On December 8, 1938, John Kofi Kwapong Diawuo Agyekum Kufuor was born at Thelma’s Maternity Home in Kumasi. His father was a chief - Nana Kojo Agyekum III, Oyokohene and his mother, a queenmother - Nana Amma Dapaah, Apagyahemaa.
He was their third son and seventh child.
The beloved brother of Nana Akua Durowaah, the wife of Otumfuo Prempeh II, the Asantehene, he was also the cherished nephew of Nana Owusu Afriyie III, Apagyahene.
His mother’s father was the Nkawiehene, Nana Kwabena Kufuor and her brother was Baffuor Adjei Kessie III,the Adumhene, the extremely powerful chief of Adum, Kumasi’s central business district.
John Agyekum Kufuor was, therefore, born into a family that believed that service to one’s people was the best form of leadership.
In 2001, John Agyekum Kufuor became the 5th President of Ghana. Many people call him JAK, because of his initials, J, A and K.
To all the children reading this, your Grandpa JAK is 80 years old today. Hurray!!!To celebrate him,I am going to share with you some interesting bits of his life that he shared with me that not many people know about.
Many people know that Grandpa JAK is a lawyer and was President of Ghana from 2001 to 2009. A lot of people know he went to Prempeh College and also to the world-famous Oxford University and that, once upon a time, he was a Member of Parliament and a Deputy Foreign Minister in Dr Busia’s government. It is also common knowledge that his beloved wife is called Theresa and that he has five children.
Now, we shall turn to the things that not many people know about.
Former President Kufuor and the Kofi Annan
As a child, Grandpa JAK attended Government School in Kumasi, a place he remembers with fondness. To his five-year old mind, this primary school was as beautiful as the Garden of Eden he had heard his Sunday School teacher speak about. Set in a beautiful garden, with many colourful plants, it had three soccer pitches, a volley ball court, a cricket pitch and a duck pond.
He walked to school every day, going through Zongo, Alabar and past the goat market. This trip took some 20 minutes. It was an interesting walk. On his way, he saw traders from Mali, Niger, Nigeria and other parts of West Africa selling goats, sheep, clothes, grains, herbal medicines, toys, knives and other knick-knacks.
By making friends with other children on his way to school, Grandpa JAK learnt to speak some Hausa, a language which has helped him a lot on his life’s journey. Your Grandpa JAK thinks it is important that children learn languages other than their own and thinks you should take your French lessons seriously.
Walking home from school, Grandpa JAK discovered tasty, delicious food being sold in the food stalls that were dotted along his route. His all-time favourite stop, however, was at the stall of Maame Pig, a very fat, fair woman who made the most delicious Omo Tuo with groundnut soup that was filled with so many different kinds of meat and fish, it appeared to be a little zoo.
House of food
At home, however, it was difficult to decide what his favourite food was, as everything that he was offered tasted good.
His mother, Nana Amma Dapaah, had an army of about 50 helpers who ran their home and most of these helpers spent their time cooking. Their home was, therefore, always filled with food, which was generously shared with any visitors they had.
If his mother’s house was full of food, then his uncle, the Apagyahene’s house was hundred times more filled with food. At Apagyafie, the palace, there was always a table laden with a delicious array of authentic traditional Ashanti dishes.
He loved the white beans soup that melted on the tongue and the delicious, spicy lamb chops -nfshon very much. And then there was the well-spiced guinea fowl or what people call Akonfem these days. Grandpa JAK also loved khebabs a lot and today, grasscutter khebab remains one of his favourites.
Siwi!, a dish made with roasted half-ripe plantains and groundnuts pounded into a paste is another dish he still loves today.
Having had such a variety of tasty food growing up, Grandpa JAK was very miserable during his student days in London as the food was a little too bland. The mince pies and Christmas puddings were, however, a good break from the ordinary, during winter time.
