Ghana in transition after president′s death | Africa | DW | 25.07.2012
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Ghana in transition after president's death

John Atta Mills, president of Ghana, has died at the age of 68. The country he leaves behind him is a model African democracy, whose future now appears less certain.

Within hours of the death of John Atta Mills, the Ghanaian parliament convened to swear in a successor, Vice President John Dramini Mahama, who will govern the country until the next election in five months time.

"I am personally devastated – I've lost a father, I've lost a friend, I've lost a mentor and a senior comrade," Mahama said.

Ghana's Vice-President John Dramani Mahama being sworn in as president

Vice President John Dramani Mahama is sworn in as Atta Mills' successor

Ghana is regarded as a model West African state. It has a broad-based economy, boasting two digit growth in 2011. Politically, the country is stable, a mature democracy. This will not change with the death of Atta Mills, according to Accra-based analyst Daniela Kuzu of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation. She believes Mahama and his close associates are capable of good leadership.

"Mills often travelled abroad, and would leave Mahama in charge of things. He was often described as the acting president. He accomplished a lot and as vice president enjoyed much respect," Kuzu told DW in an interview.

Rows within the governing party

Kuzu believes that Mahama will be the candidate for the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the presidential election slated for December. If this were to happen, it would send a strong signal. Normally, politicians from the south dominate the political class, but Mahama is a Christian who comes from the north, a region which feels neglected.

It is unclear whether Mahama can resolve the internal disputes that have troubled the party for so long. Mills was at loggerheads with the family of Jerry Rawlings, the former military dictator, elected president and founder of the NDC. It was Rawlings who helped Mills to achieve high office and some observers believe that his protégé was later a source of disappointment to him, because he didn't always accept his advice. There followed mutual recriminations in the Ghanaian media.

Jerry Rawlings and John Atta Mills

Jerry Rawlings (l) in conversation with John Atta Mills in December 2004

Biggest challenge may be oil revenues

Martin Wilde, former head of Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Accra, believes Mills will be remembered for his work as a mediator, who helped to improve the atmosphere in domestic Ghanaian politics generally. Yet he had his critics. "Perhaps because of his health problems, he didn't have the stamina to investigate corruption allegations that were levelled at numerous public officials during his term," Wilde told DW.

Other challenges await his successor. Ghana joined the list of oil producing nations last year. Will the petrodollars be used for the common good as in Botswana or will they line the pockets of politicians as in Nigeria? That decision awaits the Ghanaian leadership in the years ahead.

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