July 26, 2012
By FRANCIS KOKUTSE and KRISTA LARSON,
President John Atta Mills’ election victory secured Ghana’s reputation as one of the most mature democracies in West Africa, a position further solidified this week when the vice president took over only hours after the 68-year-old president died five months before finishing his first term.
John Mahama’s swift inauguration underscored Ghana’s stability in a part of the world where the deaths of other leaders have sparked coups.
“We are deeply distraught, devastated as a country,” Mahama said after his swearing-in ceremony, where he raised the golden staff of office above his head.
Ghanaian state-run television stations GTV and TV3 broke into their regular programming to announce the president's death the afternoon of Tuesday July 24. Government officials did not release the cause of his death, which came three days after his 68th birthday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “President Mills will be remembered for his statesmanship and years of dedicated service to his country,” according to a statement from his spokesman.
“At this time of national mourning, the secretary-general renews the commitment of the United Nations to work alongside the government and the people of Ghana in support of their efforts to consolidate the country’s democratic and development achievements,” the spokesman said.
Rumors had swirled about Atta Mills’ health in recent months after he made several trips to the United States, and opposition newspapers had reported he was not well enough to run for a second term.
Some radio stations even announced that he was dead during one of his recent trips to the States. When Atta Mills returned to Ghana, he jogged at the airport and blasted those who had falsely reported his death.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “President Mills will be remembered for his statesmanship and years of dedicated service to his country,” his spokesman said. Ban pledged that the United Nations would support Ghana's efforts “to consolidate the country's democratic and development achievements.”
On the streets of Cape Coast, [80 miles] from Accra, people held radios to their ears on the street, listening to the funeral hymns playing on FM stations and waiting for more information about the president’s unexpected death.
“His speeches were full of a spirit of love and peace,” said Efua Mensima, 45. “He was soft-spoken. I wept when I heard of his death.”
In a predominantly Ghanaian section of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, a group of 10 men tried to organize a bus to take them to Ghana for the president's funeral.
“The Ghanaian people were happy with this president and his program for the development of the country,” said Nour Ousmane Aladji, 27, a taxi driver who moved to Abidjan in 2000.
Chris Fomunyoh, the senior director for Africa for the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, said that Ghana’s democracy could weather the death of a president.
In other nations in West Africa, the death of a ruler usually spells a coup, as it did in neighboring Guinea following the 2008 death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte, and Togo, where the military seized power after the president’s death in 2005 in order to install the leader’s son.
“Ghanaian democracy has been tested and its institutions function well,” said Fomunyoh. “There’s no reason to think that Ghana and its democracy will not handle this event properly.”
Atta Mills was elected in a 2008 runoff vote that was the closest in the country’s history — and his third presidential bid.
“People are complaining. They’re saying that their standard of living has deteriorated these past eight years,” he told The Associated Press at the time. “So if Ghana is a model of growth, it's not translating into something people can feel.”
He went on to serve as president as Ghana began grappling with how to deal with its newfound oil wealth from offshore fields discovered in the last five years. The country of about 25 million saw a growth rate of more than 14 percent last year, though some analysts say the handling of his time in office was less than stellar.
The government got involved in a dispute with Kosmos Energy, the owner of the country’s Jubilee oil field, a spat that resulted in a delay in the proceeds from the country’s nascent oil trade, said Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.
Atta Mills also was one of the only leaders in West Africa who didn't back plans for an intervention force during last year’s near-civil war in Ivory Coast. Because of its shared border, Ghana became the main smuggling route for Ivorian cocoa.
The late president spent much of his career teaching at the University of Ghana. He earned a doctorate from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies before becoming a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
Atta Mills also served as vice president under Jerry Rawlings, a coup leader who was later elected president by popular vote and surprised the world by stepping down after the 2000 vote.
Richard Downie, the deputy director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that Atta Mills may be remembered more for what his election in 2008 symbolized than for what he did as president.
He defeated the ruling party by the slimmest of margins, marking two successful handovers of power in Ghana, a benchmark used by political scientists to measure a mature democracy.
“It showed just how robust Ghana’s democracy was, and it proved here in the U.S. what a success Ghana had become in terms of its political maturity,” he said.
AP Photo/Richard Drew
In this file photo taken on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, President of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills, waits to address the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly. State-run television in Ghana announced Tuesday, July 24, 2012, that Atta Mills died at age 68.
July 26, 2012
The mother of an unarmed black Florida teen who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer says she is mentally prepared to handle whatever verdict or sentence is handed down to the shooter, even an exoneration.
Sybrina Fulton made the statement to reporters July 25 after she and husband Tracy Martin tearfully addressed a town hall on violence and racial healing in Cincinnati.
The couple talked mostly about their grief and the importance of preventing similar shootings.
The February shooting of their son, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, led to nationwide protests over race and self-defense laws after police didn't arrest the shooter, George Zimmerman, for more than a month.
One of the protests was held in Cincinnati in March.
July 19, 2012
By KIM CHAKANETSA, Associated Press
Annah Nankie Nhlapo has been waiting 22 years for a home. On a dusty narrow road on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the foundation of her new house is finally taking shape.
Recently, to commemorate the U.N.-mandated Nelson Mandela International Day, housing charity Habitat for Humanity worked with volunteers to build 67 houses across South Africa, in honor of Mandela's 67 years of political service. Nhlapo is one of the lucky ones to be handed keys on Friday July 20.
