The whitewashing of Atta Mills will not wash

At a dinner months before the late President John Atta Mills was elected as President of Ghana in 2008, I told a group of Nigerian senators that I believed he might win, but it won’t be because he had a message. It would be because folks were tired of the New Patriotic Party(NPP). I voted for him. I thought long and hard about that choice because he didn’t really have any clear message or vision for Ghana. The NPP at the time had grown complacent and its officials too arrogant for my liking. Information Minister, Asamoah Boateng’s “go and eat konkonte” comment was enough – they needed to go and learn some humility.

When he won, my friend Ato Kwamena Dadzie joked that he might either be a perfect president or a terrible one based on his demeanor and lack of message. This was also before as Ato put it, the “tumbling and mumbling” at his inauguration. I had hoped the Mills administration would build on the excellent foundation the Kufuor administration left. The NPP government which had never been in government until 2000 introduced some great social interventions and policies aimed at lifting the majority of our people out of poverty. They had managed to wean the country off its dependence on the International Monetary Fund and other such agencies. In spite of the NPP’s many faults, the economy had boomed under it. Ghana could only blossom from that point.

That was not to be. The National Democratic Congress’s lack of message, policies, and vision started to show soon as they assumed office. Most projects begun under the Kufuor government were dumped and new ones introduced. One of such was the STX affordable housing deal which never made it beyond the news. The first scandal was the payment of 51 million cedis as judgment debt to one of the party’s financiers, Alfred Woyome.

Shockingly the late President admitted at a presser that he had asked his officials not to pay the money, but he had been ignored. This was followed by the GYEEDA scandals where millions were paid to companies owned by Roland Agambire and others for no work done. This and many more corrupt deals were made on Mills’ watch. By the time of his death, the economy was in decline, and the public debt was ballooning. Our present economic malaise started under Mills’ government.

His death was particularly sad. Ghana had never lost a sitting president in that manner. To complicate matters, we had no idea he had been very ill. We suspected it. But again, his communications team and his party aggressively denied all claims that he was unwell.

Personally, I found his death very sad because every death diminishes all of us. Sixty-eight was still very young for me, and a part of me felt sorry for writing a scathing piece about his check-ups abroad. Having only experienced him and his presidency from afar, I sensed he was a good man who may have been a good president had he had time. I was sad that history books would not have much to say about him besides the fact that he was a good man who didn’t live long to complete his term.

I was wrong. Atta Mills’ party, the NDC has been very busy working to ensure that history doesn’t remember what a disaster the Mills period was. Since his death, they actively invoke his Asomdwoehene mantra every chance to cover the party’s violent roots. They’ve named everything worthy and new after Atta Mills. There are schools, factories, streets and even an FPSO now. This year, they named a library in Cape Coast after him. He has more things named after him than the party’s founder who they credit with this democracy.

The language about him has also changed. Whenever they invoke him, they make him sound like Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president who together with others fought for Ghana’s independence and African unity. They make him look like a president who built things and moved the country ahead. Atta Mill’s image and history are presently being whitewashed. It seems like we’re being conned to accept the NDC’s version of events – Atta Mills, the calm, peaceful man who transformed Ghana.

President Mahama at the inauguration noted: “As president, he was Asomdwehene and father for all. A peace-loving man, he prioritized peace above all else because as he always rightly stated without peace, there can be no progress. He was our rock of Gibraltar, always calm even in the most adverse circumstances. He never responded when insults were cast at him. I believe I partly take from him, my stoicism in tolerating even the unkindest cuts from my opponents and detractors.”

It is forbidden to speak ill of the dead in our culture. It is, however, acceptable to talk about the truth about the dead. And here are some truths about our late president. The corruption and mismanagement of the economy started when he was in office. No one in his party was investigated or prosecuted for the Woyome or Isofoton mess. Some of those who oversaw that deal has gone on to occupy positions in the party and government while only two out of the group who profited from the mismanagement of GYEEDA are being prosecuted. When this happened, he was well enough to instruct as such. He was the one who handed a bunch of inexperienced young men political positions who together with the present administration have tanked the economy.

Party officials have consistently told us that, Mills would have done more had he not been sick. We will never know. He never told Ghanaians that he was unwell. At one point, he jogged at the airport to prove he was well when opposition claims about his supposed sickness were at fever pitch. There was no autopsy after his death, so I (and many Ghanaians) do not know whether his death was natural or from an ailment.

In any case, even if he was sick while in office and did not tell us, that’s not presidential or honest. I do however understand why he may have hidden the truth. I feel great sympathy for him. I can imagine how hard it must have been, trying to govern a country, fighting opposition accusations about his health status and merely trying to stay well and alive.
But being sick while in office and never disclosing it does not give his party and friends the right to change history. Sickness does not preclude any elected official from the fair assessment of their performance in office. John Evans Atta Mills may have been a good man to those who knew him very well. But good men don’t always make great leaders. John Evans Atta Mills was a good man but not a great president.






11 thoughts on “The whitewashing of Atta Mills will not wash”
  1. “It is forbidden to speak ill of the dead in our culture. It is however acceptable to speak the truth about the dead.” Such a great line. You’ve summed up my thoughts precisely. This is as balanced as all the facts that we have allow.

    I really wish we knew more.

  2. Opinion or truth? Like many things in our world, our views are shaped by perspectives. Our views are not without biases and prejudices; nonetheless, the right to hold a view is jealously guarded by the constitution and the laws of the Republic of Ghana.

