By Anote Ajeluorou
Nigerian writers have joined their colleagues all over the world in mourning the untimely passing of Ghanaian writer and diplomat, Prof. Kofi Awonoor, who was killed in a terrorist attack in Kenyan over the weekend. Awonoor and other writers from across the world, including U.S.-based Nigerian writer, Teju Cole, author of Everyday for the Thief and Open City, were attending a literary festival, Storymoja Hay Festival, when Somalia terrorists, Al-Shabab struck at Westgate shopping centre, killing dozens of people and holding several hostage inside.
They also condemned Al-Shabab terrorist group for its senseless attack on innocent civilians and the death of several other people, saying enough was enough and that it was time the international community rose to the challenge posed by such terror groups all over the world.
Multiple award-winning writer and publisher, Dr. Ogochukwu Promise was livid with rage at the killing, and said it was time to fight the menace of ignorance that terrorism represents, noting, “We need to find ways to fight ignorance, violence... They've taken so much from us. Now, they've snatched away Prof. Awoonor!”
Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan and President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Prof. Remi Raji, while praising Awonoor for his poetic vision, said his death was the rise of urban barbarism that has gained prominence in recent years. He noted, “Kofi Awoonor was a great poetic prose stylist. He belonged to the illustrious generation of Ghanaian writers whose names arrived at our learning doors as young students of modern African literature. We were introduced to both his poetry and poetic prose uniquely and forcefully expressed in his classic, This Earth, My Brother, a novel which had great impact on our understanding of the postcolonial African condition.
“He would be remembered for contributing to the deployment of the indigenous Ewe folk stylistics in his poetry; beyond its cultural aesthetics, his Songs of Sorrow now seems to be too prophetic to be forgettable.
“The manner of Awoonor's death is unfortunate, really indicative of the new phase of urban barbarism that has taken hold of our space in recent time”.
Former President, Association of Nigerian Authors and former member, House of Representative, Dr. wale Okediran also joined in mourning Awonoor. He said, “Like many important writers, I had met Kofi Awoonor through his works several years before I actually met him in person. And when I finally did I in 2008 in Accra, Ghana during one of the activities of the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), I was captivated by his literary dexterity and humility. For more than 30 minutes, he held the audience spellbound with his elegant poetic rendition.
“That same year, we were to meet again at the Garden City Literary Festival in Port Harcourt where he again gave good account of himself. Now that he has left us even though in a very tragic circumstance, our solace is that his work will continue to live after him. My heartfelt condolences go to his family, his associates and the literary family at large. May his gentle soul continue to rest in peace, amen!”
President, PEN Centre, Nigeria and poet, Tade Ipadeola, in his tribute expressed shock at the attack and condemned all Islamic fundamentalists, noting, “I'm still in shock about Awoonor. This fundamentalist madness must stop. It is time we faced Islamic fundamentalists properly. Enough is enough!”
His fellow Ghanaian and poet, Kwame Dawes said, "I received news that Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet, diplomat and academic had been shot to death by terrorists in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. I got the news in my hotel, which is about five minutes from the mall. The news came through diplomatic channels in Ghana. 'Barring a miracle, we have lost him. Get some sleep, we have a long wake ahead.' This was the note his protégé and fellow Ghanaian poet, Kofi Anyidoho, sent to me. Kofi Awoonor's death is a sad moment here in Nairobi. We have lost one of the greatest African poets and diplomats. I've lost my uncle.”
Ghana's president, John Dramani Mahama, said in a statement, "I am shocked to hear the death of professor Kofi Awoonor in the Nairobi mall terrorist attack. Such a sad twist of fate."
A statement from Storymoja Hay Festival, which Awonoor had been attending when he was killed, said: “We were honoured to be graced by his appearance at Storymoja Hay Festival, and deeply humbled by his desire to impart knowledge to the young festival audience. Professor Awoonor was one of Africa's greatest voices and poets and will forever remain a beacon of knowledge and strength and hope.”
Awoonor was born in 1935 and became known for his poetry, early collections of which were heavily inspired by the dirge singing and oral poetry of his native Ewe tribe. He published his first collection, Rediscovery and Other Poems, in 1964. Awoonor gained a masters degree in literature at University College, London in 1970. His second collection, Night of My Blood, was released in 1971 and was a series of poems that explore Awoonor’s roots and the impact of colonialism and foreign rule in Africa.
Awoonor was a diplomat as well as a poet. He served as Ghana’s Ambassador to the United Nations between 1990 and 1994, where he was the head of the Committee Against Apartheid. In 1975 Awoonor was imprisoned without trial for several months. He was later brought to court on charges of helping ‘political criminal’, ex-Brigadier Kattah, fled the country. Awoonor denied aiding Kattah’s escape, but admitted to hosting him. His imprisonment was met with protest from International PEN, Amnesty International and writers including beat poet Allen Ginsberg. His third collection, The House By the Sea, was inspired by his incarceration and was published in 1978.