John Kufour: the voice of a leader

John Kofour had a great responsibility when he took office as the President of Ghana in 2001. After all, it was the first time for an African country to peacefully make the transition of power democratically and pacifically since its independence in 1957. Ghana witnessed its fastest economic growth in history during his administration. The GDP achieved a record growth of 8.4% from 2007 to 2008, even during the midst of international financial and economic crises. Besides that, the country experienced robust infrastructural development in the fields of logisticas, education, healthcare, and especially in agriculture. Due to its stable economy, as it is among one of the most prosperous nations in the region and its highly educated and hard-working manpower, Ghana is considered as a natural leader on the continent, whose global vision is highly respected and sought after.

The Ghanaian President took over the presidency of the African Union from 2007 to 2008, when he supervised the pacific settlement of the electoral dispute in Kenya. He also became president of the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) from 2003 to 2005 and participated in successful negotiations that brought about peace and reconstruction to Serra Leon, the Ivory Coast, and Liberia.

He left the government office in 2009, after two mandates, and he started dedicating himself to the foundation named after himself, developing projects in the fields of leadership, governance, and sustainable development. In 2011, he was nominated joint-winner of the World Food Prize for Agriculture and Feeding the World.

John Kofour speaks to ATLANTICO, about his actuation as the President of Ghana and his role as one of the main African leaders, pointing out solutions to recurring problems on the continent, and meanwhile suggesting alternatives for the actuation of multilateral institutions — such as IMF and the World Bank — and new geopolitical configurations — such as BRICS and South-South Cooperative projects — for continental development.

John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor was born in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, on December 8th 1938, and he fathered five children with Theresa Kufuor (née Mensah), who he has been married to since 1962. He graduated as a lawyer, educated in his hometown and afterwards continued his studies in such famous British institutions, as Lincoln’s Inn and Oxford University. His hobbies and recreational interests range from table tennis, reading, movies, and football, his love for it made him become the president of Asante Kotoko Football Club. His political experience before becoming President, included being elected as a congressional representative for two terms of office (1969–72 and 1979–81), and became vice-minister of Foreign Affairs (1969–72) when he led the Ghanaian delegation at the United Nations in 1970.


ATLANTICO — Under your Presidency, Ghana witnessed the fastest economic growth in its history. The GDP, for example, strike a record of 8.4% between 2007 and 2008, even experiencing international financial and economic crisis during that period. What measurements were taken to achieve these results?

John Kofour — The successes chalked by my government were the result of the cumulative impact of policies we adopted. When l assumed government in 2001, the country’s reserves were so depleted that it could hardly cover a month’s imports while external payments arrears were built up. This was indeed a precarious situation, which posed imminent danger to the nation. Headline inflation was running at about 41 per cent; the fiscal deficit had increased from some 6.0 per cent of GDP in 1999 to 9.0 percent of GDP; the external public debt stood at 131.0 percent of GDP, and the domestic public debt at 35 percent of GDP, and was in a snowball. From the foregoing, it was clear that the country was insolvent under the previous government. My government adopted the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which opened the lock-jam on the economy and allow the flow of both foreign and domestic investment. HIPC also freed the Bank of Ghana to manage the monetary aspects of the economy in a more prudent manner, such as, curbing the rampant printing of paper money which was a factor in the spiraling of inflation. As a result international confidence in the economy and both bi-lateral and multi-lateral partners, felt comfortable dealing with the county again. At the completion point in 2004, Ghana received debt relief of about $4 billion dollars from the IMF, giving the government a breather to pursue medium to long term targets. The benefits were immediate as it led to reducing the country’s external debt servicing and enabling the implementation of sound macro-economic measures for development. With transparent laws and adherence to the rule of law, investor confidence soared, businesses opened up, employment surged and there was development all around.

ATLANTICO — Can you describe some initiatives that have facilitated the growth of Ghana’s economy during your tenure as president?

JK — For a country such as Ghana, where more than half its people farm the land, transforming agriculture helps to transform everyone. My administration aimed to ensure a more efficient and productive agricultural base that would become the engine of the economy by providing food security, ushering in industrialization, creating jobs, and increasing export revenues. We adapted the latest knowledge from universities, research institutes, experts, and farmers across the world. Farmers’ access to affordable credit underpinned our policy. The government sprayed cocoa farms with pesticides free of charge and provided fertilizers where needed. Importantly, farmers were given a major incentive to expand production, by increasing their share of the international export price from 40 percent in 2002 to about 70 percent in 2004. The result was dramatic. Between 2002 and 2005, cocoa production in Ghana doubled — from 350,000 tons to 734,000 tons, a record in more than a century of cocoa farming in the country. The government successfully used many of the same techniques to improve production for food crops such as maize, yams, and plantains, as well as livestock and fish. The government also made mechanization, like tractors, more affordable for farmers through favorable loan terms. Landing sites were developed for sea fisheries on the beach and for aquaculture along the Volta Lake.

