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Posts tagged ‘Kofi Awoonor’

God Told Me . . . Ogaga Ifowodo.


Columnist:

Ogaga Ifowodo

(In Memoriam: Kofi Awoonor, 1935-2013)

On 21 September, the Ghanaian poet, writer, scholar and diplomat, Kofi Awoonor, was murdered along with many others in a terrorist attack launched by religious fanatics of the Somalia-based Al Shabaab Islamic fundamentalist sect purportedly acting on God’s behalf. For over a month now, I have intended some form of reflection in this column. The more I have thought about the catastrophe, the more it has appeared to me that perhaps the single most important danger to world peace, to peaceful co-existence, is the idea of chosenness at the heart of every revealed religion.

Chosenness invites, indeed demands, the unquestioning belief in, reverence, even deification of, the individual—always a man—to whom God elected, for no justifiable reason, to reveal himself, and to give the eternal laws and moral code by which all of humanity is to live from birth to death, forever and ever. By a revealed religion’s unchangeable code, time and tide, in other words, history, stand still from the moment of creation. Somehow, God always speaks to these men privately, in conditions of utter secrecy: atop a mountain, in a far remove from everyone else in the desert, in their bedrooms or tents, alone under a tree, in dreams and visions.  Their sole authority rests then on our credulity, our readiness to accept the claim that God “spake” directly to them.

The iron code of a moral order founded on such dubious grounds ruled the world until the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. The wars of forced conversion to a kind and fatherly almighty God—though such a God could have “created” everybody to worship him instinctively, as naturally as we breathe—produced the horrors of the crusades and jihads whose legacies bedevil the earth today. The march of civilisation led inevitably to the separation of state and religion, of public affairs from personal belief. The resultant doctrine of secularism, often seen as a Western concept, has its roots in the humane older code that governs the ecumenical practices of indigenous cultures but which was destroyed by the violent and imperialistic revealed religions; particularly, the Abrahamic faiths.

Although the 1999 constitution, as every of its predecessors, proclaims the secularity of Nigeria, our leaders trample on its spirit and letter by putting religion front, back and centre of every thought and action, by a Pharisee-like public display of piety (PDP). From state sponsorship of pilgrimages to incessant calls for prayers to save the nation, Nigeria in the eyes of its holy leaders is a theocracy in fact and a secular state in name only. Thus, despite many corrections, President Jonathan just cannot keep his righteousness to himself. Fresh from a state-sponsored pilgrimage to Jerusalem in which he gave damning evidence of his brazen violation of the constitution, he took to the pulpit to declare that “but for the prayers of the church,” Nigeria “would probably have gone into oblivion.”

What Jonathan cannot understand is that in making such a superstitious claim, he appeals to the same authority as the religious fanatic. God, and not the citizens, according to Jonathan, is the guarantor of the continued stability of Nigeria; he holds the country together only as a favour to the prayerful followers of two foreign religions. God, according to Boko Haram’s Ibrahim Shekau, has decreed an Islamic kingdom in Nigeria, one that would not even require prayers for peace since it would be ruled directly by him through his personally anointed prophet—most likely Shekau himself. Consequently, God commanded Shekau, “to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah.” And in the process, to “enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.” Jonathan cannot disavow Shekau’s claims without giving up the basis of his own claims, including the view that God, and not voting citizens, made him president.

My more recent reflections on the holy superstition called chosenness reminded me of Jean Jacque Rousseau’s Second Discourse on Inequality where he writes thus:  “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to whom it occurred to say this is mine, and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors Mankind would have been spared by him who, pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had cried out to his kind: Beware of listening to this impostor; You are lost if you forget that the fruits are everyone’s and the Earth no one’s.” To all who accept without question every claim of divine revelation or directive, I commend the derision of chosenness by the great mystic poet, Omar Khayyam, in the Rubáiyát: “And do you think that unto such as you, / A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew, / God gave the Secret, and denied it me? — / Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.” Today’s chosen men of God are, of course, very well fed and often finely accoutred, but fanatics they remain!

