From the Editor’s Keyboard

An African Giant Falls in Nairobi

By  | 26 September 2013 at 01:31 | 1288 views

One of the people killed by Somali terrorists in a Nairobi shopping mall over the weekend was renowned Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor.

The 78-year old was in the Kenyan capital to attend a writers’ festival. He died from wounds sustained when the terrorists opened fire in the mall. His son, who was with him was also shot but survived.

Westgate mall is one of the biggest malls in that part of Africa, a favorite spot for tourists and the local expatriate community.

The late Kofi Awoonor was a literary giant in the continent. A former diplomat, teacher, novelist and poet, he will be sorely missed and mourned all over the world.

I listened to him late 90s at a press conference in Accra, Ghana ( Before relocating to Canada, I lived in Ghana for about three years as a journalist and writer in exile). Soft-spoken, highly intelligent and sophisticated, the late Awoonor was then a special adviser to former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings. The press conference was one of those numerous events on African unity and Pan-Africanism that were regularly held in Accra in those days (Rawlings is a fervent Pan-Africanist who grew up in the revolutionary environment created by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, just like his "elder brother" from the Volta region of Ghana, Kofi Awoonor).

I was impressed by the erudition and delivery of the late Awoonor. Even though the event was not a literary event there were other writers present like Atukwei-Okai, another great Ghanaian poet. I noticed that while Okai, who also spoke, was interestingly flamboyant, a kind of poet-showman, Awoonor was quiet and subdued, with sharp, piercing eyes, heavily focused on transmitting his message. Two great poets with different communication styles.

Although he made his mark as a diplomat, university lecturer and novelist, Kofi Awoonor will be mostly remembered for his poetry. Here is a sample shared by Kayode Robbin-Coker on Facebook:

Songs of Sorrow

By Kofi Awoonor

Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus
It has led me among the sharps of the forest
Returning is not possible
And going forward is a great difficulty
The affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces
Into which I have stepped
When I clean it cannot go.
I am on the world’s extreme corner,
I am not sitting in the row with the eminent
But those who are lucky
Sit in the middle and forget
I am on the world’s extreme corner
I can only go beyond and forget.
My people, I have been somewhere
If I turn here, the rain beats me
If I turn there the sun burns me
The firewood of this world
Is for only those who can take heart
That is why not all can gather it.
The world is not good for anybody
But you are so happy with your fate;
Alas! the travelers are back
All covered with debt.

Something has happened to me
The things so great that I cannot weep;
I have no sons to fire the gun when I die
And no daughter to wail when I close my mouth
I have wandered on the wilderness
The great wilderness men call life
The rain has beaten me,
And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives
I shall go beyond and rest.
I have no kin and no brother,
Death has made war upon our house;
And Kpeti’s great household is no more,
Only the broken fence stands;
And those who dared not look in his face
Have come out as men.
How well their pride is with them.
Let those gone before take note
They have treated their offspring badly.

What is the wailing for?
Somebody is dead. Agosu himself
Alas! a snake has bitten me
My right arm is broken,
And the tree on which I lean is fallen.

Agosi if you go tell them,
Tell Nyidevu, Kpeti, and Kove
That they have done us evil;
Tell them their house is falling
And the trees in the fence
Have been eaten by termites;
That the martels curse them.
Ask them why they idle there
While we suffer, and eat sand.
And the crow and the vulture
Hover always above our broken fences
And strangers walk over our portion.