    As a student of philosophy, I understood that the weaker form in the line of knowledge is an opinion. In other words, our opinions are the most corrupted form of what is true. As you rightly pointed out, the NDC folks hold a view of what Prof JEA Mills achieved both as a person and a president. Their right to hold those views are sacrosanct, as is the right to extol the virtues that they believe Prof Mills represented.

    Indeed, your right to disagree with the NDC folks is equally firmly grounded and protected. Your view on the NPP performance administration is private and respected. However, in a democracy, the only way of subjecting our views to the test of veracity is through the ballot box. It is the only fair method of giving attestation to our ‘prejudiced opinions’. Given outcome of the 2008 elections, the objective measure of the collective views of the Ghanaian populace is that the NPP administration did not merit a continuous stay in office. In other words, their performance as a government, taking into accounts both economic and social interventions, was not satisfactory to majority of Ghanaians.

    Your assertion that NPP took us from the dictates of IMF/World Bank programmes could not be further from the truth. The NPP administration enrolled us on HIPC and proudly boasted about it. The end of HIPC was just the end of another IMF programme. Looking at the history of IMF programmes in Ghana, we have as a people been on one IMF programme or another, at different points in our history. The period that marked the end of HIPC, therefore, cannot and should not be referred to as weaning ourselves off IMF programmes. The state of Ghana’s economy, at the end of NPP administration in 2008, saw some of the highest trade imbalances in our history. It was an economy characterised by astoundingly high level of imports over exports, and a quick fixes with no real substance. The coffers were empty, and the administration had to sell Ghana Telecom in order to support its recurrent expenditure. I do not want to belabour this, but as I said earlier, the question of perspectives come into play.

    Now, the man JEA Mills and what he did or did not do. I find it quite curious that people still talk about GYEEDA and Wayome in the light discussed here in your piece. In one breadth, you have argued that GYEEDA was not investigated, and in another breadth you’re taking about prosecutions. I would like to say that, as a lawyer myself, no lawyer worth his sorts will carry on prosecution without carrying out investigation, and no lawyer will bring prosecution without conducting legal analysis to establish the strengths and weakness of the case. It must also be noted, that not all perceptible wrongdoings are capable of standing up to legal scrutiny in a criminal trial. It is even worse when it comes to the crimes of fraud and corruption. The very nature of the crimes makes evidence gathering almost an impossible task. Unless one is of the view that the test of leadership is to prevent the occurrence such scandals in a country, I cannot find exactly where Prof JEA Mills failed. Ghana achieved a single-digit inflation under his watch and a growth rate of 14%. He planned a drive towards industrialisation only marched by Kwame Nkrumah. He attempted to revamp the railway sector and many more. He attempted the removal of school under trees, something he did so well in 3 years.

    To sum this up, JEA Mills deserves a place in our history- a teacher, a scholar, a tax expert, a vice president and a president. Above all, he was a good man.

    1. NIce try newayministry/student of philosophy/Lawyer Whoever. Just like the NDC folks you just attempted to make the late President bigger than he is and I’m not impressed a bit. Tell me/us something we don’t about Atta Mills and not the usual much I do about nothings.
      “….in a democracy, the only way of subjecting our views to the test of veracity is through the ballot box”
      Are elections not rigged everyday? May be if Donald Trash oops! Trump wins the next US elections, it makes him a better candidate than Hillary Clinton?
      Atta Mills already has a place in Ghana’s History but he must not be hero worshiped as if he was Mr. Perfect and that’s this write-up sort to expose.

      1. Erasmus, you were not impressed because I never sought to impress you. My point is simple; our views, and the right to express them in any shape or form, do not amount to the truth. All that the write-up achieved is to highlight an alternative perspective, but not the truth. The NDC folks hold a particular view that Prof JEA Mills represented virtues that must be immortalise. You may not agree, and you’re entitled to that, But no one should be clothed with the pomposity to arrogate to himself/herself the status of elevating his/her own opinion on any subject matter, including the view on whether JEA Mills achieved or did not achieve, to what is ‘the truth’. Our views are not axiomatic in nature. Allow the NDC folds to extol their views, it is their right. ,,,,,,,,elections may be rigged, yes. In a democracy, there are established systems to counteract rigged elections. They are not perfect, but that is the best the human mind has devised.

  3. Once again Nyamewaa has expresses her views and cleared her throat very well. I’m try hard to find something in any of your pieces but ‘NO’ i always fail. Thanks for making the blood flow form your ink pen..oops form your fingers brains through your fingers to your keyboard. Excellent piece to me. Great work. Watch your back.

  4. The intention of great men are meaningless without their materialization. …”he attempted, he planned, he would have” sums up what the writer is saying. Anyone can have good intentions but only few are capable of making a reality of them. Mills was a good man but not a great man- Baako

  5. Good piece.
    Truth is the name JEA Mills is the best weapon the ndc has and will do much to use that weapon to the optimum. The name when invoked seems to unite all of us under an umbrella of peace and as you rightly said they use “Asomdwoehene mantra every chance to cover the party’s violent root”
    Though i partly side with your school of thoughts and that of i believe we shd let the dead past bury their dead and hold the living responsible for a sick nation.

  6. Very true. Attah Mills may have been a “nice person”, but that is not a qualification for the position of head of state. The truth of the matter is the elements that have now run amok in government should have been checked and reigned in on his watch and he completely dropped the ball on that.

  7. Very insightful commentary. Spot on. A good man does not necessarily make a good leader. Things were done on the late President’s blind side. Because of his state of health, it was his advisors who were virtually running the show. Those advisors were even more powerful than the President himself. Talk about ‘Simpa Panyin’ as the Fantes would say.

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