Prominent poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor killed in Westgate attack

Kofi Awoonor was his country's envoy to the UN in 1990s; his son was wounded but survived

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 4:54am

Renowned Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor was among the people confirmed dead in an attack at a Nairobi shopping mall, Ghana's president said yesterday.

John Dramani Mahama said: "I am shocked to hear of the death of Prof Kofi Awoonor in [the] Nairobi mall terrorist attack. Such a sad twist of fate..."

Awoonor, 78, was killed and his son wounded at the Westgate Mall, Ghana's Deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu said. His son has been discharged from the hospital, Ofosu said.

Kwame Dawes, a poet and cousin of Awoonor who was in Nairobi at the time of the attack, said Awoonor and his son were separated when the shooting began.

"I think the son went to pick up something at the mall. Professor Awoonor was in the parking garage waiting for him," said Dawes, an academic in the US who was editing Awoonor's new poetry collection.

"The son was shot while he was inside the mall. We don't know at what point the professor was shot," Dawes added.

Awoonor was Ghana's representative to the United Nations under the presidency of Jerry Rawlings from 1990 to 1994, and was also president of the Council of State, an advisory body to the president. He stepped down from that role earlier this year.

He was a renowned writer, most notably for his poetry inspired by the oral tradition of the Ewe people, to which he belonged. Awoonor wrote in both English and Ewe, a language predominant in Ghana's east and other parts of west Africa.

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

During his time in the US in the early 1970s, Awoonor was chairman of the Department of Comparative Literature at the State University of New York.

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, Dawes said.

"Kofi Awoonor is easily one of the great poets of Africa and has been for many years," Dawes said.