ATLANTICO — How do you see the result of these initiatives? And how this can be measured today?

JK — The outcome was that, despite the problems the nation faced, food was more plentiful and at affordable prices. Therefore, along with supporting irrigation, improved seeds, and crop diversification, the government pursued an integrated rural development policy, building feeder roads, silos, and cold stores for horticultural crops (such as pineapples, mangoes, and bananas). The farmers’ progress did not just result in increased exports; the government launched an ambitious programme to give many kindergarten and primary school pupils a daily hot and nutritious meal made from locally produced food, which resulted in a monumental increase in school enrolment. The policy which has now been institutionalized throughout the country, provides proper nourishment for the children and support for the farmers. Poorly performing public companies that had become a drain on government resources were diversified to the private sector, bringing in much needed finances and engendering their base for growth because of the infusion of private capital and management.

ATLANTICO — What is Ghana’s role as a regional leader? How does the country fit into the continent’s development context?

JK — Ghana as the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from colonial rule is naturally endowed with a leadership role on the continent, which it guards jealously. It has also contributed troops to almost all UN Peace-Keeping engagements elsewhere in the world, where her soldiers have exhibited a high sense of professionalism. Ghana is a founding member of both the Organization of Africa Unity, now Africa Union, in 1963; and of the West African economic bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975. After military coups d’etat have truncated its democratic path in three republics since independence in 1957, Ghana since 1992 has embarked on constitutional democratic rule that has resulted in seven successfully held elections resulting in three smooth change-over of democratically elected civilian governments. This has been touted worldwide as a rarity in a region beset with civil strives, the genesis of most of which are because of political party elections. The equanimity of the people has also ensured that members of different religious beliefs co-exist in peace, thus making the country escape the religious and tribal upheavals that beset many parts of the continent. With a stable economy, among the more prosperous nations in the region, and highly educated and hardworking work force, Ghana is seen as a natural leader on the continent whose worldview is highly respected and sought after.

ATLANTICO — How do you see the role of the private sector in the development process of African nations? How can private participation be balanced with government actions?

JK — That the private sector is the engine of growth of any economy is not in doubt. All the rich and successful nations in the world are private sector-led. Africa must empower its private sector if it wants to achieve similar standards of development. Their governments must desist from competing with the private sector in doing business and rather create the environment that will conduce to maximizing the potentials of the sector. This will lead to increased productivity, growth in employment, engender wealth creation, and prosperity all round. The government can then tax private business for increased revenue for infrastructural development. The key here is the enactment of laws steeped in human rights and the rule of law where all citizens feel protected from arbitrariness. Such an environment will prove attractive to foreign investors who will be encouraged to invest more in the country. African governments should encourage public-private-participation which is gaining grounds in many parts of the continent to maximize the potentials of either side for growth. In doing so, they must promote the concept of social corporate responsibility for the benefit of the immediate societies in which the businesses operate.

ATLANTICO — You are one of 10 world leaders invited to review the performance of the International Monetary Fund. What changes need to be made so that it would be able to relate in a differentiated way with African countries and the other nations of the South?

JK — The International Monetary Fund (IMF), and its sister institution, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), were established in the late 1940s when Africa was still under colonialism, and so their structure and purpose did not reflect the African reality. Africa, has had to deal with the two institutions since gaining independence however, with mixed results. The two institutions have afforded African and developing countries badly needed funds at very low rates and technical advice which have aided their course of development. Conditionalities attached to these offers, however, have at times been too stringent as to impact negatively on the fortunes of the very economies they are supposed to help. Both institutions have not seen any major restructuring since their inception in 1947 reflected in Western dominance in their hierarchy both at executive and board levels. This is despite increased criticisms from the growing numbers of African and developing world countries who now outnumber those from the West.

That the private sector is the engine of growth of any economy is not in doubt. All the rich and successful nations in the world are private sector-led

ATLANTICO — You have received along with the former President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, the World Food Prize, for developing public policies to combat hunger and misery. In addition, your cooperation with Brazil resulted in the installation of an Embrapa headquarters in Accra. What lessons can be learned from the reality of Brazil?

JK — In 2011, former Brazilian President Lula da Silva and I were awarded the World Food Prize for that year in recognition of our commitment and visionary leadership while serving as presidents of our respective countries in creating and implementing policies to alleviate hunger and poverty in our countries. The WFP prize is highly cherished because it is in recognition of our efforts in sustenance of life and improvement in the conditions of our various peoples. EMBRAPA is a unique institution that has brought lots of innovation to Brazil in terms of agriculture. The attempt was to replicate its successes in Accra and the rest of Africa as a showcase of south-south cooperation. Unfortunately, the Ghana example does not seem to have worked well but it has shown the way as to how to do it better next time.

The days when the developed world came to Africa only to exploit its resources to their sole advantage are being counted

ATLANTICO — Africa accounts for about 2% of the world’s trade. How is it possible to industrialize the continent, diversify the economy and reduce dependence on commodity exports?

