In 2000, Ghanaians clamored for a change from a Government that had been in power for fully 18 years. Ghana of 2000 was not too different from other African countries with quasi - one party states ( Senegal for example) where a significant number of newly registered voters had not known any governments than those in power. The parties in power had become complacent, accountability of those charged with governing, which had rarely been the characteristics of governments in Africa , was singularly absent. Change for the sake of change, as well as change with the hope that it could possibly bring something different and better, was the rallying call over much of Africa.
The year 2000 was also a year of major economic difficulties, largely due to very negative external developments, but compounded by a degree of inattention of Ghanaian policy makers to the very urgent need to build an economy able to adapt to external developments (good or bad), and policy paralysis by an outgoing government eager to please by not raising domestic petroleum prices. The negative external developments were, lest we forget: the drastic drop in the prices of Ghana's main exports of gold and cocoa, the high price of petroleum, the sharp rise in the value of the dollar, and the associated free fall in the value of the cedi (the value of which was then largely market determined), and the (inflationary) pass though effect of the devaluation of the cedi. Professor Atta Mills has always maintained that, clamor for change or not, the NDC would have won the 2000 election if the economic environment in Ghana had been better. The historical experience of many countries would seem to bear him out.
Ghanaians have seen change and to many it has not been pretty. The economic situation has not improved for many despite the complete reversal of the global economic context with historically high gold and cocoa prices and a very substantial increase in the volume of cocoa exports, arguably as a result of the events in the Cote d'Ivoire . The dollar has fallen drastically with respect to other major currencies, leading to relative cedi-dollar exchange rate stability, and a dampening of inflationary pressures.
Socially, there has been no change in the accountability of those in power. In place of accountability, a culture of arrogance, defiance in the face of constructive criticism (how else can you explain "IFC" and the Chinese Saloon barber loans) seem to be the order of the day. There is the perception that highest echelon of power pays scant attention to urgent domestic economic and social issues, preferring instead to undertake numerous foreign travels to "sell Ghana abroad". There are many who would argue that the scourge of corruption has increased, that the rhetoric on "zero tolerance for corruption" has remained just that: rhetoric. Ghana is fast getting on the map as a major transit point for the export of illicit drugs (cocaine) and "conflict diamonds". Economic polarization is everywhere visible and, very regrettably, ethnic tensions (polarization) seem to be on the rise as contracts and job opportunities increasingly appear to be accessible only to specific groups.
In this context of economic and governance deterioration, it is understandable that many Ghanaians are very weary of "change for the sake of change" and also explains why the apostles of the "need for fresh faces" are unlikely to get very far. Yes, Ghanaians want a change from a corrupt, unresponsive, arrogant and insular government. However, they do not want just any change, but change to a new leader who is a known quantity and whose values, principles, experience, and disposition are known to them and whose actions are predictable. It also explains why many in the rural areas insist that "for the past eight years, we have only known Kufour and Mills. Kufour has had his chance. It is now Mills' turn to lead us".
By whatever name he goes by: Professor John Evan Atta Mills, Atta, Egya Atta, Atta Ooh Atta, Asomdwehene. Atta-Mills, Atadwe Milk, Atta Milsen, Fiifi Mills, Uncle Fiifi, or the "law professor", he is a known quantity. He is known as decent, caring, disciplined, peaceful, tolerant of divergent views, hardworking, and above all, as someone who can be counted on to "do the sensible thing". He is an accomplished man who has made invaluable contribution to Ghana in his eight years as the Director of the Internal Revenue System, four years as Vice President, and more importantly as someone who has taught, nurtured, and inspired generations of professionals including lawyers and others in Ghana . He is used to working with youth, recognizing talent and using them where they are most needed. What many do not know, however, is that the Professor abhors injustice and abuse of power, and like the typical lawyer or professor, he is not easily swayed by emotional arguments, but is willing and able to change his views when presented with compelling arguments.
Professor Atta Mills has challenges ahead and he is the first to admit it. To the doubting-Thomases, he has to continually demonstrate his independence of mind, analysis, and decision-making. Above all, he has to work tirelessly to help reform the NDC, strengthen party structures and to endow them with means to promote the best parliamentary candidates, institutionalize democratic decision-making in the party, continuing to build his own constituency of like-minded activists within the party, and open up the party to fresher and newer blood. This is a challenge that Professor Atta Mills welcomes.