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John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills (21 July 1944 – 24 July 2012) was a Ghanaian politician, a lawyer, a legal scholar, a tax expert and a sports administrator who was President of Ghana from 2009 until his death in 2012. He was inaugurated on 7 January 2009, having defeated the ruling party candidate Nana Akufo-Addo in the 2008 election.[3] He was vice-president from 1997 to 2001 under President Jerry Rawlings, and stood unsuccessfully in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections as the candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). He is the first Ghanaian Head of State to die in office.

Early life

Mills was born on 21 July 1944 in Tarkwa, in the Western Region of Ghana. A member of the Fante ethnic group, he hailed from the town of Ekumfi Otuam in the Mfantsiman East constituency of the Central Region of Ghana. He had his primary and middle school education at Huni Valley Methodist Primary School and Komenda Methodist Middle School respectively. He then proceeded to the prestigious Achimota School for his secondary education, where he completed the Ordinary and Advanced-Level Certificates in 1961 and 1963 respectively, and the University of Ghana, Legon, where he completed a bachelor of law degree, LLB and a professional law certificate in 1967.

Mills studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science where he obtained an LLM in 1968 and earned a PhD in Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London after completing his doctoral thesis in the field of taxation and economic development in 1971 at the age of 27. Even during his career in politics he was sometimes called by the nickname The Prof, a reference to his long academic career. His political supporters also called him Asomdweehene meaning 'King of Peace' in the Akan language.

Early career

Mills' first formal teaching assignment was as a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ghana.[8] He spent close to twenty-five years teaching at Legon and other institutions of higher learning. In 1971, he was selected for the Fulbright Scholar programme at Stanford Law School in the US.

He returned to his homeland, Ghana at the end of the international educational exchange fellowship to work at his alma mater, the University of Ghana, for 25 years. He became a visiting professor at Temple University (Philadelphia, USA), with two stints from 1978 to 1979, and 1986 to 1987. He was also a visiting lecturer at Leiden University in the Netherlands from 1985 to 1986. During this period, he authored several publications relating to taxation during the 1970s and 1980s.[9]

Outside of his academic pursuits, Mills was the Acting Commissioner of Ghana's Internal Revenue Service from 1988 to 1993 under President Jerry John Rawlings, and the substantive Commissioner from 1993 to 1996. By 1992, he had become an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Ghana.[10] In 2002, he was a visiting scholar at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada through a joint Canadian International Development Agency(CIDA) – International Development Research Centre (IDRC) fellowship programme.
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Vice-President of Ghana

For the inaugural presidential election in 1992, the National Convention Party (NCP) had formed an alliance with the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Former Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) Chairman, and leader of Ghana, Flight-Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings chose the NCP leader, Kow Nkensen Arkaah, as his running-mate for vice-president. Having been elected in the 1992 election, Arkaah served between 1992–1996.

However, on 29 January 1996, the NCP broke with the NDC. Arkaah with the National Convention Party formed the Great Alliance with the New Patriotic Party and was subsequently nominated as the running mate of John Agyekum Kufuor to challenge the National Democratic Congress. Rawlings selected Mills for the vacated Vice-Presidency in his bid for re-election to a second term in the election and was re-elected to his second term in office, serving from 1996 to 2000. In his capacity as Vice-President, he served as the Chairman of the Police Council of Ghana.

Presidential elections
President Mills featured on a billboard with US President Barack Obama

In 2000, Mills became the NDC's candidate for the 2000 presidential election after Rawlings had served his constitutionally mandated terms as president. The main rival for Mills' own bid for the presidency was John Agyekum Kufuor, who was running as the candidate for the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP). In the first round, held on 7 December 2000, Mills gained 44.8% of the vote, Kufuor won the first round with 48.4%, thus forcing a second round. On 28 December 2000, Kufuor defeated Mills with 56.9% of the vote and was sworn in as president on 7 January 2001. It was during this time that the term Better Ghana Agenda was coined.

In December 2002, Mills was elected by his party to be its flag bearer and lead them into the 2004 election.[13] He was, however, defeated again by incumbent president John Agyekum Kufuor, who received 52.45% of the vote on the first ballot.