“God told me . . .” How much better the world would be if we called impostors by their true name and sought God in the quiet recesses of our minds.

omoliho@gmail.com

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

Kofi Awoonor, Guardian Of The Sacred Word By Niyi Osundare.


 

Eni re dara ile       A splendid man has joined the earth

Gbee gbee, ofere gbee Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

Kofi loo, o digba     Kofi has gone, adieu

Gbee gbee gbeee       Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

Ofere gbeeeeeeee      Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

Kofi Awoonor was not just a prominent African poet; he was one of those pioneers of the art that showed succeeding generations how to do it. At a time when his contemporaries were trying to out-Eliot TS Eliot and match Ezra pound for pound in a hot imitation of Euro-Modernism, he took a decision to look inwards, to his African roots, and he reclaimed our voices with the beauty and power of the traditional oral verse of the Ewe: its deeply elegiac tonality, its rich allusive idioms, its essentially humanistic preoccupation. In a classic case of what anthropologist call participant observation, he was a Western-educated Ewe man who lived among Ewe poets, broke bread with them, asked them for some of their creative secrets, studied them, then gave their predominantly oral verses the wing and wonder of the written medium. And he did all this without stealing the fire from the forge of the traditional poets; without striving to override his indigenous benefactors. As the Yoruba would say, Kofi m’o woo we, o ba’gba je (Kofi knew how to wash his hands; so he ate with the elders). He served faithfully at the temple of indigenous wisdom; the gods rewarded him with laakaye(wisdom, insight, profundity).

This loric wisdom, this tellurian capability illuminated all his thinking, all his writing: his prose fiction (This Earth, My Brother); his literary/cultural criticism (The Breast of the Earth); and, of course, his numerous poems. No high school student of my generation would forget ‘Song of Sorrow’ in a hurry (‘Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus. . . .’ ). That is an Ewe-poem-in-English whose delicate simplicity and affective magnetism bring happy intimations of the lines of JP Clark and the wistful lamentations of Okot p’Bitek. Bless Ulli Beier and Gerald Moore who made these poems available to us in a compact Penguin edition. Yes, they did, and transformed the landscape of written modern African poetry for ever.

The debt African poetry owes Kofi Awoonor is huge and many-sided. Kofi Anyidoho (who was lucky to have been a hunter in the same cultural/linguistic forest as Kofi Awoonor) would bear me out. So would Atukwei Okai, Kwadzo Opoku-Agyemang, Femi Osofisan, Tanure Ojaide, Odia Ofeimun (of the ‘New Broom’ sensibility), Obiora Udechukwu, Jack Mapanje, Akeem Lasisi, Ademola Dasylva, Remi Raji, and yes, Niyi Osundare. Awoonor opened our eyes to the infinite but long ignored (and often long denied) possibilities of oral literature, and its positive, liberating indigeneity. He showed the world that African Guardians of the Word sang and danced before Homer was born; they sang and performed their lyric before the advent of the earthy tales of Chaucer. Awoonor taught us to honour our tongue the way we do our pen.

A poet who enlightened creative sensibility with a healthy dose of socio-political sensitivity, Awoonor combined the liberation of Africa’s literary idiom with the liberation of Africa’s politics. A proud and committed pan-Africanist, he spent most of his time and energy as Ghana’s Ambassador to the United Nations as Chairman of the Organization’s Anti-Apartheid Committee where he rallied world opinion against that racist scourge and contributed significantly to the bolstering of world opinion which eventually sent the Apartheid monster back to hell where it truly belonged.

We will never forget the violence that took this gem away from us, the authors of that violence, and the urgent need for a juster, safer, saner world free of the current bestialities and the monstrous mayhems that are their tragic offspring.

We will miss Kofi Awoonor’s large heart, the melody of his mind, the sizzle of his songs, his boldly interrogative impulse,  the thunder of his laughter, his sheer joie de vivre, that ‘blue-black’ beauty of his proudly Ghanaian face. . . . .

