- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

Ghana's John Agyekum Kufuor, Africa's newest democratically elected leader, basked last week in the glow of U.S. approval of his ballot victory over the man picked by his predecessor, Jerry Rawlings, who ruled for most of the past 22 years.
The approval was not surprising. After all, President Kufuor played the music America most wanted to hear: "Our government will emphasize liberal democratic values, a free press, free markets and cooperation with peacekeepers in our part of the continent," the 63-year-old leader told The Washington Times in an hourlong interview.
"This is the first time since independence that the people of Ghana have had the chance through the ballot box to change governments," he noted.
The visit was Mr. Kufuor's first trip to Washington since his December election triumph over John Atta Mills, Mr. Rawlings' vice president. He came to Washington after attending the U.N.-sponsored AIDS conference in New York.
In Washington, the new Ghanaian leader met with President Bush, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others in the administration, as well as with congressional leaders. In New York, he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who also was attending the AIDS conference.
The round of meetings was accompanied by immediate rewards as the International Monetary Fund announced that it would free about $66 million in poverty-reduction funds for Ghana and that it "welcomes the new government's commitment toward serious debt management."

Calamities beset country
Ghana these days needs all the financial help it can get. The country has been ravaged by floods and starved for capital and is suffering from an erosion in the price of its principal export, cocoa.
To emphasize the seriousness of his commitment to democratic values and to solicit investments to rescue Ghana's economy, Mr. Kufuor brought with him key members of his administration, including Foreign Minister Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, Finance Minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo, several promoters of business opportunities and his national security chief.
All attended the Times interview.
"Democracy cannot survive in a climate of abject poverty," said Mr. Osafo-Maafo, emphasizing the role U.S. financial support could play.
Mr. Kufuor promised to continue his nation's work in regional peacekeeping, but added that "training for the men who must serve in these missions is essential."
Despite the peaceful transfer of power at the Jan. 7 inauguration, Ghana is a democracy on a tightrope.
Mr. Kufuor has suggested there will be a full accounting of his predecessor's 22-year rule, and Mr. Rawlings' followers have hinted back that a search for retribution could provoke another coup.
Mr. Rawlings had been one of Africa's longest-ruling, most successful leaders, but at the same time one of the most polarizing individuals. He was praised for relinquishing power after his 1979 coup, but seized it back two years later. He won an uncontested election in 1991 and a second term in 1996, outpolling Mr. Kufuor in a free and fair election, then kept his promise to retire last year.
Along the road, Mr. Rawlings abandoned his earlier commitment to socialism, accepted IMF-dictated fiscal austerity, liberalized foreign-investment rules and lent a hand with West African peacekeeping. In recognition of these accomplishments, President Clinton included the capital of Accra on his itinerary in 1998 when he undertook a visit to Africa's emerging democracies.

Ethnic tensions persist
Mr. Rawlings was accused repeatedly of corruption, political killings and lesser misdeeds.
A large part of the opposition to Mr. Rawlings, who has maternal links with the Ewe people of the eastern Volta region, comes from the Ashanti, who inhabit southern Ghana, centered on the city of Kumasi, and who in pre-colonial days were an imperial power in their region.
The Ashanti have never forgiven Mr. Rawlings for executing several of their leaders during his days as military strongman.
Mr. Kufuor, himself an Ashanti, brushes aside suggestions that his government may be in danger from the opposition. In an interview with the Associated Press, he called such suggestions "a very fast passing phase." But he is believed to be under great pressure from his supporters to call Mr. Rawlings to account.
The solution, he suggested, may be to create a commission to examine the accusations against his predecessor.
Whether Mr. Kufuor can find the will to resist the pressures while serving with both justice and compassion will be key to whether the transfer of power in Ghana will be peaceful or troubled.
In other parts of Africa, founding fathers and long-reigning government leaders have relinquished power at the ballot box only to find political doors slammed behind them.
Mr. Rawlings has turned to a post-presidential career in the service of the World Health Organization, battling to eradicate malaria in Africa. The career change brings to mind the efforts of former President Jimmy Carter to combat some of Africa's most-dreaded diseases.

Nkrumah was revered
Ghana in 1957 became the first West African nation to regain its independence after colonialism was imposed over virtually the entire continent in the late 19th century.
Its first leader, Kwame Nkrumah, was a visionary, whom Ghanaians called "Osagyefo" — "Redeemer." His dream was to create a United States of Africa, an ideal still cherished in some African circles.
He and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser founded the Organization of African Unity.
Mr. Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup, triggering a series of military putsches over 11 years, with two civilian governments sandwiched in between. This made Ghana the stereotypical African country in the eyes of many observers beyond the continent, who said Africa was victimized politically by two evils — soldiers who could not rule, alternating with civilians who could not rule honestly.
This cycle was ended in 1979 with another military overthrow of government, this one by Mr. Rawlings, then a flight lieutenant.
Mr. Kufuor, during this period, concentrated on the legal profession after studying in London, plus a stint at Oxford. He went from private law practice to a parliamentary career, then became the center of a political movement in opposition to military rule.
He was imprisoned by one of the coup leaders in 1972 and again after Mr. Rawlings' second coup in 1981.
In 1996, he tried and failed to unseat the soldier-turned-civilian. But last year, the quest for a democracy and free enterprise bore fruit as Mr. Kufuor led his New Patriotic Party to victory.

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