Poet Kofi Awoonor, 78, was killed over the weekend in an attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Born in Ghana, Awoonor was one of the most famous and widely respected African literary figures. His early poetry in particular celebrated the oral poetry of his native Ewe people, and his work often dealt with the effects of Western imperialism in his native Ghana and in Africa as a whole.
The literary community has been swift to honor Awoonor in the wake of the shootings at Westgate Mall, which have already killed 62 and are still ongoing as of press time. Fellow Ghanaian, the playwright Professor Ama Ataa Aidoo, issued a statement saying that she was “devastated” by his death, calling it a loss for the country as a whole. Other African writers took to social media to express their sorrow.
Many fans have also honored Awoonor by sharing lines of his poetry.
Awoonor, who also served as an ambassador to the United Nations in the early 1990s, was visiting Kenya to participate in the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four day festival featuring talks and master classes by a diverse array of writers from all over Africa. The festival has been cancelled in light of the violence in the city, but the directors issued a statement saying:
“We were honoured to be graced by [Awoonor’s] appearance at Storymoja Hay Festival, and deeply humbled by his desire to impart knowledge to the young festival audience. Professor Awoonor was one of Africa's greatest voices and poets and will forever remain a beacon of knowledge and strength and hope.”
Awoonor’s son was also injured in the shootings. The group Al Shabaab, a Somali-based militia, has taken credit for the attacks.