Dead, Again, in Ghana


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All summer, Ghana’s capital, Accra, swirled with rumors of John Atta Mills’s ill health and death. The Ghanian president was rarely seen in public, except when a Nigerian cargo plane crash-landed in early June at the airport in Accra, killing 10 people.

After Mr. Mills toured the site, he retreated from public view, leaving his vice president, John Dramani Mahama, to attend public functions.

In barbershops and at roadside chop bars, and even on Facebook, speculation that he was near death was rife, much to the chagrin of his media team who quickly called local journalists to the airport to see him off on a previously unscheduled trip to New York. The photo-op, in which Mr. Mills declared he was not dead, only fueled the fire.

Still, Ghana’s minister for information, Fritz Baffour, told Rendezvous late last month that Mr. Mill’s health was fine except for the normal aches and pains of an aging former athlete.

“He has all the problems of old jocks,” the aide said. “He’s going into a very torturous circuit of campaigning. There’s no cause for alarm.” He attributed the rumors to political opponents. At the end of June, after a 10-trip consulting with doctors in New York, Mr. Mills jogged off a Delta Airlines flight into throngs of supporters, the picture of health. Then, on Tuesday came the news that he had lost a battle with throat cancer.

His untimely death isn’t likely to throw the country into a crisis, but in the months ahead its democratic institutions will be tested.

The fear in Ghana is that chaos could reign in a way that was averted four years ago, when Mr. Mills — who was known for his peaceful stabilizing influence — won the presidency by a razor-thin margin after a hard-fought campaign.One of his nicknames was “King of Peace,” and he wasn’t an aggressive, in-your-face- politician. That played a role in the effort to keep the country from falling into the kind of post-election clashes that have occurred in other countries in the region.

Mr. Mills, 68, was to have run for re-election this December against the same person he narrowly beat in 2008, Nana Akufo-Addo. He had secured the nomination of his party, the National Democratic Congress, to run for a second term, after beating back a primary challenge by a popular former first lady, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings. Ms. Agyemang-Rawlings and her husband, Jerry, were once staunch Mills supporters. Mr. Mills once served as a vice president to Mr. Rawlings. But recently, the Rawlings turned against him, accusing his team of mismanagement.

While Mr. Mills handily defeated the former first lady in the primaries, analysts have told reporters that they expect her to claim an automatic nomination now that he has died. But not everyone is keen on another Rawlings leading Ghana.

Alban Bagbin, Ghana’s health minister and a member of the NDC legal team, told Reuters the party will hold an extraordinary meeting to select a new candidate, including other high-profile leaders who may not have wanted to challenge Mr. Mills.

Mr. Mills oversaw the transformation of Ghana into an oil exporting country. He worked out a controversial $3-billion loan from China to speed up infrastructure development and secured a $600-million three-year loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2009. During his tenure, the Ghanaian currency, the cedi, lost value.

Mr. Mills was also somewhat of a darling to the United States. President Barack Obama visited Ghana in 2009 to show support for Mr. Mills and invited him to the White House, Camp David and the G20 summit in Chicago this year. He hailed him as a “strong advocate for human rights and for the fair treatment of all Ghanians.”

Mr. Akufo-Addo, who was already campaigning against Mr. Mills, and is also quite popular, has a significant head start on whoever his eventual opponent will be in December. Part of his summer was spent traveling and meeting world leaders.Other candidates could be John Dramani Mahama, 53, Mr. Mills’s vice president, who was sworn in as president hours after Mr. Mills’s death.

If Mr. Mahama is a candidate, he won’t have the luxury of time to show how he differs from Mr. Mills as some other vice presidents who succeeded their fallen principals have.  Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as president in 2010 after Umaru Yar’Adua died. And Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika and Guinea’s Malam Bacai Sanha died in office this year after proclaiming their health was fine.

Ghana, with its population or 24 million, remains one of the more stable countries in West Africa. A major cocoa producer, it has had a good record of power changing hands peacefully. Many will look to see if that tradition continues this year.

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Obama Will Need Young Voters to Keep His Job, Even if They Don’t Have One


NEW YORK — If he’s to have any hope of keeping his job, President Barack Obama needs to regain the love of young voters. But with 50 percent of Americans under 30 jobless or underemployed, the once cozy relationship is strained.

So Mr. Obama has kicked off his now re-election campaign by wooing university students with a charm offensive that began with an appearance on a late-night television show popular with young people, “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

For those not used to U.S.-style presidential campaigns, the appearance of a head of state on a late-night comedy show might seem a little odd — and Mr. Obama’s Republican critics pounced. But young people are a critical voting bloc and while the group favors Mr. Obama over the certain Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama needs to win them by a large margin given Republicans’ advantage among older voters, white voters and male voters.

The night that Mr. Romney was celebrating winning Republican primaries in five states and making the case that his campaign is one of hope for a better America, the president was pressing for a freeze on the interest rate charged on government student loans by trading lines with comedian Jimmy Fallon.

The Roots, an R&B band jammed, as the young audience squealed.

For the president, the issue could be a winning one as American college debt is expected to hit $1 trillion, more than credit card debt. This motivated angry students to demonstrate in New York on Wednesday.

Students around the world have flexed their collective muscle when pushed and political leaders have taken note. In 2010, thousands of British university students violently took to the streets when plans to increase tuition where announced. The protests continued last year.

Chilean student protests last year forced reforms then students took to the streets this week to protest the reforms not going far enough. And this week protests by French-Canadian students over proposed tuition hikes turned violent in Montreal. The student movement, which has led a student strike for the last 11 weeks, could trigger a snap election in Quebec.

Presidential candidates going on TV to court young voters isn’t new. But once elected part of being the commander-in-chief requires projecting an aura of strength.

So comedic turns on television, even for serious matters, could be seen as a gamble. (The other gamble was the comedy: Student loans? Funny?)

Though Mr. Obama’s appearance was a hit among its intended audience, selling himself going forward is not likely to be as easy as it was four years ago.

A recent poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that only 20 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 believe the country is headed in the right direction.

Four years ago, Mr. Obama fired up the enthusiasm in young voters. That enthusiasm is waning with the Harvard poll suggesting that only 43 percent would vote for him now.

As a lawmaker he didn’t show up to vote on the student loan bill he’s now pushing Republican lawmakers in Congress to extend. Still his “jam session” only buttressed his cool factor to segments of America’s youth who already know that he can sing.

At least he isn’t channeling rap stars Jay-Z and Kanye West the way French presidential aspirant, François Hollande, did to ratchet up his hip quotient. Maybe it worked, since Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader and a youth favorite did less well than expected in Sunday’s first round of elections.

Next week the Obama campaign will hold its first official re-election rallies with campus stops in Virginia and Ohio. Mr. Obama and his wife will reiterate that they only recently paid off their own student loans.

“I didn’t just get a policy briefing on this. Michelle and I, we’ve been in your shoes,” the president has told students.

Still Mr. Romney isn’t ceding the youth vote.

He asked: “When you look at 50 percent of kids coming out college today can’t find a job or can’t find a job which is consistent with their skills, how in the world can you be supporting a president that has led to that kind of economy?” The businessman however did an about face and now supports the student loan proposal after seeming to not agree.

The president’s pressing the issue appeared to work. Republican leaders announced they would vote for the interest rate freeze on Friday. It remains to be seen if it will be enough to push job seekers to the polls this fall.
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