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John Agyekum Kufuor, the former president of Ghana, is on “Sunday Night”

Tonight on “Sunday Night”, J A Kufuor – the Gentle Giant – is in conversation with Kwaku Sakyi-Addo in the shade of his verandah at home in Accra. Hear his take on the Akufo-Addo government’s performance, life in retirement and the duties that come with a life of public service

Born on 8 December 1938, John Agyekum Kufuor is a lawyer and politician who served as the president of Ghana from 7 January 2001 to 7 January 2009. He won a peaceful election over John Evans Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress in December 2000, as Jerry Rawlings ended his second term as a civilian president.

The success of Kufuor’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) marked the first democratic transfer of power from one political party to another in Ghana since independence in 1957.

He was the chairman of the African Union from 2007 to 2008.

Kufuor’s lifelong political career has been steeped in campaigning for the liberal-democratic tradition, as a stalwart of the parties descended from the United Gold Coast Convention and United Party.

The politician

Kufuor was a founding member in 1969 of the Progress Party, a minister in Kofi Abrefa Busia’s Progress Party government in Ghana’s Second Republic (1969-72) and an opposition frontbencher for the Popular Front Party during the Third Republic (1979-81). In the Second and Third Republics he was the MP for Atwima Nwabiagya in the Ashanti Region.

J A Kufuor, Akwasi Afrifa, K A Busia, circa 1969
With Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa and Kofi Abrefa Busia, circa 1969

He represented Ghana on the international stage as deputy minister of foreign affairs on various occasions, including leading Ghana’s delegations to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, the Organisation of African Unity Ministerial Meetings in Addis Ababa, and the Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Lusaka in 1970.

In the Fourth Republic, Kufuor stood as the NPP’s presidential candidate in the 1996 general election. He then led the party to victory in two successive elections in 2000 and 2004. Having served two terms, he was no longer eligible for the presidency.

Head of state (2001-2009)

Kufuor’s government focused on pursuing good governance and better management of the economy. At the same time, he focused his vision of a “social market” on unleashing the entrepreneurial, creative and innovative potential of Ghanaians as a means to create wealth and so strengthen their capacity to deal with the everyday challenges facing them.

During his tenure, Kufuor launched Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme with the aim of providing basic health care free at the point of delivery. He established the National Ambulance Service and built more than 205 hospitals and clinics. His government also introduced free maternal health care in public hospitals for all expectant mothers.

In education, he institutionalised the capitation grant for schoolchildren at the basic level and initiated the “model school” concept, in which selected deprived secondary schools were upgraded to the level of first-class schools. He also reformed the senior secondary school curriculum, reverting from a three-year cycle to four years, and renamed the institutions “senior high schools”.

His government renovated the Accra Sports Stadium and the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi.

Early life, education and work

Kufuor was born in Kumasi and began his basic education at the Kumasi Government School, built by Sir Gordon Guggisberg and located in Asem. He went on to attend Osei Tutu Boarding School (now Osei Tutu Senior High School) from 1951 to 1953. He continued his schooling (Form One to Form Five) at Prempeh College between 1954 and 1958.

Two months after his arrival in London on 30 April 1959 to study law, he was accepted into Lincoln’s Inn. He qualified as a barrister in one year and eight months. In 1961 he was called to the Bar in London, aged 22.

Kufuor then studied at the University of Oxford from 1961 to 1964, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in economics from Exeter College.

He gained employment that year at Ghana Commercial Bank in London, where he worked as a manager and legal officer. By the age of 27, he was town clerk of Kumasi City Council.

Queen Elizabeth II and John Agyekum Kufuor
Queen Elizabeth II and President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana arrive at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, 13 March 2007. (Anwar Hussein Collection/ROTA)

A singular personality trait that made Kufuor an astute politician was his sheer ability to recall facts and remember faces and people.

The former president now presides over the John Agyekum Kufuor Foundation, a charitable organisation set up to mark his 80th birthday. His hobbies include reading, table tennis, film and football. At one point, he was the chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko football club.

John Agyekum Kufuor has five children. His wife of more than 50 years is Theresa Aba Kufuor (née Mensah).

Nana Abena Boakye-Boateng

* John Agyekum Kufuor is Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s guest in the first part of a major interview tonight on “Sunday Night”, Asaase Radio (99.5 Mhz in Accra), starting at 7pm. The programme will be repeated on Tuesday 8 September (7pm).

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