One of Ghana’s foremost authors, Professor Kofi Awoonor, was among scores of people shot dead in yesterday’s terrorist attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. One of Africa’s most extraordinary poets, Mr. Awoonor also served in several political roles in Ghana. Until recently, he was the chairman of Ghana’s Council of State. He was appointed to the Council of State by the late President John Atta-Mills and in 2009 was elected to chair that advisory body.
A source at the Ghana High Commission in Nairobi confirmed Mr. Awoonor’s death in the massacre of innocents in Nairobi that has sent shock waves around the world. A Somali Islamist militant group, Al Shabab, has claimed responsibility for the gruesome attack in which 59 people perished. Many more victims sustained various degrees of critical injuries.
Our source said Mr. Awoonor’s son who was with him at the mall also sustained injuries but is currently responding to treatment.
A source at Legon told SaharaReporters that Mr. Awoonor’s death “has put Ghanaians in a big mourning mood. He was a very beloved man, an honorable writer who believed in lifting up all Ghanaians.”
At various times, Mr. Awoonor, who was inspired by his country’s most well known nationalist figure, Kwame Nkrumah, also served as Ghana’s ambassador to Cuba, Brazil. From 1990 to 1994, he served as Ghana’s ambassador and permanent representative at the United Nations in New York City, heading the world body’s committee against apartheid.
Mr. Awoonor was born on March 13, 1935, educated in Ghana, the University of London, and the United States. A polyglot and renaissance man, he spoke English, Spanish, French and Portuguese in addition to several Ghanaian languages. Mr. Awoonor held several positions including Head of the Ghana Film Corporation. He taught at universities in the US, the University of Ghana in Legon, and the University of the Cape Coast where he was head of the Department of English.
Mr. Awoonor was a gifted writer and passionate promoter of African literature through his critical scholarship. His book of criticism, The Breast of the Earth, is widely regarded as an important foundational text in the appreciation of the links between the oral tradition in Africa and the continent’s modern literary traditions.
In addition to several collections of poetry, Mr. Awoonor also authored the highly experimental novel, This Earth, My Brother…His second novel, Comes the Voyager at Last, though not as well known as his first, is regarded by some scholars as an important pioneering fictive work linking Africa and its New World Diaspora.
As a celebrated author, poet, playwright and educator, Mr. Awoonor was known for the range of references in his literary work. His poetry reflected a deeply Afrocentric perspective rooted in his Ewe cultural identity and integrated with contemporary religious symbolism and Western literary devices. His works, especially his poetry, were once widely studied at by students taking their General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations in English-speaking West African countries.
Our source said he was not aware whether Mr. Awoonor was on an official mission in Kenya. The government of Ghana has issued a statement describing his death as tragic. Ghanaian President John Mahama also sent a message of condolence to the Awoonor family in which he assured them of his government’s determination to get to the bottom of the matter.
Meanwhile, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to hunt down the perpetrators of the attack.