On 21 December 2006, he became the NDC's candidate for the 2008 presidential election, winning his party's ticket by an 81.4% result (1,362 votes), far ahead of his opponents, Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, Alhaji Mahama Iddrisu, and Eddie Annan.[14][15] In the 2008 election, John Agyekum Kufuor was no longer eligible to run as president, having served two terms. Mills' main opponent from the New Patriotic Party was now Nana Akufo-Addo. Mills ran under the campaign slogal of "A Better Man for a Better Ghana," on a platform of change. He said: "People are complaining. They're saying that their standard of living has deteriorated these past eight years. So if Ghana is a model of growth, it's not translating into something people can feel."[8] The result of the first ballot had Akufo-Addo in front with 49.13% of the vote to Mills' 47.92%, however, a run-off second round of voting was needed. The second round of voting took place on 28 December 2008. The result was a slim lead held by Mills, but due to problems with the distribution of ballots, the Tain constituency, located in the Brong-Ahafo Region, was forced to vote again on 2 January 2009. The final result was a victory by Mills with 50.23% of the vote to Akufo-Addo's 49.77%. Mills became the third president of the 4th Republic of Ghana.

President Mills on a meeting with the Minister of Development of Brazil, Miguel Jorge

Amongst his accomplishments as president was presiding over and initiating Ghana's first ever foray into oil production. He was also credited for growth in other sectors of the economy during his tenure. He was the first incumbent president to be re-nominated for an election for his party via a primary. Some of the monumental achievements chalked during his term of office include:
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Under Mills, Ghana’s stable economy experienced sustained reduced inflation leading to the attainment of single digit inflation of about 8.4% (one of the lowest inflation rates Ghana had attained in 42 years i.e. period between 1970 and 2012 as well as the lowest since June 1992 just before the start of Ghana's Fourth Republic) from a high of 18.1% in December 2008. This is indicative of prudent fiscal, monetary and other austerity policy measures that characterised his presidency to put the economy in healthy shape. The Ghanaian currency, the Cedi also stabilised as a result of these policies. In 2011, Ghana was the fastest growing economy in the world at 20.15% for the first half of the year and 14.4% at the end of the financial year according to the International Monetary Fund and EconomyWatch.com. Moreover, Ghana's budget deficit was reduced to 2% of the Gross Domestic Product during his tenure compared to 14.5% of GDP in 2008, just before he was elected as the President of Ghana. There was also a huge improvement in Ghana's gross international reserves and foreign direct investments (FDI) highlighting exceptional macroeconomic performance. The Mills government also implemented the Single Spine Salary system which increased compensation levels of all public sector workers.[18] In a bid to improve the efficiency in revenue collection, Mills established the Ghana Revenue Authority which integrated Value Added Tax (VAT), Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Under his governance, Ghana met three out of the four primary convergence criteria for the proposed common currency, Eco of the West African Monetary Zone. These accomplishments led to renewed domestic and foreign investor confidence in Ghana's economy. During Mills’ time in office, Ghana was adjudged the best place for doing business in West Africa and best West African performer in access to credit according to the 2011 World Bank Doing Business global rankings.


There was also an increase in capitation grants (government subsidies towards public education) under Mills. The government also introduced a programme to provide free school uniforms to deprived communities while providing over 100,000 laptops to school children to facilitate the learning process in a highly technological world. An initiative to provide free exercise books started under Mills. More than 23 million books were distributed. His government also expanded the school feeding programme to include 230 more schools. Government paid the full tuition fees for all teachers pursuing further studies through distance learning. A sustained program involving the Ministry of Education, the GETFUND, and resources allocated by the various District Assemblies has began to ensure the elimination of schools under trees and provide all schools in the country with decent classroom infrastructure. Out of the 4,320 schools under trees, almost 1,700 schools under trees were eliminated across the country. The Mills administration also started a program to re-equip science resource centres in all districts of the country to enhance the teaching and learning of science. Two new specialized public universities were established during his tenure: the University of Health and Allied Sciences in the Volta Region and the University Of Energy And Natural Resources in the Brong-Ahafo Region.


During his term of office, the Mills government provided a facelift to many teaching, regional and district hospitals across the country by upgrading old facilities and providing newer ones such as more high-tech equipment and more beds in hospitals, particularly at the Tamale Teaching Hospital.[30] His government also built several polyclinics to increase access to healthcare. The government also scaled up the National Ambulance Service to cover all districts in the nation. Increased collaboration between stakeholders led higher patronage of the National Health Insurance Scheme. Utilization of the scheme rose by 75%.

