Thousands attend funeral for Ghana’s Mills
Thousands of mourners including African leaders, dignitaries and ordinary Ghanaians attended the state funeral on Friday of president John Atta Mills, who died last month ahead of a re-election bid.
Ghana was plunged into mourning after the death of Mills, a veteran politician who became president in January 2009 and was well-regarded for his honesty and integrity.
A military cortege took Mills’ body from the State House parliamentary complex, where it had lain in state since Wednesday, to the funeral at Independence Square where more than 10,000 people gathered.
“He entered politics not to amass wealth but to serve people, which he did until his death,” said new President John Dramani Mahama.
The cortege transported Mills’ body to the grounds of Osu Castle, the official presidential residence, where he was buried at a ceremony that featured a 21-gun salute and laying of wreaths.
As the motorcade passed through streets, residents lined the roads to get a glimpse, some crying and others chanting. A number of people climbed trees to have a better view.
Among those who viewed the body as it lay under a glass case before the service were Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia as well as the leaders of Benin and neighbouring Togo.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who wrapped up an African tour on Friday, also attended the funeral.
“He was like a brother to me. I will surely miss him,” Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe told journalists.
Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi, also the current African Union chairman, described Mills as “passionate about peace in Africa and in the region”.
His death on July 24 at the age of 68 following an illness came as a shock to many Ghanaians, despite rumours that he had been sick and reports that he suffered from throat cancer.
Coming just five months ahead of polls in which he was to seek re-election, it upended the presidential race in a country that recently became a significant oil producer and is praised as a stable democracy in an often turbulent region.
“Today is my saddest day,” said Akua Danso, an 80-year-old former teacher who was confined to a wheelchair, being pushed by her grandson.
“I have seen presidents come and go but he was the best. He was very humble. I wish I had the opportunity to meet him while he was alive, just to tell him that he was a gem,” she told AFP.
Mills’ brother Cadman said at the service, which was broadcast on national television, that the gratitude expressed by ordinary citizens since the president’s death had brought comfort to the family.
“The testimonials from the ordinary Ghanaians demonstrate that he did his best and that is all that we, as a family, could ask of him,” he said.
For a short time ahead the funeral, a helicopter hovered over the area dropping leaflets reading: “We want peaceful elections in 2012.”
Mahama, the former vice president, was sworn after Mills’ death to serve out the remainder of his term, as dictated by the constitution.
The new president is expected to be endorsed by the ruling party to run in the December election, which analysts say is likely to be close.
Ghana, a country of some 25 million people, has begun producing oil from its offshore Jubilee field, one of the largest discoveries in West Africa in recent years. The field’s operator Tullow has estimated that its recoverable resources amount to up to one billion barrels.