Accra — In a wide-ranging interview with allAfrica.com correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton at his Accra residence, the newly elected president of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor declared that healing divisions and uniting the nation were among his top priorities. He also pledged to revitalize Ghana's sluggish economy and stabilize the West African nation's faltering currency. Jerry Rawlings, the outgoing President does not face prosecution for the coup that brought him to power in 1981, Mr. Kufuor says, but he plans to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to head off any attempts at reprisals by people with grievances.
We are publishing the complete interview in three parts over the next three days. In part one, President Kufuor discusses taking the reins of power after the long years of Jerry Rawlings' government.
Q: Mr Kufuor, you've won one battle, but you certainly have another battle ahead of you.
A: Yes, I have a full battle, but a different battle from what I expect you are speculating on.
Q: What are you immediate priorities?
A: Securing the state and government and forming my government and inducting it into managing the civil service.
Q: What do you mean by 'securing the state'?
A: What I mean by securing the state is ensuring that the security agencies of state are firmly in place and are loyal to the new government and to the state as a whole, so there is no untoward upset in the state machinery.
Q: How confident are you, as president elect, that you will have the security agencies with you, having as they have done over the past twenty years, worked with a man that, I suppose, a lot of them see as a fellow brother, a former soldier ie: President Rawlings?
A: I assume that our soldiers and other security agencies are professional in the first place and, as such, would know that their loyalty should be to the state, the sovereignty of the land, and not to any one individual or partisan group. It is on this basis I feel sure they would accord me the commitment and loyalty to serve me, for the state.
Q: What about the special army units set up by President Rawlings, do you foresee a need to perhaps dismantle them or change their roles?
A: It s early days for me to comment on the fate of that body. What I understand though is that it is made up of professional soldiers, so I would expect them to be amenable to any rearrangement within the army. But, of course, I would want to take over properly and ascertain their role before I make any moves.
Q: You are speaking quite cautiously, do you have doubts about the loyalty of the armed forces?
A: I have to speak cautiously, because this is Africa. I happen to have been a member of an earlier government, which lasted only two years and three months, because some soldiers banded together and overthrew the government. So, once bitten twice shy. So naturally, this is why I said I should secure the state and the government. It is top, topmost priority with me.
Q: So will you be meeting the top brass of the military?
A: It is necessary, just like I will meet the civil service establishment. These are the immediate machines or mechanisms of government with which to govern.
Q: With just seven days till the swearing-in, there is not much time to do everything: form a government, meet the heads of the security agencies, the army, the navy, the airforce, the police etc, how are you going to fit it all into a short week?
A: You are assuming that you need to form the government before the end of this week. No, I don t think so. I think what we need the seven days to do is how to take over the government. And, by the constitution, the government is the presidency. I believe there is a bit more time for the president to scout around, pick his team to form cabinet and government generally. The president has more than seven days to do all that.
Within the seven days what is necessary, the way I understand it, is my putting up a transitional team to work with the outgoing government s own team; A sort of handing over exercise in which the government's team would, hopefully, open the books of government to my people to see what the government is leaving behind. And through that, we would be informed to take steps to tide ourselves into office smoothly as far as it is possible.
Q: I suppose that also means checking the state coffers?
A: (Laughing). Well, opening books may include that.
Q: Are you expecting some surprises from the books?
A: I have to brave myself for all eventualities.
Q: So are you expecting some nasty shocks once you do check those coffers?
A: I do not want to speculate here. But, as I said, I have braved or braced myself for all eventualities.
Q: On to practical matters now: the seat of government in Ghana is the (Christiansborg) Castle at Osu in Accra, where President Rawlings has been living and working for most of the past 19 years, although his family lives elsewhere. Do you foresee the Castle, which is such a symbolic building in Ghana, with such close association with Rawlings, just being the headquarters of the government or do you intend to move in there yourself, or might the presidential residence and offices be relocated?
A: It s early days yet for me to pronounce on this, but I will tell you. The Castle is only a structure. I believe the government will be where the president will be, wherever the president will be, that s where the government will be.
Q: After 20 years, I suppose it's going to take President Rawlings a little while to move out?
A: It should be reasonable for a man, after having lived in a place for 20 years to ask for a bit more time to move out. So, one would not stampede him.
Q: Have you heard from President Rawlings?
A: I am yet to hear from him. I am yet to hear from him. But the vice-president spoke to me yesterday (Friday 29 December 2000), phoned me last night to congratulate him.