A mighty tree has fallen

The birds have scattered with the wind

Behold their songs like flying seeds

In the wondering sky

 

 

Niyi Osundare

New Orleans  2013.

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

Elegy To Kofi Awoonor By Kwesi Atta Sakyi.


By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

Death has claimed,
What shall we mortals exclaim,
Kofi has gone home
To his ancestral Anlo dome
What a loss to Mother Ghana
Oh what a blow to scion of Senghor’s Negritude,
In poems, drama, prose, dirge, and literary works
He lifted us to higher latitude and altitude
From the torrid to the frigid, he conditioned our attitude

Kofi fought gallant battles on paper and in academia
And left us legacies of his lore of tome to ponder
Long after he is gone yonder
His profuse writings, a wonder

Only yesterday, Kofi was here,
But today at GAW (Ghana Association of Writers) roll call,
Kofi’s name was called
And called, and called,
But silence answered in discordant accord
Kofi had crossed the river to the land of no return

Some say his writings raised rancour,
Others aver he spoke his mind aloud,
Are we not our thoughts in public allowed,
In Nkrumah’s land of Freedom and Justice
Kofi spat out the word, and freed his soul
What was writ, was bit of his wit which hit and bit

Fearless Kofi Awoonor vomited the unsayable
When he exclaimed, “This Earth, my Brother”
Kofi has gone the way of the earth,
Smitten by death’s rod,
The path every human of woman born shall trod,
Be they good, rough or bad
But Kofi was tough, a celebrated gem of a wacko Bard
At birth, a new literary bud
At death, a renowned bard

He played his part in thespian mode
Man came to do, but not undo what was done
By his Creator at his creation in the Grand Design
Kofi more than played his part in many roles of life’s drama,
At his untimely exit in Nairobi
In tears galore he left us bereft
Much the poorer for loss of his sagacity
But consoled our souls that he left for a better city
Dammirifa due!

©2013
Contact: kwesiattasakyi449@gmail.com
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

Kofi Awoonor: A Macabre Finale By Okey Ndibe.


Columnist:

Okey Ndibe

On the night of Saturday, September 21, 2013, I found myself talking admiringly about Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet, novelist, literary scholar, diplomat and teacher extraordinaire. The venue was Brooklyn, New York. My wife and I were there because, the next day, I was scheduled to speak at the Brooklyn Book Festival to promote my forthcoming novel, Foreign Gods, Inc. Sheri and I had spent part of the evening in Manhattan. We had looked in at three galleries, done a bit of shopping, and eaten at two restaurants, the last a Senegalese eatery on 29th Street, a pan-African space where Africans from different countries gather at all hours, make jolly, and speak a harvest of tongues.

It was close to 10 p.m. when we finally arrived at the Brooklyn apartment of our hosts, Sean Gallagher, a gifted painter who’s my wife’s academic colleague, and his wife Andrea Petersen, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal. Andrea had retired for the night, but Sean graciously offered us cheese and wine to wind down the day.

As we nibbled and drank, we talked about a variety of subjects. I don’t recall now what provoked it, but at some point I began to talk about Awoonor. I told Sean that, among the reasons I admired the man, was that he returned to Ghana after a distinguished career as a diplomat – and returned to the classroom to teach at the University of Ghana in Legon. Awoonor had served as his country’s ambassador to Cuba, Brazil, and the United Nations. “It’d be rare, if not impossible,” I told Sean, a keen follower of my column, to find a Nigerian who would consent to return to the classroom after holding down several high-profile diplomatic posts.

Unbeknownst to me, Awoonor had died earlier that Saturday. He’d been shot dead in Kenya by a gang of al Shabab terrorists who had stormed the high-scale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, shocking the world with their macabre, gleeful homicidal spree. The group killed with horrifying gusto, leaving – in the wake of their gruesome attacks – the corpses of children, women, and the elderly. Their one stricture was sectarian: a fringe Islamist group, they set out to spare Muslims.

