Atta Mills Legacy for Ghana

Atta Mills
By Njoki Wamai

On the fateful Tuesday evening that Professor Atta Mills passed on, I met with a Ghanaian friend who works in Nairobi to catch up. My friend received  a phone call from Ghana, in which the caller announced that Mills was dead and then promptly hung up. We thought at first it was a prank since Mills had died many times before, courtesy of rumour mongers and distractors. However, after considering the finality of the caller’s tone we scampered for the internet, immediately checking Twitter and, a popular Ghanaian news site. The websites confirmed that Professor Atta Mills had indeed just passed on at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra.

Having lived in Ghana, I shared the shock of many Ghanaians. I imagined the impact of this news in the hot and humid trafffic-choked streets and chop bars of Accra that afternoon. I pictured the busy highway outside the 37 Military Hospital where the professor had died, with its young women hawkers, with basins of ice-cold mineral water on their heads shouting ‘pure water’, as if in a choreographed chorus one after another. They were probably softer in their bid for water thirsty customers that evening as the gloom of  his death swept Accra.

The death of the law professor, who was the third president of the Fourth Republic of Ghana, was received in shock in Ghana and around the world. The late president had only celebrated his 68th birthday a few days earlier and the news of his sudden death was met by Ghanaians with the response "What a Shock" in the death annoucement billboards. He is also the first president to die in office. The presidential election was only five months away on 7 December  2012. The late president has died when the election mood in Ghana was at its peak and elaborate preparations such as biometric registers  have been made  by the Ghana Electoral Commission to ensure that the election is smooth.

My opinion of Atta Mills is captured best by a political analyst in Ghana who said that Ghana had lost a fine gentleman who would be  remembered as an ardent sportsman,  a lawyer, a deeply religious person, an academic and a reluctant politician.

Jemila Abdulai, a blogger from Ghana argues that Atta Mills represented stability. His calm, level headed, humble nature could be why he was considered stable compared to the flamboyant New Patriotic Party (NPP) flag bearer Nana Akufo-Addo.

Mills was often the subject of jokes and ridicule from opposition officials, his party members and his own party  founder, J.J. Rawlings, who considered him too weak to lead. True to his deeply religious character, he would snub their jibes, further infuriating those set for political shadow boxing, a common feature of politics.

Will Mills’ death affect the political landscape? The passing of Atta Mills at this juncture might re-introduce re-election challenges for the late president’s left leaning party National Democratic Congress (NDC) especially after  recent developments  such as the new split in the party.

Nana Konadu Rawlings, who was the second most popular contender for party flag bearer after Mills, and wife of former President J.J. Rawlings recently led a breakaway group to form a new party, the National Democractic Party (NDP). The National Executive Committee of the NDC has quickly appointed the new president John Mahama as party leader and a presidential flag bearer in quick succession. This was done to pre-empt any uncertainities or conflicts that may arise between the Mills/Mahama faction and any Rawlingses remnants, taking advantage of a constitutional loophole which did not envisage the death of a sitting president, and did not expressely indicate  any measures to replace the flagbearer. It was feared  these uncertainities might advantage the right wing NPP, which is the NDC’s main competition.

Despite his laid back leadership , Mills’ integrity, level-headedness, and humility will be missed. Professor Atta Mills’  character  and left-leaning policies - broadly informed by Nkurumaist thinking-  helped in deepening Ghana’s democracy. He also presided over the country’s commercial oil production, which has catapulted Ghana to middle income status in line with his predecessor’s efforts. Translating this double digit GDP growth to the pockets of ordinary Ghanaians  remains a challenge.

When all is said and done, although the transition on that Tuesday evening was both a very sad moment for Ghana and Africa, it was also a moment of great pride for Africa as power transited smoothly. It was a mark of Ghana’s investment in democratic insitutions, something which should be lauded and emulated by Kenya and other countries.


12 August 2012