Sad news: Widespread shock in Ghana as poet, Kofi Awoonor dies in Kenya terrorist attack

Ghanaian poet and former UN envoy Kofi Awoonor, 78, was among 59 people killed in the Westgate mall attack in Kenya, according to reports from Nairobi.

The Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta also lost his nephew and the fiancee to the terror attack Saturday at the Westgate upscale mall in the nation’s capital.

Two Canadians and three Britons have also been confirmed dead.

With 45 people still missing, the number of the dead may increase, observers believed.

British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the attackers as “sickening and despicable”.

“What we know is that three British nationals have been killed,” Cameron said on Sunday.

“Because the situation is ongoing, we should prepare ourselves for further bad news,” he added indicating that the British toll could rise.

The announcement of Awoonor’s death led to an outpouring of grief in his home country. President John Dramani Mahama expressed his “shock” at the news, adding: “Such a sad twist of fate.”

Awoonor’s son was also wounded at the Westgate mall, Ghana’s Deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu said.

Awoonor had been due to appear at the Storymoja Hay literary festival in Nairobi on Saturday.

Kwame Dawes, a cousin of Awoonor as well as a poet who was in Nairobi at the time of the attack, said Awoonor and his son were not together when the shooting started.

“I think the son went to pick up something at the mall. Professor Awoonor was in the parking garage waiting for him,” Dawes, a professor in the United States who is editing Awoonor’s latest poetry collection, told AFP by telephone.

“The son was shot while he was inside the mall. We don’t know at what point the professor was shot,” Dawes said.
Awoonor was Ghana’s representative to the United Nations under the presidency of Jerry Rawlings from 1990 to 1994. He was also president of the Council of State, an advisory body to the president, a post he left earlier this year.

He was most noted for his poetry inspired by the oral tradition of the Ewe people, to which he belonged.

Much of his best work was published in Ghana’s immediate post-independence period, part of which he spent in exile after the first president and post-colonial icon Kwame Nkrumah, to whom Awoonor was close, was overthrown in a coup.

His books included “Rediscovery and Other Poems”, published in 1964.

The announcement of Awoonor’s death sparked widespread shock in Ghana.

While he was head of the Council of State, Awoonor was often in the press during a period that included the death of the sitting president John Atta Mills and the disputed 2012 election.

Awoonor’s death occurred on Nkrumah’s birth anniversary, adding to the sense of grief.

“He straddled many, many, many worlds,” said Esi Sutherland-Addy, an associate professor at the University of Ghana who knew him through literary circles.

“He’s an elderly gentleman. You would have thought that such a person would pass away peacefully. That’s what you wish for. This is just absolutely the last thing that one would have thought.”

Awoonor returned to Ghana in 1975 and was later arrested and tried over his suspected involvement in a coup, according to a biography from the US-based Poetry Foundation.

He was released after 10 months, and the foundation said his imprisonment influenced his book “The House by the Sea”.

During his time in the United States in the early 1970s, Awoonor was chairman of the comparative literature departure at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

He was also Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil and Cuba in the 1980s, the foundation said.

Awoonor was planning to continue writing essays and poetry, including on his experience in government, Dawes said.

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