For two decades, she and her five children have lived crowded into one of the flimsy shacks that sprawl across Orange Farm, a settlement named after its original purpose.
"I'm happy and I feel proud of myself because it's been a long time staying in a shack that is leaking water," said Nhlapo, a 47-year-old single mother.
That the house was built to honor Mandela resonates with Nhlapo, who sees South Africa's first black president as a champion of nation building.
Across the country, and even abroad, people were doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday Wednesday July 18.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton got the celebrations off to an early start the day before. He and daughter Chelsea met for 1 ½ hours with Mandela in his birth village of Qunu in a remote, southeastern corner of the country. Photographs tweeted by one of Mandela's grandsons showed the Nobel Peace Prize winner comfortably seated in an armchair with a blanket over his knees and with the Clintons and his wife, Graca Machel, at his side.
Then Clinton, Chelsea and Machel each planted an avocado pear tree to mark the occasion. Clinton said he is fond of the trees, an African symbol of growth and sustenance.
Children began their school day Wednesday by singing Happy Birthday to Madiba, the clan name by which Mandela is fondly known. South Africans of all colors to whom Mandela is a hero came up with creative ways to do 67 minutes of community service.
Many volunteers collected books, distributed sanitary pads and cleaned up neighborhoods. In Pretoria, a tattoo parlor was hoping to tattoo clients with 67 images of Mandela's face, with proceeds going to charity. On Constitution Hill last Saturday, artist James Delaney used coffee cups to create a mosaic of Mandela.
Asked what would be the best gift for Mandela, Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said the greatest gift the nation could give would be "to emulate his magnanimity and grace."
"Mr. Mandela taught us to love ourselves, to love one another and to love our country," Tutu said.
Mandela's 50-year fight, including 27 years in jail, helped bring democracy and freedom to the once white-ruled South Africa. But the country remains beset by tensions over continued white minority domination of the economy, massive unemployment, poor education and health services and the millions who remain homeless or in shacks.
When Mandela's African National Congress won power in 1994, the housing shortage was a priority.
Eighteen years in, informal settlements without electricity and running water have ballooned and the lack of adequate housing for the poor is at crisis point, said Kate Tissington, a senior researcher at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa.
"You get the sense from government officials that there is a never-ending battle to eliminate the housing backlog," she said.
Some 3 million homes have been built for some of South Africa's 50 million people, according to Xolani Xundu, spokesman for the government Department of Human Settlements. But 2.2 million more homes are needed, he said.
Tissington said population growth and the influx of people into cities and towns have contributed to the crisis.
The high demand and low supply makes informal settlements, like Nhlapo's shack at Orange Farm, a viable option.
Government-subsidized housing, often built on cheaper vacant land on the outskirts of urban developments, is not always linked to bus routes or services such as clinics, making it even more difficult for people to survive.
Corruption is another factor undermining efforts, as sometimes people who do not necessarily qualify end up being allocated subsidized housing, Tissington said. This creates a lot of tension.
"A lot has been happening in political and policy circles over the years," Tissington said, "but implementation on the ground has not kicked in and people are getting increasingly impatient with living with compromised access to basic services."
Every day there are protests, sometimes violent, against the lack of housing and other basic services like electricity and potable water.
Ryan Horsfield, a volunteer who had taken two days off work to help build the homes at Orange Farm, believes citizens also have a role to play.
"I don't think it's up to us to sit back and say the government must do it or not. If something is not happening we should all get in and try make it happen," he said.
Which is exactly what Mandela had in mind when he retired from politics at age 90 and told the world that "It's in your hands to make the world a better place."
July 19, 2012
William Raspberry, who became the second black columnist to win a Pulitzer Prize for his widely read syndicated commentaries in The Washington Post, died Tuesday July 17. He was 76.
Raspberry had prostate cancer and died at his home in Washington, his wife, Sondra Raspberry, told The Post. A Post spokeswoman confirmed his death.
Raspberry, who grew up in segregated Mississippi, wrote an opinion column for the Post for nearly 40 years. More than 200 newspapers carried his column in syndication before he retired in 2005.
He won the Pulitzer for commentary in 1994. His columns often dealt with urban violence, the legacies of civil rights leaders and female genital mutilation in Africa.
Raspberry started at The Post in 1962 as a teletype operator and began working as a reporter within months. In 1965, he covered the riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles, and he began writing a column on local matters a year later.
At the time, the only nationally syndicated black columnist in the mainstream media was Carl Rowan. Raspberry’s column moved to The Post’s op-ed page in 1970.
“Bill Raspberry inspired a rising generation of African-American columnists and commentators who followed in his path, including me,” said Clarence Page, a Pulitzer-winning columnist with the Chicago Tribune.
Although he considered himself a liberal, Raspberry’s moderate, nuanced positions on issues including civil rights and gun control garnered criticism from both the right and the left. He was especially concerned with the problems of ordinary people. He told Editor & Publisher magazine in 1994 that reporters could “care about the people they report on and still retain the capacity to tell the story straight.”
He taught journalism for more than 10 years at Duke University. A collection of his columns, “Looking Back at Us,” was published in 1991.
The son of two teachers, Raspberry was born in 1935 in the northeastern Mississippi town of Okolona. He attended Indiana Central College, now the University of Indianapolis, and joined The Post after a stint as a public information officer with the Army.