Ghana mourns president’s death

The West African nation of Ghana is mourning the death of its beloved president, John Evans Atta Mills, who was only five months away from the end of his first term and expected re-election.

The popular leader of the leftist National Democratic Congress (NDC) was rushed to the hospital and died early Tuesday afternoon. "It is with a heavy heart," a government statement declared, "that we announce the sudden and untimely death of the president of the Republic of Ghana."

In keeping with its reputation for stability and unity, Vice President John Dramini Mahama was sworn into office hours later at an emergency meeting of parliament. "I am personally devastated," the new president said in his first national address, "I've lost a father, I've lost a friend, I've lost a mentor and a senior comrade."

Mills, who celebrated his 68th birthday only July 22, had a long career in government service before he was elected president in 2009, most notably as a former vice president and as a commissioner of Ghana's Internal Revenue Service. Popularly known as "the Prof," Mills also was an academic who studied at Stanford University on a Fulbright Fellowship and taught law at the University of Ghana for 25 years.

Ghanaians across party lines always praised Mills for what they considered his modesty, decency, and honesty. As Mahama pointed out in yesterday's speech to parliament, "The fine gentleman that he was, President Mills rightly earned the title 'Asomdwehene'," which means "king of peace" in Akan, one of Ghana's main languages.

Rumors about Mills' poor health date back to his presidential campaign four years ago, but Mills continued to insist he was in good shape. Last month he traveled to the United States for what he described as a routine medical checkup. When he returned to Ghana, he good naturedly jogged past a huge crowd of supporters welcoming him at Accra's airport. Nevertheless, public debate about his health, particularly in Ghana's lively media, persisted, and it was widely believed Mills suffered from throat cancer.

Mills was credited with ably tackling the huge debt inherited from the previous government of the right-wing New Patriotic Party (NPP) as well as successfully overseeing the start of large scale oil production off Ghana's coast in December 2010. A lifelong socialist, Mills embraced the politics of the country's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, and his administration pursued progressive policies like rural infrastructural development, the building of primary schools, and the empowerment of women.

President Barack Obama, who visited Ghana in 2009 and earlier this year met with Mills in Washington, said in a statement: "President Mills tirelessly worked to improve the lives of the Ghanaian people. He helped promote economic growth in Ghana in the midst of challenging global circumstances and strengthened Ghana's strong tradition of democracy."

Mahama, Ghana's new president, is a 53 year old former academic who studied in the Soviet Union, a leading political figure in the NDC, and a former Minister of Communication. Earlier this month, he published a memoir, My First Coup d'Etat: And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa, that has received very favorable reviews in leading newspapers like the Financial Times. As a northerner, Mahama's ascension to the presidency is especially notable since Ghana's politics have long been dominated by ethnic groups from the country's south.

Mahama, Ghana's new president, is a 53 year old former academic who studied in the Soviet Union, a leading political figure in the NDC, and a former Minister of Communication. Earlier this month, he published a memoir, My First Coup d'Etat: And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa, that has received very favorable reviews in leading newspapers like the Financial Times. As a northerner, Mahama's ascension to the presidency is especially notable since Ghana's politics have long been dominated by ethnic groups from the country's south.

Mahama has called for a week of mourning and opposition presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP has pledged to suspend his campaign during that time.

Analysts predict a struggle within the ruling party to determine the NDC's ticket for December's presidential elections. Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, wife of former longtime Ghanaian leader J. J. Rawlings and founder of the 31st December Women's Movement, attempted to win the nomination away from Mills last year. However, she suffered a humiliating loss at the party's convention last July. Reports indicate the NDC will hold an extraordinary meeting soon to select the presidential candidate with Mahama perceived to be the likely choice.

The new president held his first cabinet meeting today at which ministers wore red and black, the colors associated with mourning in Ghana, and some were visibly crying. Across the nation and the diaspora as well as on the internet, Ghanaians grieve for their deceased president but also express satisfaction that their nation met this crisis with unity and determination to support their new president and prepare for December's elections.

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