Sunday morning, Sheri and I went to Mass at a church whose congregants were mostly Haitian immigrants. Once outside, Sheri was buying a bouquet of roses for our hosts when I switched my mobile phone back on. There was a lone text message. I read it , and let out a sharp cry, “No!” Startled, Sheri ran to me to find out what it was about. Unable to speak, I offered her the phone to read for herself. The words, from a friend, were terse, to the point: “Your friend Prof. Kofi Awoonor was killed in Kenya.”

The bearer of the message is a US-based Nigerian friend whose work takes him to Ghana from time to time. In the last three years, I always asked him to look in on Awoonor during his stay in Accra. He’d return and remark on the man’s stunning common touch and uncommon generosity.

Like many of my generation, I have had the rare luck of getting to know closely some of the writers and intellectuals whose works shaped my literary worldview. As a secondary school student enchanted by the works of African writers, I could never have imagined a scenario where I would physically meet – much less become close to – such giants as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nuruddin Farah, and – among those who have now danced and joined the ancestors – Chinua Achebe, Mokwugo Okoye, Lewis Nkosi, Kofi Awoonor.

Of Awoonor I have imperishable memories. I first met him in person in 1990 when he was Ghana’s permanent representative and ambassador at the UN. By then, I was a big fan of his poetry. I had also read and reread his intriguing, strangely confected novel,This Earth, My Brother…I was enthralled by the novel, having encountered nothing quite like it in African literature. I was a bit surprised to find him ambivalent about the work. On October 21, 1990, he autographed a copy of the book for me. He wrote in the book, “With the best of fraternal wishes – though the book is ‘old’ & the vision is slightly blurred.” He took greater pride in his second (and much less known) novel, Comes the Voyager at Last: A Tale of Return to Africa. He gave me a signed copy of the book on January 29, 1992. He marked it, “For Okey, in anticipation of his first child, and in the firm belief that he will keep firmly on the road – in the cause of our people.”

On first meeting him, I was struck by his effervescent intellect, the ease with which he navigated between the cultural matrices of his Ewe people and the literary traditions of different parts of the world. He was very fond of his aged mother, often telling me how, in conversations with her, she would be solicitous of his well being, as if he were still a teenager. “She’d sometimes scold me for not eating well. Or for keeping late nights,” Awoonor once shared.

Awoonor’s gifts to me were not only intellectual. In 1993, Japan hosted an international conference on Africa’s economic development. Most of Africa’s 50-odd countries sent delegates, with such heads of state as Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Nicephore Soglo of Benin Republic, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda physically present. One day, Awoonor telephoned and asked if I wanted to go. I did, I responded, but the magazine I was editing at the time couldn’t afford the cost. “Let me see what I can do,” he said. What he did was persuade the Japanese ambassador to the UN, with whom he had forged a friendship, to arrange my visit. I traveled to Japan for two weeks as a guest of the Japanese government. I was able to cover the conference, and also to spend time in three cities – Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara.

Wherever I met Awoonor – in New York, St. Louis, Accra, Port Harcourt, or Lagos – he came with that ready, resonant laughter that was something of a signature, those eyes that sparkled with life and seemed to peer right into your hidden thoughts, that bracing intelligence, and that zest for life. Rooted in the specificity of Ewe cultural mores, he was broad and complex enough to be an incurable pan-Africanist, unapologetic in his admiration for Kwame Nkrumah. He was a polyglot and a true renaissance man, an avid learner of languages and student of cultures. His book, The Breast of the Earthremains an attuned and insightful guide into African culture and literature. Out of his many travels and diplomats forays was spun a book titled The Latin American and Caribbean Notebook, a poetic tour de force filled with alluring observations, nostalgic memories, and sharp witHe was versed in several languages, including Spanish and Portuguese as well as several Ghanaian languages. His English was urbane, his diction sophisticated, and he’d cultivated a mellifluent delivery that could keep any audience spellbound.

