Magazine article New African

What Next after Atta Mills? Ghana's President, Prof John Evans Flifi Atta Mills, Died Suddenly on 24 July and Threw the Nation's Politics into Disarray. the Five Months from Now to the National Elections Scheduled for 7 December May Be Some of the Most Interesting in the Country's History, Reports Femi Akomolafe and Stephen Gyasi Jnr

Magazine article New African

What Next after Atta Mills? Ghana's President, Prof John Evans Flifi Atta Mills, Died Suddenly on 24 July and Threw the Nation's Politics into Disarray. the Five Months from Now to the National Elections Scheduled for 7 December May Be Some of the Most Interesting in the Country's History, Reports Femi Akomolafe and Stephen Gyasi Jnr

Article excerpt

GHANAIANS WERE SHOCKED when the news came on 2.4 July that President John Atta Mills was dead. The people were shocked because the president's death had been rumoured so often that it was difficult to accept that now it was real. But a terse press statement by the president's chief of staff put paid to all the speculation. Alas, the president was indeed dead!

That he died just three days after celebrating his 68th birthday made it worse for the men around him who kept the nation on a diet of untruths about his true state of health.

One of them, the operations director at The Castle, the seat of government, Nii Lantey Vanderpuye, who is also an MP for the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), had told the nation a mere three days before the president died that, "he is stronger and healthier than any presidential candidate".

The president had long been rumoured to suffer from throat cancer. He had returned from a medical check-up in the USA a few weeks before he died, and pronounced himself fit for the gruelling campaign that lay ahead of national elections fixed for 7 December. He even jogged at the airport to dispel persistent rumours that he was a sick man.

But the rumours persisted that he was in bad shape. Yet his handlers continued to say otherwise. This led one journalist to lament that: "The issue about the president's health has virtually become a taboo in Ghana, with those seeking to know the exact ailment affecting him being tagged as enemies of the NDC administration."

Sadly on 24 July, the president died, a few hours after being rushed to the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. He was said to have died from acute cardiac arrest. Insiders said the president, a staunch Christian, had complained of neck pains on Sunday 22 July and thus could not take part in church activities. He was due to fly to Nigeria on an official trip on the evening of the day he died.

Atta Mills, a native of Ekumfi Otuam in the Central Region, was born at Tarkwa in the Western Region on 21 July 1944.One of the best educated presidents Ghana ever had, Mills attended the famous Achimota School in Accra, and then read law at the University of Ghana, before doing his advanced degrees at the London School of Economics, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, all part of the University of London.

After a long stint in the academic world, Prof Mills joined the Ghana Civil Service and became the acting commissioner of the internal revenue service (1986-93). He served as the substantive commissioner from 1993 to 1996.

His political career began when President Jerry Rawlings plucked him from his internal revenue job to partner him as vice-president in the 1996 elections. Mills served in this position until he ran as the NDC's presidential candidate in the 2000 elections, and lost. He ran again in 2004 and lost. Luck smiled on him at the third attempt in 2008, when he won a bruising three-round election with a wafer-thin majority. He was sworn in on 7 January 2009 for a four-year term.

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Interestingly, his humble style of leadership was perceived by many to be a sign of weakness. A few months into his presidency, his mentor and hitherto chief supporter, Jerry Rawlings, became one of his harshest critics--and Rawlings continued the public criticisms for the next three-and-a-half years.

Although the late president's men dished out as good as he got, he himself so much respected the office he held that he never for once publicly responded to Rawlings' criticisms and innuendoes. This earned him the sobriquet "Asomdwehene", or "King of Peace".

Ghanaians of all political stripes trooped out to mourn the late president, who became the country's first leader to die in office. His main challenger for the December polls, the New Patriotic Party's Nana Akufo-Addo, suspended his campaign tour of the Western Region and returned to Accra to pay a moving eulogy to the late leader. …

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