John Agyekum Kufuor. To my beloved wife, Aba. “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her …” Proverbs 31:10-11
Aba and I met in person on 1 July 1961, at a ball at Battersea Town Hall in London, to celebrate Ghana’s first anniversary as a republic, shortly after what I now perceive as a clearly foreordained introduction by our mutual friend Dr Kwame Appiah-Poku. Aba had just finished nursing school in Edinburgh and was on her way to the Radcliffe Infirmary, which is part of Oxford University. I had just passed my Bar exams at Lincoln’s Inn in London and was on my way to Exeter College, Oxford.
My first impressions of my lovely Aba were of a soft-spoken and well-mannered lady, and after a year of bonding and courting, we both discovered that we adored each other’s company. We had similar cultural tastes in art, music, and film, as well as similar social preferences. As a result, we decided to marry on September 8, 1962, at Brompton Oratory in Knightsbridge, London.
Chief, our first male child, joined us on September 6, 1963. We moved to London in mid-1964, shortly after finishing our studies in Oxford, to pursue our respective careers. Nana Ama, our second child and first daughter, was born on November 29, 1964, in Golders Green, London.
However, due to intense pressure from my Kumasi family, we decided to return to Ghana. I joined Okomfo Anokye Chambers as a junior lawyer shortly after our return to Kumasi in January 1965, with Victor Owusu as senior partner. Aba later worked as a nurse/midwife at Kwame Nkrumah University Hospital. Soon after, on November 4, 1965, Aba and I welcomed our third child, Saah, into our expanding family.
Agyekum, our fourth child, was born on February 16, 1968. I was already entangled in the web of public service by the time he arrived. In 1967, I was appointed as the chief legal officer and city manager of Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city.
Aba had a very confident personality that allowed her to fit in wherever we went and cope under the most difficult of pressures. In 1969, I was elected to the Second Republic’s Parliament (for Atwima Nwabiagya in the Ashanti Region). Under the late Professor Kofi Abrefa Busia’s premiership, I was also appointed as Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.
As a result, our young family was forced to relocate from Kumasi to Accra. Aba, to my delight, took our changing life in stride, adapting effortlessly and confidently to our new environment of national politics and diplomacy.
Between 1969 and 1971, when both Aba and I were in our early thirties, our lives seemed to be on the rise. But this was to be cut short by a shocking and unexpected coup d’état on 13 January 1972, which arrested virtually all members of the government and imprisoned us. Our world had come crashing down around us.
Fifty-four of us, including cabinet ministers, junior ministers, and some Members of Parliament, would be imprisoned for a minimum of 12 to 15 months after being denied contact with family or the outside world for nearly eight weeks at Ussher Fort prison. To my surprise, this angel of a woman would survive the ordeal of raising five children on her own – in my absence, Aba gave birth to our fifth and final child, Kofi, as a single parent on June 16, 1972. Her strong and exceptionally disciplined personality did indeed come to our family’s aid.
I could not have predicted the crash that happened to us and thus could not have prepared for our ordeal. Aba, on the other hand, rose above it. Aba’s spirit would not and could not be broken because of her strong, prayerful faith in God. She made do with very little back then, but she kept our hopes alive. When she was allowed to visit me in prison, she left me with a reassuring sense of optimism. Aba helped me get through my 15-month incarceration. She was a woman of self-sacrifice, devotion, humanity, and tenacity.
After I was released from detention, she returned to nursing at Cocoa Clinic, where she rose to become the clinic’s first matron. Aba only once objected strongly to my absence from home because my entrepreneurial endeavors required me to be away for extended periods of time. Her dedication to our marriage and her exceptional desire to be a loving wife, a caring homemaker, and a firm but loving parent bore fruit in the form of our children. She was firm while also tender.
When I was elected President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana, Aba would play a pivotal but quiet role in shaping key social interventions such as including the kindergarten stage for all Ghanaian children in the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education policy; providing one hot meal a day to primary school children across the country; launching the National Health Insurance Scheme; and introducing free maternal care for all.
As the founder of the Mother and Child Community Development Foundation, she worked tirelessly to support early childhood development programs across the country. Her Foundation built three schools and donated them to communities in the Central Region’s Nyanyanor, as well as Accra’s Kotobabi and Amansaman.
Her Foundation also provided a breast cancer screening unit to a health-care services provider in Sunyani, as well as baking equipment to bakers in Nsawam and Adoagyiri. She established a phone-in counselling service to help HIV/AIDS patients and to combat stigma. Surprisingly, Aba performed all of her community service without seeking recognition.
Aba and I had a gleeful sense of humour, which allowed us to laugh at each other while also naturally forgiving each other for our unfailing human flaws. She and I traveled extensively together during my political career and after I became President. During our international trips, however, what touched her the most was the recognition she received from Pope Benedict XVI, who bestowed on her the prestigious Papal award of Dame of the Church.
Gregory the Great is a saint. She remained a devout Catholic, a passionate worshipper, and a chorister at Christ the King Catholic Church in Accra throughout her life.
Aba, your departure has left an unbridgeable void in my life; however, I find comfort in the many mercies and blessings the good Lord has bestowed on our 62-year journey: living long; the blessing of beautiful children; 14 splendid grandchildren; the honor of having served our country together; the gift of loving; extended families; and a global network of friends.
I am grateful to the good Lord God for providing you as my life partner. You have earned it, Aba.
your good rest, and as the Apostle Paul says, “you have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.” Now awaits you the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will bestow on you on that day – and not only on you, but also on all who have awaited His appearing.”
Aba, fare thee well. Goodbye, my dearest love!