As he grew older – he was killed at 78 – he clung to a stubborn youthful joy, had a rich, resonant laugh, and a sense of humor that was altogether becoming and infectious. He was amazingly generous, a man who sought to nurture younger writers – and who exuded great energy whenever he had young aspirant writers as an audience. In 2009, he brought his gifts – his gregariousness, eloquence, and passion for literature – to Port Harcourt where he and Soyinka headlined the inaugural edition of the now estimable Garden City Literary Festival. Many budding writers who took his master class spoke excitedly about his style, the way he’d challenged them, and his depth of knowledge.

Each evening, I looked forward to unwinding with him and Soyinka in the capacious lounge of the hotel. I’d listen to their repartee, two friends and contemporaries who had gone to many cultural battles together, who’d shared the enchantments and adventures of narrating a continent. Awoonor and I flew to Lagos on the same flight. Ifeoma Fafunwa, my brother-in-law’s wife, treated us to a smorgasbord of delicious Nigerian meals and an excellent red wine. The next morning, a friend of mine took us to Terra Kulture for a delectable brunch.

“Okey, I will see you in Accra,” Awoonor said to me as he boarded a cab to Murtala Muhammed Airport for his trip back to Ghana. Alas, that visit will never take place. Still, it is Awoonor, not his murderers, who will have the last word. For the future belongs to humanists like Kofi Awoonor, not depraved men who kill and maim in the name of God. Awoonor’s vision and intelligence and creative fecundity will continually to light our paths, renew our world and reinforce our humanity. His voice will rise, defiant, beyond the machinations of desiccated minds who delude themselves that a point is made through callous mass murder.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

(okeyndibe@gmail.com)

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

PHOTONOEWS: Wole Soyinka And Other International Writers Pay Tirbute To Kofi Awoonor In Lagos.


 

Remembering Kofi Awoonor: Humanity And Against By Wole Soyinka

I am certain there are others who, like me, received invitations to the recent edition of the Storymoja/Hay Literature Festival in Nairobi, but could not attend. My absence was particularly regrettable, because I had planned to make up for my failure to turn up for the immediate prior edition. Participant or absentee however, this is one edition we shall not soon forget.
It was at least two days after the listing of Kofi Awoonor among the victims that I even recollected the fact that the Festival was ongoing at that very time. With that realization came another:  that Kofi and I could have been splitting a bottle at that same watering hole in between events and at the end of each day. My feelings, I wish to state clearly, did not undergo any changes. The emotions of rage, hate and contempt remained on the same qualitative and quantitative levels. Those are the feelings I have retained since the Boko Haram onslaught overtook the northern part of our nation. I expect them to remain at the same level until I draw my last breath, hopefully in peaceful circumstances like Chinua Achebe, or else violently like Kofi. As becomes daily clarified in contemporary existence, none of us has much control over these matters.

Two earlier commitments were responsible for my inability to attend the Festival. One was a public conversation with a very brave individual, Karima Bennoune, an Algerian national, whose trenchant publication – YOUR FATWA DOES NOT APPLY HERE – is of harrowing pertinence to the events of Nairobi, a pertinence that continues to ravage our, and other nations. The other preventive factor was the annual conference of International Investigators in Tunis, doing battle with the monster of Corruption. The link of the former event is obvious enough, but if you think the latter has no relevance to what has happened in Nairobi, or is taking place in the northern part of this nation, permit me to correct you.

Yes, we all know of material corruption, we confront it all the time. Tragically neglected however is what we should learn to designate as spiritual corruption. Those who organized and carried out the outrage on innocent lives in Nairobi are carriers of the most lethal virus of corruption imaginable – corruption of the soul, corruption of the spirit, corruption of that animating humanistic essence that separates us from predatory beasts. I am no theologian of any religion, but I aver that these assailants delude themselves with vistas of paradise after life, that their delusion is born of the perverted reading of salvation and redemption. Those who attempt to divide the world into two irreconciliable parts – believers against the rest – are human aberrations. As for their claims to faith, they invoke divine authority solely as a hypocritical cover for innate psychopathic tendencies. Their deeds and utterances profane the very name of God or Allah.

