- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ACCRA, Ghana— President John AttaMills vowed to help spread the wealth from Ghana‘s newly discovered offshore oil fields, though his death Tuesday came before the 68-year-old could even finish his first term in this West African nation long held up as a model of democracy.

Ghanaian state-run television stations GTV and TV3 broke into their regular programming to announce the president’s death, which comes three days after his 68th birthday.

Chief of Staff John Henry Martey Newman told the nation that AttaMills had died Tuesday afternoon at the 37th Military Hospital in Accra but gave no details about the cause.

“It is with a heavy heart and deep sorrow that we announce the sudden and untimely death of the president of the Republic of Ghana,” Newman said.

Information Minister Fritz Baffour later confirmed that AttaMills had died but also declined to comment further.

Louis Agbo, a university student in Accra, said the television stations interrupted regular programming to announce AttaMills‘ death and he was shocked by the news.

“I could not even shout or cry,” Agbo said. “I rushed outside and saw people crying and wailing on the street.”

The nation stood by for a speech by Vice President John Mahama, who will become president under the nation’s laws.

Chris Fomunyoh, the senior director for Africa for the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, said that Ghana‘s democracy could weather the death of a president.

In other nations in West Africa, the death of a ruler usually spells a coup, as it did in neighboring Guinea following the 2008 death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte, and Togo, where the military seized power after the president’s death in 2005 in order to install the leader’s son.

“Ghanaian democracy has been tested and its institutions function well,” said Fomunyoh. “There’s no reason to think that Ghana and its democracy will not handle this event properly.”

Ghana, whose economy has been fueled by gold, cocoa and timber exports in the past, hopes to put its oil money to good use, mindful of how nearby Nigeria suffered through military dictatorships and widespread corruption over its oil wealth.

AttaMills was elected in a 2008 runoff vote — his third presidential bid — after campaigning on a platform of change, arguing that the country’s growth had not been felt in people’s wallets.

“People are complaining. They’re saying that their standard of living has deteriorated these past eight years,” he told the Associated Press in 2008. “So if Ghana is a model of growth, it’s not translating into something people can feel.”

AttaMills even put up campaign posters of himself standing next to a cutout of U.S. President Barack Obama in an effort to emphasize that he too stood for change.

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