Governance and international relations

True to his promise to reduce the number of Ministerial appointees and run a lean government, the number of Ministers was significantly reduced from 87 of the previous Kufuor NPP government to 73 (a reduction of 16%) in the Mills-led government. It was projected that approximately $4 million was saved annually by this bold decision to run a small government. The hundreds of Special Assistants, Presidential Staffers and Spokespersons were also eliminated to improve fiscal efficiency. He commissioned a review of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana in a bid to improve upon the country's governance architecture.[30] He held an annual media forum every year at the presidency to interact with journalists about socio-political issues. President Atta Mills re-equipped and re-tooled the security agencies: the military, the police, the fire service, the Immigration, The Prisons Service and the Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS). In order to ensure inter-generational equity because of the "finite nature of resource revenue" as well as financial security for future Ghanaian generations, the Mills government established in 2011, the Ghana Heritage Fund  - a sovereign wealth fund generated from petroleum revenue accumulated from the country's oil and gas industry. John Atta Mills established the Media Development Fund to promote media excellence and freedom in the spirit of 1992 constitution. A few months prior to his death, he was praised by US President Barack Obama for making Ghana a "good news story" that had good democratic credentials. He also fostered economic ties with China in a bid strengthen Sino-Ghanaian bilateral relations. In 2009, the Journal of International Affairs at Columbia University featured Mills as one of the "Five Faces of African Innovation and Entrepreneurship" along with South African innovator, Euvin Naidoo and Mo Ibrahim, (founder of Celtel International and Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation) where he was lauded for his commitment to strengthening Ghana's Electoral Commission, National Media Commission and National Commission for Civic Education and more importantly, transparency in public institutions, particularly in the country's growing oil and gas sector. Mills' leadership style was very diplomatic, inclusive and less polarising than his predecessors. The BBC described his presidency as that of "a peacemaker who was never one to make disparaging comments in public" despite intense criticisms and vilification from his political supporters and opponents alike.

Agriculture, energy access and rural development

The Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) law was passed and work was started to open up the three Northern regions, Brong Ahafo and Volta Regions to enhance agriculture production and industrialisation. Under Mills, the producer price of cocoa increased appreciably to $1600 per tonne of 16 bags, which was the highest in the sub-region and the highest that had ever been paid to cocoa farmers in Ghana's entire history. Cocoa production also hit a record-breaking 1 million metric tonnes. Under the rural electrification programme, he extended national electricity coverage from 54% to 72% improving livelihoods in 1,700 communities and making Ghana the third best country in sub-Saharan Africa after Mauritius and South Africa with enhanced energy access
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Personal life
First Lady Ernestina Mills, wife of John Atta Mills, with Michelle Obama in 2012

He was married to Ernestina Naadu Mills, an educator, and had a son, Sam Kofi Atta Mills. He was raised a Protestant in the Methodist tradition.[40] He was a good friend to T. B. Joshua, self-proclaimed "prophet" of The Synagogue, Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria and regularly visited his church. He said, following his inauguration, that Joshua had prophesied that it would take him three elections to win the presidency and that the result would be released in January.

He contributed to the Ghana Hockey Association, National Sports Council of Ghana, Ghana Olympic Committee and Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club. He was one time the chairman. He enjoyed field hockey and swimming, and once played for the national hockey team (he remained a member of the Veterans Hockey Team until his death).[1][14] He was also a board member of Hearts of Oak, the former chairman of the Black Stars management team and a Manchester United fan.

Other activities and projects

Mills was involved in various activities and projects:

    He was a member of the Ghana Stock Exchange council.
    In 1988, he became the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service of Ghana and was named national tax commissioner in September 1993.
    He also held examiner positions with finance-related institutions in Ghana, including the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Institute of Bankers, and Ghana Tax Review Commission.
    He served on the Board of Trustees of the Mines Trust.
    He was a member of the Management Committee of the Commonwealth Administration of Tax Experts, United Nations Ad Hoc Group of Experts in International Cooperation in Tax Matters and United Nations Law and Population Project
    He led a study on equipment leasing in Ghana.
    He chaired the casebook preparation on Ghana's income tax.
    He oversaw the Review of Ghana's Double Tax Agreement with the UK.