Let us however abandon theology and simply designate them enemies of humanity, leaving a very real question that the rest of us must resolve – whether this breed even belongs to the human race, or should be seen as a mutant sub-species that require both moral and scientific definitions. We cannot continue to pretend that those who have set their sight against that enabling spark that we call creativity, those who arrogate to themselves the right to dispose of innocent lives at will, belong within the same moral universe to which you and I belong. Without a moral universe, humanity exists in limbo.

Not since Apartheid has our humanity been so intensely and persistently challenged and stressed on this continent. History repeats, or more accurately re-asserts itself, as a murdering minority pronounce themselves a superior class of beings to all others, assume powers to decide the mode of existence of others, of association, decide who shall live and who shall die, who shall shake hands with whom even as daily colleagues, who shall dictate and who shall submit. The cloak of Religion is a tattered alibi, the real issue – as always – being Power and Submission, with the instrumentality of Terror. Let us objectively assess the true nature of the dominion that they seek to establish in place of the present ‘dens of sin and damnation, of impurity and decadence’ in which the rest of us supposedly live. We do not need to seek far, the models are close by – they will be found in contested Somalia. In now liberated Mali.

Fitfully in Mauritania. In those turbid years of enchained Algeria, and her yet unconsolidated business of secularism. Theirs is the dominion of exclusion. Of irrationality and restraints on daily existence. A loathing of creativity and plurality. It is the dominion of Apartheid by gender. Of the demonization of difference. It is the dominion of Fear. Let us determine that, on this continent, we shall not accept that, after victory over race as card of citizen validation, Religion is entered and established as substitute on the passport, not only for citizen recognition, but even to entitlement to residence on earth.
After the deadly calling card of these primitives, the rest of the Nairobi Festival was cancelled. Understandably, but sadly.  I have however written to the organizers not to even bother to renew my invitation for next year’s edition – life permitting, I shall be there. We must all be there. And we must learn to smother loss in advance, not just for that Festival but for all Festivals of Life and Creativity wherever in the world.  Resolve that, no matter the tragic intervention, such events must run their course. Let us accept, quite simply, that a force of violent degeneracy has declared war on humanity. Thus, we are fated to be ever present on the battlefield until that war is over.

I submit that we were all present at that concourse of humanity in Nairobi. We were present by the side of every maimed and fallen victim, among who was a distinguished one of us, one of the very best that have defined us to the world. We were present in Mali even before this nation, to her credit, joined in stemming the tide of religious atavism and human retrogression. We were beside the students of Kaduna, Plateau, Borno, the school children of Yobe, the mangled okada riders and petty traders of Kano, beside all those who have been routinely slaughtered for so many years past in this very nation. In Nairobi’s hub of commerce we were present, confronted yet again with that same diabolical test that was applied to school pupils in Kano many years ago, where those who failed to recite the indicated verse of the koran were classified as infidels, and led away to have their throats serially slit. We have been present at the travails of Algeria, recorded for posterity by that lady Karima Bennoune  in YOUR FATWA DOES NOT APPLY HERE. We were beside Tahar Djaout, author of THE LAST SEASON OF UNREASON, cut down also by religious fanatics. We are the mere survivors who continually ask, when will this stop? Where will this end? The ones who echo Karima and that miraculous survivor Malala in declaiming – No indeed, your fatwa can never apply here. We have been beside the children of Cherchyna in the Soviet Union, innocents who, taken hostage, were reduced to drinking their own urine, then deliberately gunned down as they made their way out of a school gymnasium that had turned into an inferno. We continue to remain beside all who have fallen to the blight of bigotry, religious solipsism and spiritual toxicity. We shall continue to stand beside them, denouncing, condemning, but most critically, urging on all who can to anticipate, stem, and ultimately eliminate the tide of religious tyranny. We have taken the side of Humanity against those who are against.
At this very time of the latest outrage, the world body, known as the United Nations Organization was actually convened in General Assembly. We must instigate  that body to evolve, through just, principled, but severe and uncompromising action, into a United Humanity Organisation, that is, thinking not simply ‘nation’, but acting ‘humanity’. It means going beyond pietisms such as – this or that is a religion of peace, but obliging its members to act aggressively in neutralizing those whose acts pronounce the contrary, so that Humanity is placed as the first and last principle of nation existence and global cohabitation. The true divide is not between believers and unbelievers, but between those who violate the right of others to believe, or not believe.

