John Atta Mills, President of Ghana, Dies at 68


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Surprised no one mentioned the passing of Ghana's president.
John Atta Mills, President of Ghana, Dies at 68
Published: July 24, 2012

BAMAKO, Mali — John Atta Mills, the president of Ghana, died on Tuesday at a military hospital in the capital, Accra, five months short of finishing his first term in office. He was 68.

There was an outpouring of emotion on Twitter for the death of John Atta Mills, as Ghana’s vice president, John Mahama, was quickly inaugurated.

News of his death came on state-run television. The government gave no cause of death, but Mr. Atta Mills had recently returned from eight days of medical treatment in the United States.

Mr. Atta Mills presided over Ghana’s continuing and, for the region, unusual experiment in stable democracy. He was elected with a margin of less than 1 percent at the end of 2008.

That the narrowness of the victory did not set off an explosion of violence, as had occurred after elections in Ivory Coast and Kenya, was widely viewed as evidence of the maturity of democracy in Ghana, which in 1957 became the first African nation to declare independence. Mr. Atta Mills was planning to seek re-election in December.

“His historical significance is in the consolidation of democracy in Ghana,” said Rod Alence, a Ghana expert at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “To have someone like Mills, who was never known as being charismatic, was crucial in setting up Ghana in a two-party system.”

In Mr. Atta Mills’s time in office, Ghana became a significant oil exporter. But it was the nation’s political stability that helped win a prize making Ghana the envy of its neighbors: being the site of the first visit by President Obama to sub-Saharan Africa, in 2009.

Mr. Mills was succeeded by the country’s vice president, John Dramani Mahama, who was immediately sworn in, a further indication of the solidity of the nation’s institutions.

“There’s a constitutional system in place,” Mr. Alence said. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, if the president died, you wouldn’t know who was coming.”

Mr. Atta Mills was born on July 21, 1944, in Tarkwa in western Ghana. He earned a law degree from the University of Ghana in 1967 and a doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He was also a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Mr. Atta Mills wrote extensively on taxation, and later was Ghana’s commissioner of internal revenue. A laid-back former law professor, he became the protégé of Jerry Rawlings, a fiery political figure who was his opposite.

Mr. Rawlings, a populist military officer who seized power in coups in 1979 and 1981 and won election in 1992, chose Mr. Atta Mills as his vice president in 1997. “The Prof,” as Mr. Atta Mills was known, taught law for 25 years. He lost elections in 2000 and 2004 before winning in 2008.

“He’s been a calming and stabilizing influence,” Mr. Alence said.

Mr. Atta Mills is survived by his wife, Ernestina Naadu Mills, and their son, Sam.

Solomon Cobbinah Addison contributed from Accra, Ghana.