BY SYLVESTER ASOYA
Kofi Awoonor is Ghana’s most famous poet. This extraordinary African bard, novelist, dramatist, actor, scholar, politician, diplomat and statesman left a profound impact on the world. But there is something clearly ironic about the tragic death of this great African on 21 September, 2013. Awoonor was murdered by terrorists at Kenya’s Westgate Mall while attending Storymoja Hay Festival as an important participant.
For those who may not be aware, Storymoja Hay is a unique fiesta that promotes thinking and writing. It also believes in spreading literacy, celebrating ideas and encouraging storytelling through engagement and conversation. Awoonor was in Kenya living and promoting these great ideals that many people in the civilised world, still regard as the highest, when death came unexpectedly. And the man died. In Awoonor, the prodigious writer and humanist, the world lost a great man.
Nonetheless, humanity still remembers him in many ways. While some remember him as a high achiever who accomplished a lot in different fields, others recall his youthful spirit and the great relationships he built across the world. But the poet also lives eternally in his books and his unusual life of service, and this is remarkable. His work, Songs of Sorrow, remains one of the greatest pessimistic poems of all time. In this writing, Awoonor shows class with his description, narration and use of language as he weaves his gripping account, expertly with good knowledge of African culture and values. Apart from the prevalence of themes of hopelessness and pessimism in this exceptional work, it is apparent that this brilliant Ghanaian is a naturally gifted poet who uses the power of poetry to mirror society for social order. Like writers of his generation and those after them, Awoonor also deploys words in different genres to teach enduring lessons. His books are also very relevant when the issues centre on evaluating decolonization of Africa and the effects of western influence on the continent. In fact, this Ghanaian is an unusual African poet.
In Songs of Sorrow, a requiem, the narrator bemoans his fate and the disaster that has befallen his household. And like some Africans in traditional settings, he blames his ancestors for not doing enough to protect them from the land of the dead. In spite of the hopelessness and lamentations, the voice still manages to plead with Agosu who recently joined their ancestors for reprieve. The narrator wants Agosu to relay their distressing message of suffering and despair to their forebears on the side for necessary action.
No one reads this piece of good writing without holding the great poet in awe.
Returning is not possible
And going forward is a great difficulty
The affairs of this world are like the
Into which I have stepped
When I clean it cannot go
My people, I have been some where
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 happy with your fate
These are some of the immortal lines from Songs of Sorrow, one of his works that established him as a great writer. But the accomplished author also wrote many other important and provocative works across genres like Rediscovery and Other Stories, Night of My Blood, The House by The Sea, This Earth, My Brother, The Promise of Hope, Comes the Voyager at Last, The African Predicament, The Breast of the Earth, Until the Morning After, Ghana and more.
Undoubtedly, his people, back in his country, are bound to never forget him. Awoonor brought tremendous respect, honour and goodwill to Ghana as a distinguished diplomat who served diligently as his country’s representative at the United Nations for many years. But then, Ghana is also not new to knowledge-based governance, a model that was actually adopted by the country’s founding fathers shortly after their independence in 1957. In fact, Kwame Nkrumah’s ideology of a new Ghana that consciously projected her culture and civilisation to the outside world, was driven by technocrats and knowledgeable people who brought information and insight into government in those early days. Nkrumah, who was Ghana’s first Prime Minister, fully appreciated the role of intellectuals in the political development of his country and he did not hesitate to deploy them. This is the tradition Awoonor and some people in government during his time and even till this day, inherited and espoused.
I wish Nigerians could look back and think for a moment, the impact of a Wole Soyinka or a Chinua Achebe at the UN.
The tragic end of Awoonor reminds every one every day, of the threat our common world faces in the hands of bigots. Among these dangerous extremists are also those who dish out daily, their awfully venomous public statements about killing fellow human beings, dying for God and going straight to paradise for the murder of fellow human beings. What an absurdity! These lunatics and their sponsors are the real dangers to mankind and the world must know this. No one should die for his belief, no matter the circumstance. And truth be told, there is no peace or heaven for a killer. So, in the final analysis, good must overcome evil, and that is the only way to save our common humanity and avoid a repeat of the Westgate Mall horror.
Awoonor, rest eternally.