Q: As normal procedure, would you have expected to hear from the outoing president by now?
A: I thought by now I would have heard from the president, at least an invitation from him. But it hasn t happened. I m not unduly worried. I am preparing myself and the vice president invited me to come, with my team, to meet a team to work the transitional arrangement. So, I want to assume that the vice-president was speaking with the knowledge of the president; because together they form the incumbent government now.
Q: You have said, on many occasions, that you don't want a witch hunt, but do you foresee some kind of audit of the public services to ascertain exactly where things stand and, if so, would that be something that would be transparent to everyone in Ghana?
A: Transparency is going to be the order of the day with my government. Fortunately we have a constitutional institution called the Auditor General' s office. Naturally and sensibly, I should call on that office to let me know the state of things with the balance books of government.
Q: But you don't foresee any particular probe into the activities of public insittutions which have been subject to allegations of corruption?
A: My government would move on facts, not on speculation, on facts. If there is justification to order a probe, naturally a responsible government would order such a probe; but not until the facts are there, to warrant such a probe. I won t go fishing.
Q: What about reconciliation, because in your acceptance victory speech, you pledged to reconcile Ghanaians and Ghana?
A: Yes, it s a very top priority item. I m sure you know the tensions that have plagued the nation over the past 20 years or so, from PNDC (EDS NOTES Provisional National Defence Council following Rawlings coup d etat of 31 December 1981) to NDC (Rawlings' outgoing National Democratic Congress government). So many citizens have suffered in one way or another. Some people have lost their lives, some have lost their properties, some have been manhandled and all these have happened without due process of law.
So, naturally there are many people who are aggrieved and, unless the government stepped in to reconcile the people, the nation, deliberate, we might find vendettas and reprisals and people taking the law into their own hands may become the order of the day. These would lead to chaos and I will not permit that to happen in my regime.
So, this is why I talk about reconciliation so much, so that the government would, sort of provide a safety valve for hurt feelings to be assuaged, for people who wronged to feel not too threatened, so as to enable them to come forth and show repentance, so all of us can live together and move ahead in the interests of the nation.
Q: By repentance, are you talking about a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, South African-style?
A: It is in the spirit of the South African experience. But government is not going to go out threatening prosecution and that sort of thing. We just can t cover truth if it should be there, but we would sort of reduce the tension in the atmosphere to such point that nobody would feel endangered.
Q: How will you go about this?
A: Necessarily if the state is going to provide the sort of buffer to absorb some of the heat, there must be a body, a state body, to which people can refer and pour out their worries and things like that.
Q: So, do you expect that now that President Rawlings is leaving, after 20 plus years at the helm of the country, with a short break between 1979 and 1981, that people are going to go after him?
A: I don't speculate on that. I am not speculating at all that people are going to go after President Rawlings, but I believe it s natural for people who feel aggrieved to want to settle scores unless something is done about it and done about it quickly.
Q: Coming more recently to the battle for the presidency and the rather sour, acrimonious side of the campaign and polling day itself, do you feel that you are going to start governing over a Ghana that is divided, regionally and ethnically?
A: I have a long background in Ghana s politics. My party, for instance, hasn t enjoyed a much needed cordial relationship with say the Volta Region. But I have made that a special task for myself and my government, to reach out to Volta Region, to assure that region that there is nothing to fear from our government, as far as their region is concerned. We want to assure the region that we mean very well towards it. We see the region as an integral part of Ghana and the people there as citizens, as anybody else from any other regions and that government will accord them their rights, respect them.
We mean to do well, serve them so well that, we hope, within the space of four years, whatever fears, whatever suspicions have prevailed over the years, would break down for normalcy to supplant all the suspicions and ill will.
Q: Now, that's quite a hurdle isn't it, because we've heard reports from the Volta Region (President Rawlings' home region) of people saying if you're coming to our town, you're going to need a passport. If you're from another part of the country and you're voting NPP, if you're involved with those people, then go back to your part of the country, you are not welcome. So it looks like you have quite a battle on your hands?
A: I am not underrating the challenge at all. It is a serious thing, but I don t think we should allow this morbid situation to continue. It might become like a flashpoint or time bomb. We can t accommodate that. I believe it is a human problem and we are going to confront it. To conclude, I would say yes, perhaps there isn t too much time for us to work on the reconciliation in all its departments, but we will begin it and I hope the people will see the goodwill in me and in my government towards all corners of the country and come round to support us.