John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills was the third president of Ghana's fourth republic (following Presidents Jerry John Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufuor) and a member of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Mills served as Rawlings' vice president from 1997-2001 and lost the 2000 and 2004 elections to Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party (NPP). After his electoral triumph in 2008, Mills became the first post-colonial African head of state to be democratically elected from a previous ruling party after another won a fair election without a coup d'etat (NDC --> NPP --> NDC). President Mills described himself as a social democrat and promoted programs to benefit social welfare like two of his prominent predecessors, Rawlings and Kwame Nkrumah. Mills ran on a platform that was much less divisive than the two, however, and worked for national unity.
Only three and a half years into his first term, President Mills unexpectedly passed away three days after his 68th birthday. Mills was suffering from throat cancer and had been receiving treatment in the United States while still running the day to day operations of the executive office. However, this was not disclosed as his cause of death. It was reported by the president's brother that he suffered a stroke resulting from a brain aneurysm, making the death surprising for even those who knew of the president's condition. President Mills survived two rumors of his death during his term, but was eventually succeeded by his vice president, John Dramani Mahama.
Mills was not only the leader of Ghana, but a prominent figure in African politics, having formidable stature in the leadership network of the continent since serving as vice president in 1997. Throughout the Rawlings, Kufuor, and Mills administrations, Ghana experienced massive growth and became a preferred place of investment in Africa for foreign capital in the energy, mining, finance, and technology industries.
President Mills state funeral lasted from August 8-10, 2017 and was attended by eighteen African heads of state (including Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan, and Senegal's Macky Sall), Cardinal Peter Turkson, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and then-United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
United States President Barack Obama said of Mills,
Mills was Ghana's first head of state to die in office of natural causes. Following his death the nation continued the democratic process he championed, progressing through two elections: the first electing his successor John Dramani Mahama to a full term and the second resulting in a peaceful transition of power from Mahama to current president Nana Akufo Addo. Mills' legacy lives on in Ghana as one promoting social welfare, a desire to stamp out corruption, and playing a large role for Ghana on the continental and global diplomatic stage.