Obituary: Hilla Limann

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Hilla Limann, diplomat and politician: born Gwollu, Upper Region, Ghana 12 December 1934; President of Ghana 1979-81; married Dora Yaro (two sons, three daughters); died Accra 23 January 1998.

Hilla Limann was the elected President of Ghana from 1979 until 1981. It was a brief and politically unstable interlude of civilian government in a succession of military regimes.

Limann was a Muslim from northern Ghana. He was educated at the London School of Economics and the Sorbonne before embarking on a career as a diplomat in post-independence Ghana, becoming a senior official in the Foreign Ministry after a stint at Ghana's mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

The circumstances of the elections which brought him to power did not augur well for his government. General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong's corrupt military regime was overthrown in 1978 by General Frederick Akuffo who lifted a ban on political parties and scheduled elections for the following year. Before the elections, however, a group of junior officers led by Flt Lt Jerry Rawlings seized power. Acheampong and Akuffo were executed after swift convictions on corruption charges.

But Rawlings allowed the elections to go ahead. They were contested by five parties including Limann's People's National Party (PNP), which ran on an anti-corruption ticket. The PNP scraped to victory and Limann, hitherto practically unknown in Ghana, was elected President.

Ghana needed a strong leadership to face the various crises which had beset it since independence. Limann, in spite of his personal qualities and his universally recognised honesty, was unable to provide it. He was obliged to form a coalition government which was inevitably undermined by political infighting and accusations of corruption. Efforts to tackle economic decline failed, food prices rose and there were strikes and riots.

Relations between Limann and Jerry Rawlings deteriorated and by the time Rawlings intervened for the second time on the last day of 1981 another coup was widely expected. This time Rawlings made it clear he was staying in power. Limann and other prominent members of the PNP were placed in detention.

In 1992 Rawlings, under considerable pressure from Western donors, lifted the ban on political parties and held elections. Limann, uncowed by two years under house arrest, founded a new party, the People's National Convention, to fight them. Rawlings won with over 50 per cent of the vote and Limann came a distant third with 6.7 per cent. Although he remained leader of his party he chose not to run in the 1996 elections, which Rawlings also won.

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