Illness and death

He died on 24 July 2012 at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra, three days after his 68th birthday. Though the cause of death was not immediately released, he had been suffering from throat cancer and had recently been to the US for medical reasons. Announcing his death, his office noted that he died hours after being taken ill, but a presidential aide said that he had complained of pains the day prior to his death. However, Mills' brother, Dr. Cadman Mills disclosed during the burial service that he had died from a massive stroke. According to the BBC, his voice had degenerated in the previous few months. Former minister Elizabeth Ohene said that as a result of previous false reports of his death, she had not believed initial claims of his actual death. "For the past three or four years there's been news he's been unwell and rumours of his death – twice – and he appeared with grim humour to say they were exaggerated, insisting he was well." His vice president John Dramani Mahama was sworn in at about 20:00 GMT on the same day. In accordance with Ghana's constitution, Mahama's tenure expired at the same time Mills' was due to end, by the end of the year just prior to an election,[48] in which he was due to run.[49] Mahama said upon being inaugurated in parliament:

    This is the saddest day in our nation's history. Tears have engulfed our nation and we are deeply saddened and distraught. I never imagined that one day that it would place our nation in such a difficult circumstance. I'm personally devastated, I've lost a father, I've lost a friend, I've lost a mentor and a senior comrade. Ghana is united in grief at this time for our departed president.[35]

State funeral
Atta Mills' gravestone at the Asomdwee Park in Accra

From 8–10 August, his body lay in state, where Ghanaian government officials, civil society, traditional leaders, the clergy, the general public and dignitaries such as Côte d'Ivoire's Alassane Ouattara, Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan and Senegal's Macky Sall paid their last respects. Within this period, a two-night vigil was also held at the forecourt of the State House for cultural and musical performances such as traditional dirges, plays and tribute reading. Thousands streamed into the State House to pay their last respects to Mills as he lay in state with some mourners queuing for hours, many of them wailing with grief, in lines up to 10km (6 miles) long per press reports. [50]The body was then taken by a military cortege from the State House parliamentary complex to the Independence Square for the funerary services which was attended by 18 African Heads of State, 5 Vice-Presidents, United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Secretary-General of African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Mohamed Ibn Chambas and several other international envoys. In all, there were 67 foreign delegations represented at the funeral.[51] In addition to the over 50,000 people who gathered for the ceremony, his funeral was also attended by Benin's Thomas Boni Yayi, who said of Mills that he was "passionate about peace in Africa and in the region," as well as Togo's Faure Gnassingbe, who said "[Mills] was like a brother to me. I will surely miss him."

Ahead of religious ceremonies on Friday morning, the officially declared national day of mourning, a helicopter hovered over the area dropping leaflets reading: We want peaceful elections in 2012.[53] The funeral ended with the release of a hundred white doves into the air to signify the peaceful nature of the departed leader.

After the funeral service, the president's body was taken on a military procession through some principal streets of the Ghanaian capital, Accra and then for burial in a newly created presidential mausoleum located in a bird sanctuary, Geese Park renamed Asomdwee (Peace) Memorial Park along the Marine Drive and next to the old seat of government, the 17th-century Fort Christiansborg, (also known as Osu Castle), which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean's Gulf of Guinea.[54] As the sitting Commander-in-Chief, Mills was accorded full military honours, steeped in distinct and elaborate traditions, including a slow march by the Ghana Army, a fly-past of Ghana Air Force jets ejecting plumes of smoke in the national colours of red, gold and green, with the Ghana Navy ships also performing ceremonial manoeuvres on the shoreline behind the Independence Square and a 21-gun salute accompanying the sounding of the Last Post by military buglers after the casket had been lowered into the grave.[55] Approximately 700 domestic and foreign media outlets received accreditation from the Ghanaian Ministry of Information to cover the event.[56] An estimated 20 – 25 million television and online or web audience watched the three-day funeral ceremonies. The state funeral for the late president was most likely the largest gathering of people in one place at a single public event in recent or modern Ghanaian history.
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Selected writings

Mills' more than one dozen publications included:

