In October 2018, the Exeter College of the University of Oxford had a fascinating exhibition on the writings and archives of its alumnus novelist, J.R. R. Tolkien whose 1949 famous novel, The Lord of the Rings is considered great literature.
Its filmography adaptation series, broke the box office in excess of $870 million winning multiple Academy Awards. It is reminiscent in contemporary terms of J.K. Rowling’s the Harry Potter fantasy series.
In the next couple of weeks, the College will also unveil a full photographic portrait of another alumnus it deems distinguished enough- former President John Agyekum Kufuor at its Learning Commons at Cohen Quad, a recently renovated centuries old building. Kufuor will join the philosopher and Kwame Nkrumah’s literary friend, William Abraham the first African and to date, the only one to be elected a Fellow of All Souls College of Oxford in 1959, to be so honoured.
Kufuor’s honour comes ten years after his presidency and is propitious in the sense that history is always framed in time and often coincidental. A sort of a foreign affairs president like Jawaharlal Nehru in India before him, Kufuor’s post- presidency from 2009-2018, first saw him assumed the chairmanship of the Alliance for Africa Foundation which was partly set up by the Milan City Council for education infrastructure development in Africa.
He subsequently became Ambassador of the World Food Programme in Rome, chairman of the Interpeace in Geneva which operates in seventeen post-war countries, joined a Commission to look into Re-powering the World Bank for the 21st Century which was chaired by the former President of Mexico and Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, Ernesto Zedillo. It included the then Director-General of the WTO- Pascal Lamy and the President of JICA then, Sadko Ogata among others.
From 2010, he would be involved with ten other international organizations of exotic company such as the Global Citizenship Commission chaired by former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown with the membership of former US Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, the historian Emma Rothschild, Nobel laureate Mohamed El Baradei and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. They were to review the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights for a 21st Century World. He would also be involved in an eminent preparatory committee meeting to help influence the agenda of the G20 Seoul Summit in 2010.
Kufuor’s international engagements apart from multilateral ones were as an envoy of the UN Secretary-General, leader of the Commonwealth and African Union electoral observer missions and co-directed with President Jimmy Carter on the electoral contest and associated conflicts. Speaking engagements whether from the London Speaker Bureau or elsewhere, could run continuously for a month: addressing packed auditoriums at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York on some of his successful social and economic policies like the National Health Insurance Scheme; as inaugural lecturer of The Legatum Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge; commemorative guest speaker at universities in Seoul and influencing public policy from Japan to land reforms in Dar es Salaam; counsel to Maasai leaders and cultural conservationists in rural Kenya and sharing thoughts with decision makers of the African Development Bank in a series of guest lectureship in Tunisia on political economy.
In between the many engagements were the awards and appreciation whether a doctorate degree from the ancient University of Edinburgh or as World Food Prize laureate speaking at the UK Houses of Parliament on food security in Africa on behalf of the Partnership for Child Development of the Imperial College London; reward for his mediating role in the Kenya crisis of 2007, La Cote d’ Ivoire and Liberia.
In 2011, President Alassane Quattara invited Kufuor as Guest of Honour through the Interpeace and publically said whilst inaugurating the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that, “today marks all your (Kufuor) efforts in seeking to bring peace to La Cote d’Ivoire and we cannot thank you enough.”
The international leadership portfolios also included being the first chair of the high-level Geneva-based Sanitation and Water for All which looks at sanitation and water as critical factors of economic growth in the developing world beyond Africa and into parts of Asia and the Caribbean.
These were all reflective of the successful public policy and foreign engagements during his presidency and as chairman of the African Union.
Whilst these were obviously gratifying for his global stewardship, home-front in Ghana was a stormy transition between 2009-2010. His party had unexpectedly lost power to the NDC led by Prof. Atta Mills. Tension and even recrimination became part of the swan song. The Chinery Hesse Committee which he had put together to look into future presidential emoluments had become controversial of what entitlements should be given former presidents. Prof. Mills set up a new commission to review that report downwards and attendant media reportage was overbearingly negative against the earlier one.
Kufuor’s anticipated retirement office at the Ridge government enclave was the target of a mob attack should he use it. A youth organization was claiming it as indigenous to the people of the area. That incident shocked many participants at an African Presidential Archives and Research Center conference which Kufuor was chairing at the time in Tanzania. Eventually, in the course of what seemed a regular effrontery, his office was relocated to his home at Airport West in Accra.
Certainly, the times were against him at home. For what was considered by analysts as even within reach - the Mo Ibrahim Prize alluded him in a mirage fashion. I remember a call from a BBC correspondent who intimated that their investigation indicated the Prize would be given to Kufuor in an announcement to be made by its chair, the late Kofi Annan the following day. The BBC was, therefore, sending a correspondent from Abidjan to Accra who would interview Kufuor afterwards.
Very early the following morning, the correspondent called me and to his own surprise, said that the Committee had decided not to award the prize that year to any of the highly eligible candidates among them, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. The announcement to be made that afternoon, he said, would confirm this. It did confirm that to the joy of the new powers in Accra as there was also relief among some within Kufuor’s own party with not a residual disliking of him over the ages.
You do not win all the time in politics but time defines who you become in the context of its ticking. From the global engagements of 2009 and the concurrent stormy times at home, there now seems to be a settlement. It is always the case whichever way one looks at it. The personality debasement by neophytes of the newly baptized into politics, their youthful philistine attitude to decorum is even ensured by time in history.
The “Ifs’ of history itself is always a primordial element of little relevance at the end but difficult to refrain from its sometimes speculative powers of the past, and of the present. ‘If’ Vladimir Lenin had not travelled by train in 1917 from Zurich to Petrograd in Russia or had been killed on arrival from this exile journey by train, would the Bolshevik Revolution have changed the world? And would Nkrumah who counted that as one of the greatest events of the time have been inspired? Would March 6, 1957, or another date be our independence day? And would Kufuor have been in line over forty years after?
Kufuor has a mental rotation on political leadership, models and their evolution. In that sense, his occupation is not gone at a good age of eighty but within historical reckoning in its measure for measure.
Time! Memory!! History!!!
[Ivor Agyeman-Duah is the author of Between Faith and History- A Biography of J.A. Kufuor (2007, Ayebia Clarke Publishers, Oxfordshire) and was a special advisor to Kufuor on international development cooperation.]
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