The President is Dead

Yesterday, the President of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills, died.

May his soul rest in perfect peace.

I was in a meeting when the news broke. It was shocking and unbelievable. The President had actually died!  The shock gave way quickly to anger.  Ghanaians have debated about President Mills’  health for over four years.  We discussed it, back in 2006/7. during his second campaign for the Presidency.  We’ve talked about it all through his first term of office.  We assigned ailments depending on how he appeared and sounded on television.  But we always took it for granted that he would serve out this first term and whether he got to start his second and final term was a matter for the December polls to decide.

President Mills died at 2:15pm on July 24, 2012.  Five months short of  a full term in office.

Why were we never told about his illness? Why? What reason or explanation would soothe us now? The health of a president is of concern to us citizens. Informing us gives way for a president to seek appropriate medical attention and care.  President Mills worked most days of the past three years. Officially, very few of those days were spent attending to his health.  When the rumors got out of hand, he joked about his health and his handlers fought and dispelled those rumors.  Why?  Cut down just days after his 68th birthday, we are left to mourn him and pick up the pieces.

What new pieces! These unchartered waters.  For the first time in her history, a sitting President had died in office with a constitution still in effect. By 5pm,  the media was reporting that Parliament would convene to swear-in Vice President John Mahama to take over the duties of  president.  We assured ourselves, sometimes screaming into televisions and radios that there was no constitutional crisis, it is clear and straightforward what must be done.

The usual evening traffic had dissipated when I left my meeting to go home.  The highway was relatively quiet for a 7:30 commute.  Most Ghanaians must have been glued to the nearest television set when the Speaker arrived in Parliament.  All the arms of our government were there. The judiciary, the legislature, the executive without its leader, the military, the law enforcement and the media.

Every time an opportunity comes to run further away from our past misdemeanors in governance, we take it and run even further away.  Every time.  This morning, I’m so proud of us as a people. We lost our president and swore in his deputy in a matter of hours.  We did so peacefully and united.  Our enduring belief in our constitution’s mandate and power, and the trust in our institutions to support our constitution never wavers.

We have a long, unchartered road ahead to the December 2012 polls.  Some days will be rough but we shall endure and overcome.  We must.

It was a sad and bittersweet day, President Mills.  Would that it had never happened. But it happened. You died.  You would have been proud of  us.

I’m not religious but I always find comfort in the poet John Donne’s Holy Sonnets.  My late President was Christian, the really believing and practising kind.  And so I offer Donne’s Holy Sonnet X to his passing.   That line “One short sleep past, we wake eternally” says it all, I think.

President Mills, damrifa due.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke ;  why swell’st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more ;  Death, thou shalt die.



  1. Long time… The kind of politics we practice here will prevent any president from informing the country of his health status. In fact, it will be chewed and smeared over his face. Let’s face it, ours is not a matured society to handle a president’s health with maturity. It’ll be talked about as if he was dead or dying.

    How many rumours weren’t there about his death before it actually happens? Besides, we could know but our knowing is not the means of getting proper care. Our knowledge is not a prerequisite to better care.

    I say, let’s bet more matured with our politics and all these will come naturally; until then, no president, no matter how much we shout and create laws, will tell us anything about his health.


  2. Kinna –
    My sympathies to you and your country for your loss. And congratulations on making a smooth transition to your new President John Mahama. I believe you are right that your former president would be proud.

    In your opening you expressed frustration that the country was not kept apprised of the state of the President’s health. While I can completely understand your anger – I was reminded of the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He suffered from Polio, but it was mostly kept from the American people. Even the press was complicit. He didn’t want to show weakness to the country – in part because he didn’t want his disability to be used against him. I like to believe that he also hid it because he wanted to present a strong, stable symbol for the country in a time when America was in the midst of our Great Depression. They needed to look up to him with hope and confidence. Of course, that was 70+ years ago, when America was a less cynical country. But perhaps the late President of Ghana John Evans Atta Mills had similar reasons.


  3. Sincere condolences on the death of President Mills. I am glad that the swearing in of Vice President John Mahama went so smoothly. May all things (political, social, economic, etc.) continue on an even keel. And thanks too for Donne’s sonnet. Coincidentally, I have a book of sonnets (SUBVERSIVE SONNETS) coming out in September from TSAR Press. Many thanks for weekly digests. Be well and happy…


  4. Touching poem, Kinna. Oh death, where is thy sting? Indeed, the whole nation is in mourning. And much as I agree wiht you on the point about the state of his health being kept under wraps, I must concede that the powers that be may have felt that such information woul only serve the lost them votes in the long run. Now, all that is water under teh bridge or is it? Rest, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills


    • Well, it is all water under the bridge now. I still think we got a raw deal over this one. The situation was an open secret so telling us would just have helped the late President. But, it’s all over now. Good to hear from you.


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