    Taxation of Periodical or Deferred Payments arising from the Sale of Fixed Capital (1974)
    Exemption of Dividends from Income Taxation: A Critical Appraisal (1977)
    Report of the Tax Review Commission, Ghana, parts 1 – 3 (1977)
    Ghana’s Income Tax Laws and the Investor (1978)
    Ghana's New Investment Code: An Appraisal (1993)
    Africa in the World (2002)
    NEPAD and New International Relations (2002)

Memorials and legacy

Mills was posthumously awarded the highest prize as the 2012 "Lifetime Africa Achievement Prize Laureate on Democratic Governance and Development in Africa". According to the Prize Committee, the award was in "recognition of his genteel disposition, virtues, devotion and commitment to the enhancement of good Democratic Governance and Development in Ghana and Africa at large. This exaltation of character, which is worthy of emulation, has made positive impact on the lives of his people today and will continue to influence them for a better future. His courageous acts in defence and protection of fairness to all is recognized and respected on the global platform and lend to all Africans the hope that through the values of equity and democracy, we can live in peace and harmony with each other to engender communal development and life's fulfilment. This individual's leadership has had a direct impact on Ghana's success and growth which is cherished by Ghanaians countrywide."

The Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York City also posthumously bestowed on him its highest award, The Fritz Redlich Alumni Award[74] in recognition of "his distinguished career and exemplary leadership that increased cooperation and understanding between Ghana and the world, and his resolute support for advancing education to prepare an entire generation in Ghana for today's competitive, globalized economy and to honour him as the first ever Fulbright Scholar to become the Head of State of an African nation by becoming the President of Ghana."

In the wake of his death, Accra High Street was renamed John Evans Atta Mills High Street by an Accra Metropolitan Assembly resolution[77] and in Cape Coast a street linking Cape Coast Castle to Mfantsipim Junction was renamed President John Atta Mills Street by the paramount chief of Cape Coast, Omanhene of the Oguaa Traditional Area, Osaberema Kwesi Arthur.[78] Furthermore, for his role in consolidating local development, the Suhum Municipal Assembly and the Ga South Assembly named bypass roads after him. [79][80] [81] Also, the Municipal Assembly of Obuasi honoured Mills by naming a principal street after him in the southern mining town of Obuasi, located in the geographic middle belt of Ghana. [82] [83] whilst the Nandom Assembly honoured Mills by naming a street after him for creating the District in 2012.

The New Millennium City School at the Salvation Army Cluster of Schools was renamed President John Evans Atta Mills Educational Centre of Excellence. An ICT Centre was also built at Mills' alma mater Huni Valley Methodist Basic School to honour his memory while the University of Ghana, Legon, co-named its Faculty of Law building after him in recognition of his contributions to the department as a professor and president. The Judicial Council of Ghana renamed its largest court complex after Atta Mills in acknowledgement of his contributions as "a true democrat who respected the independence of the Judiciary and worked to promote it." Additionally, a research centre known as the Kwame Nkrumah-Atta Mills Legacy Institute (KNAMLI) has been set up to study the political ideals of tolerance that President Mills cherished through his non-pursual of partisan retribution as well as his demonstration of a passive response to vitriolic attacks, vindictiveness, violence and insults as preached by global icons like Mahatma Gandhi, Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. This will act as a living testimony worthy of preservation, emulation and impartation to the youth. The institute is also a think-tank for strategic studies and organisation, in line with Kwame Nkrumah’s declaration that organisation decides everything. To mark the 2013 World Post Day, the Ghana Post in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications issued commemorative postal stamps of Atta Mills in appreciation of his "dedication to social justice and political stability."  In honour of his "contribution to the promotion and development of sports in general and hockey in particular", the National Hockey Association launched a yearly multinational hockey gala, the John Evans Atta Mills Annual Hockey Tournament. Other permanent memorials to institutionalise his legacy include the annual Atta Mills Memorial Lectures, the Atta Mills Foundation (a humanitarian non-profit organisation) and the Atta Mills Memorial Research Library affiliated to the University of Cape Coast In 2014, the Ghanaian government named the country's second floating production storage and offloading vessel, FPSO John Atta Mills - as president, he superintended over the first production of Ghana’s new-found oil in commercial quantities.
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