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Mr John A. Kufuor (right), explaining a point to Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa (2nd left), The Member of Parliament for North Tongu at the John A. Kufour Foundation Fundraising Dinner to support an endowment fund. With them is Nana Otuo Siriboe II (left), Chairman, Council of State.
At Prempeh College in Kumasi, he excelled with his studies and in sports. However, Grandpa JAK was not good at singing. Whenever he attempted to sing, it did not sound well. One day, master Riverson, his music teacher, asked him to stand up and sing an anthem on his own. That didn’t go well at all. Master Riverson screamed at him to stop. He has never forgotten how his classmates laughed at him and how much they teased him after this.
As a child, Grandpa JAK was a Boy Scout. A Wolf Cub to be precise. He loved camping and was very lucky one day to meet Baden Powell, the Founder of the Boy Scouts Movement in Accra. It wasn’t surprising then that when the Cadet Corps were introduced at Prempeh College in 1955, Grandpa JAK served as Sergeant Major for 3 long years.
Growing up, Grandpa JAK loved to play gutter-to-gutter football with his brothers and his friends, using the streets as their pitch. The football is kicked from one gutter to another, back and forth, up and down the street. In those days, there were not many cars. As such, they could play for hours without being disturbed.
Although, there were not many cars in Kumasi, his dad, his uncle, the Apagyahene, and his brother-in-law, the Asantehene Prempeh II, owned several cars among them. His favourite was the king of all luxury cars, the Rolls Royce. It belonged to Prempeh II and was the same model that the King of England, George VI rode in.
Elizabeth Ohene with Kufuor
The first telephone Grandpa JAK ever saw was in his uncle, the Apagyahene’s office at Adum in the 40s. He was always amused when it rang and even more amused when his uncle spoke into it. It was only in science class at Prempeh that he finally understood how telephones worked. Grandpa JAK thinks paying attention in science class will help children understand the world around them better.
When Grandpa JAK was much younger, there were no computers. When he became Kumasi Town Clerk, the computer in the Treasury Department filled up an entire room. Today, he marvels at the sight of laptops and iPads and he is thankful that technology has done us all a favour.
When he sees his grandchildren using computers for their homework, he thinks they are very lucky. There is one lesson at Prempeh College he wishes he could have used a computer for - Latin.
Grandpa JAK is in awe of emails and how they work. He remembers spending hours at the Post Office when he was younger queuing to send a telegram or telex. (Grandpa JAK thinks you should find out about telegrams and telex)
Today, he uses his phone to send and receive emails. He has WhatsApp too. Yes, this Grandpa JAK of yours is very, very modern.
Kufuor goes traditional
Although there were hospitals when Grandpa JAK was growing up, his mother, Nana Amma Dapaah, knew how to use many different herbs to prevent many sicknesses and to cure others. Grandpa JAK did not like the cough mixture that she made with garlic and ginger at all!
Meeting with Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth II with the President of the Republic of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace.
As President, Grandpa JAK travelled the world. His favourite visit abroad was to Buckingham Palace as a guest of Queen Elizabeth II. This was because, as a student in the UK,every time he rode in a bus past the palace, he wondered what the insides looked like. Spending three days and nights there with his wife, Theresa, was for him a dream come true.
Grandpa JAK loves football and he served for years as Chairman of Asante Kotoko Football Club, which he says is the finest football club in the world.
Grandpa JAK is a great boxing fan too and thinks his favourite boxer, Professor Azumah Zoom-Zoom Nelson, is the greatest African boxer of all time.
Grandpa JAK believes that since children are the future of Ghana, it is important that they work hard at school to become good citizens of the country.
He also thinks children must have role models or people they look up to, whose lives will serve as a guide. Your Grandpa JAK says he was guided by the lives of Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia and Dr J.B. Danquah.
Happy birthday, Grandpa JAK! God bless you today and always!
The author has 10 books to her credit. She served in the Kufuor Administration as Special Assistant to Miss Elizabeth Ohene. She is currently writing a book about President Kufuor for children.
This is President Kufuor's story as told her.