brick and tile factory after Mr Busia's overthrow in 1972 and was elected to parliament again after the country's return to democracy in 1979, becoming deputy minority parliamentary leader.

However, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, the man he replaces on Sunday, overthrew the government and appointed Mr Kufuor as his minister for local government.

Mr Kufuor quit after seven months, citing irreconcilable political differences.

He returned to a life of enterpreneurship until 1992, when he jumped back into politics after democracy was restored.

Four years ago, he lost the presidential election to President Rawlings, but this year his star has shone.

Personal qualities
Mr Kufuor is married to Theresa, a nurse. They have five grown-up children.

He loves sports. He was chairman of former African soccer club champions Kumasi Asante Kotoko. He plays table tennis, and was a champion shot-putter and discus-thrower at secondary school and Oxford.

That is not surprising. He is about 1.93m (six foot four), and weighs over 110kg (240 pounds). They call him "the gentle giant".

Mr Kufuor is not an enchanting orator. Because of that, his political rivals have often underrated him.

But he makes up for it by being a good listener. Those know him well say he is patient, but firm.

"He grinds slowly, but extremely fine," says one associate. "He keeps an open mind, but once his mind is made up, he closes it."

His pet hate is "arrogant and self-centred people". He is considered a man of the people.

Indeed, he is a "retail" politician who likes to campaign door-to-door, meeting people one-to-one, as against a "wholesale" politician, whose main tool is television.

He does not drink, except a little wine socially. His choice of music is eclectic - classical, traditional, and soft, romantic pop.

"I like good cooking wherever it comes from," Mr Kufuor told the BBC on Saturday.

He enjoys travelling, and recalls with exceptional fondness a night he spent 12 years ago in the Algerian desert when his plane was forced to land.

"I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the night, and of the sun when it was rising in the morning. I want to see the whole world," he said.

As president he will get to do plenty of travelling, but is more likely to be spending his nights in gilded palaces rather than out in the desert.

MyjoyOnline, © 2009

This author has authored 338 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: myjoyonline

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