Memories that span fifty or more years are difficult to distill into a few words. Suffice it to stress for now that Kofi Awoonor was a passionate African, that is, he gave primacy of place to values derived from his Ewe heritage.  That, in turn, means that he was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of ecumenism towards other systems of belief and cultural usages – this being the scriptural ethos that permeates belief practices of most of this continent. We mourn our colleague and brother, but first we denounce his killers, the virulent sub-species of humanity who bathe their hands in innocent blood. Only cowards turn deadly weapons against the unarmed, only the depraved glorify in, or justify the act. True warriors do not wage wars against the innocent. Profanity is the name given to the defilement of the sanctity of human life. We call on those who claim to exercise the authority of a fatwa to pronounce that very doom, with all its moral weight, upon those who engage in this serial violation of the right to life, life as a god-given possession that only the blasphemous dare contradict, and the godless wantonly curtail. This scalp that they have added to their collection was roof to a unique brain that a million of their kind can never replace.

A few months ago, in New York, on a joint platform of the United Nations and UNESCO, I entered an urgent plea into the proceedings of that International Conference on the Culture of Peace: Take Back Mali!, I urged.  At home, I impressed that urgent necessity on our own government. I know that Kofi Awoonor, poet, diplomat and democrat, would approve my commendation – in this specific respect at least – of the action of our and other ECOWAS governments – albeit after France had taken the critical lead – in taking back Mali. I especially applaud the outgoing Foreign Affairs Ambassador Gbenga Ashiru, who hearkened to that imperative of speedy intervention and urged it with vigour and urgency on the African Union. We salute the courage and sacrifices of the soldiers who reversed the agenda of the interlopers – al Queda and  company – with their arrogant designs on those freedoms that define who we are in this region, and on the continent itself. Safeguarding freedoms, alas, goes beyond even the most intense passion and will of the poetic Muse, and we must never shy away from acknowledging this cruel reality. Those who believe that a tepid, accomodative approach to fundamentalist rampage can generate peace and human dignity should study – as I have often urged – the experience of Algeria, captured with such chilling diligence in Karima Bennoune’s work. The cost of ‘taking back Algeria’ is one that will be reckoned in human deficit – and unbelievable courage – for generations to come. Today, I urge all forces of progress to – Take Back Africa! Rescue her from the forces of darkness that seek to inaugurate a new regimen of religious despotism, ruthless beyond what our people have known even under the imperial will of Europe.

These butchers continue to evoke the mandate of Islam, thus, we exhort our moslem brother and sister colleagues:  Take back Islam. Take back that Islam which, even where it poses contradictions, declares itself one with the Culture of Learning, one that honours its followers as People of the Book, historic proponents of the virtues of intellect and its products. There is no religion without contradictions – it is the primacy of human dignity and solidarity that serves as arbiter.  We call upon the fastidious warrior class of the intellect, steeped in a creative contempt and defiance of enemies of the humanistic pursuit. We speak here of that Islam that inspires solidarity with the Naguib Mafouzes of our trade, with the Tahar Djaouts, with the Karimas and the Mariama Bas, not the diabolism of al Shabbab, Boko Haram and their degenerate ilk. Let us join hands with the former, and enshrine their mission as the history prescribed destination of our creative urge. What Nairobi teaches – and not just this recently – is that there is no place called Elsewhere. Elsewhere has always been right here with us, and in the present. I urge upon you this mandate: seize back your Islam and thus, take back our continent and, in that restorative undertaking – take back our humanity.
—Professor Soyinka delivered this tribute today at a gathering of Nigerian writers at the Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos.

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

Ghanaian Author Kofi Awoonor Killed In Kenya.


By SaharaReporters, New York

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 Earthis 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.

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