JK — African economies have not changed much from the pattern set by the European colonialists which made them suppliers of raw materials to the colonial capitals where they were refined into finished products and then sent back to Africa at much higher prices than imported in their raw form. The structure of the economies was that colonized countries dealt directly with their colonial metropolitans in Western Europe, leaving little room for trade among, even neighboring African countries. This was made worse by the linguistic differences which divided the continent into Anglophone, Francophone or Lusophone, disenabling people of similar ethnic backgrounds from communicating effectively with each other because they now lived in arbitrarily created borders in different colonized countries, with different orientation. To change this trend and make for greater trade interaction among their peoples, African countries in the early 1970s begun forming tariff-free and quota-free regional trading blocs such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in West Africa, and the Economic Community of East Africa (ECA) in East Africa. The African Union in its economic blueprint, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) has given further impetus to these regional trading blocs to remove all encumbrances to trading among African countries and for them to leverage their comparative advantages in trading with the outside world to make them more competitive. What Africa needs now are government policies that would empower the many budding entrepreneurs on the continent with the confidence and acumen to engage on the international market on an equal footing to take advantage of the numerous opportunities that exist. To succeed, these entrepreneurs must be supported by skilled managers, smart legal heads and ICT specialists in tune with the latest happenings in their fields, so they can drive a hard bargain at the negotiating table for the benefit of their countries.

ATLANTICO — Today, the empowerment of women and the young population is on the agenda of major multilateral organizations. What is the reason for the urgency of this debate?

JK — Differentiation between genders is gradually becoming a thing of the past, as equality among the sexes is recognized around many parts of the world. Ghana’s current Chief Justice and her predecessor are both women just as the current Executive Chair of the Electoral Commission plus a host other in high positions in government, the security forces, academia, business etc. The old Ghanaian adage that ‘when you educate a woman you educate a nation; when you educate a man you educate one person’ holds true for all times. With women making up just a little over half of the world’s population, humankind will be the worst of if the proven potentials of women are not fully used.The internet generation has meant that there is a youth culture forming around the world as they are linked to each by the click of a button. They associate with whatever is happening in each other’s countries and have shared aspirations for the good life. An example is that of young Buazizi in Tunisia, whose self-emulation in protest of harsh living conditions in his country in 2011, set off a string of agitations that saw a shake-up of political leadership, and even the overthrow of governments in some countries in the Arab world, in what became known as the ‘Arab Spring’. Advanced technology has also led to opportunities of creativity among the youth leading the creation of multi-million businesses by people and even in some of the most powerful states in the world you have young people assuming high leadership positions.

ATLANTICO — In general terms, how do you assess the current relationship between African countries and Europe, and how will Chinese influence on the continent not cause a new kind of colonialism?

JK — Today from all over the world, Africa has once again become a beacon of attraction. The international press, has been awash with topics such as “African economic resurgence”, “a new scramble for Africa”, “Africa’s growth miracle”. Since 2004, African economies have grown faster than all other regions of the world, except for South East Asia. Unlike pre-colonial times, today the interest in Africa is not only by the Western European countries, but also from China, India and Brazil, members of the BRICS. The BRICS led by China have in the past 30 years, made a strong claim for Africa’s resources, challenging the hegemony of Western powers, on the continent, China’s trade with the continent rising from US$4 billion in 1996, to US$ 106.7 billion in 2008. China comes to the continent not with weapons of conquest but offers, the other powers do not come with, and that are enticing to the continent. The prime aim of foreign investors in Africa is the exploitation of the continent’s resources for their benefit. They don’t come for the love of Africa but for how the continent’s resources can aid their aid their economies. It is therefore bounding on African countries to undertake ‘hard-nosed’ bargaining at the negotiating table to ensure that the agreements they reach with their foreign partners inure to the mutual benefit of their people just as to the would-be investor. The days when the developed world came to Africa only to exploit its resources to their sole advantage are being counted, as Africa now seeks a win-win situation in all its interactions. This requires the right leadership; a leadership well-nurtured and rounded to enable it to take the pragmatic steps for the socio-economic development of the continent and not just for the selfish ends of the elite.

The internet generation has meant that there is a youth culture forming around the world as they are linked to each by the click of a button

ATLANTICO — How can South-South Cooperation or Triangular Technical Cooperation help the continent thrive in a balanced way?

JK — South — South cooperation could form the basis of for the progression of the developing world into developed status. The experiences of the prosperous of countries of the South, because their shared common background with the rest, could be a convenient learning curve for the others to follow. In this vein, the role of the BRICS –Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa becomes crucial indeed. China, India and Brazil, the more prominent developing countries in the group should play a lead role in showing the path to development to their counterparts who lagging behind. The BRICS should be the bridge between the developed and the developed countries for uplifting world to the position of co-prosperity for all. It is important in their interactions with their less developed counterparts, the BRICS look for a win-win situation for all and not to follow the example of the West powers who only came to plunder.

By Gustavo Augusto-Vieira