A day before he was brutally killed by Somali-based terrorist group Al-Shaabab, acclaimed poet, politician and former Council of State Chairman Professor Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor told a group of poets and literary luminaries from both West and East Africa that he was not afraid of death.
He was in Nairobi as a guest at the popular literary festival called the Hay Festival for literary works in Africa.
In a speech about his poetry, he stated, “I am unafraid of death,” as if he had a premonition about his death.
Our visit to the Kenyan capital Nairobi for firsthand information about the tragic incident revealed that Kenyan literary establishment was mourning a departed colleague whom they had invited for the festival.
Professor Awoonor was said to have indicated a few weeks before his death how his funeral should be marked, opting for cremation and that his ashes must be interred at a spot in Wheta, his hometown in the Volta Region.
According to Prof Kofi Anyidoho, co-chair of the funeral planning committee, a testament written by the late Council of State Chairman indicated that mourners should not wail at his funeral.
The funeral rites would run from October 3 to October 11; and the final interment of the ashes on November 9.
We gathered from some participants at the literary festival in Nairobi that after delivering his speech, between 9:00am and 10:00am on Saturday, September 21, Professor Awoonor decided to go to the Westgate Shopping Mall three kilometers away from the Kenyan National Museum where the festival was taking place, to pick up some groceries and get a cup of caffe latte at a popular coffee shop in the Westgate Mall called the Art Caffe.
Unknown to him, at that exact moment, the terrorists had laid siege on the up-market Nairobi shopping mall.
He and his son Afetsi Awoonor were among the first casualties as they drove into the parking lot of the mall.
While he was shot dead, his son escaped with gunshot wounds on the shoulder.
At 5:00pm, he was expected to be back at the National Museum to participate in literary discussions of renowned poets in West and East Africa in an event tagged, “East Engages West.”
He was among a group of West African poets that included Kwame Dawes, Nii Parkes, Fatou Were and East African poets such as Rashida Namulondo, Pamela Orogot, Kelly Taremwa and Clifton Gachagua.
According to Tony Mochama, a poet and a journalist based in Nairobi, the news of Prof. Awoonor’s cold-blooded killing by Al-Shaabab “rippled like a seismic wave.”
Apparently on Thursday, September 19, 2013, Tony Mochama, also the Secretary General of Kenya’s Poverty Eradication Network (PEN), had met Prof. Awoonor at the media centre of the Storymoja Hay Festival and exchanged pleasantries with him.
“I only met Professor Awoonor briefly at the Storymoja Hay Festival at sunset on the last Thursday of his life, walking into the media centre there, and one wishes one had said something more profound than ‘pleased to meet you sir,” Tony Mochama stated.
Professor Awoonor was killed alongside 67 others when Al-Shaabab militants stormed the shopping centre firing sophisticated weapons at unsuspecting shoppers indiscriminately.
It appeared the late poet was well prepared for his own death, as family sources stated that he had already made his own funeral arrangements and directed that it should be graced by only 250 mourners.
A Kenyan Hero
Professor Awoonor had become a phenomenon in Kenya. Of all those killed in the tragic mall siege, he was probably the only foreigner that had received the most eulogies from the Kenyan public.
Indeed since last Friday, major Kenyan national newspapers consistently dedicated pages to his memory.
The Daily Nation was the first to commit a prominent space in its pages to eulogies to the Ghanaian literary luminary.
The newspaper reproduced his poem “Rediscovery” verbatim on their centre spread.
The following day, Daily Nation, which is Kenya’s biggest selling daily newspaper with a circulation of over 100,000 copies, dedicated their weekend magazine section to the late former Council of State Chairman.
Close on its heels is the Standard Newspaper – Kenya’s second biggest selling newspaper. The publication anchored its entertainment page on memories of Prof. Awoonor.
Other newspapers such as The Star had also written extensive articles on the late English professor.
As at press time on Sunday, the Kenyan government, in collaboration with several foreign intelligence agencies, was busily sifting through pieces of evidence they gathered at the crime scene in a bid to apprehend members of the terrorist group that carried out the infamous attack.
About 11 suspected members had been caged by Kenyan authorities.
We gathered that three of them had been released. The reason for their release was not immediately known because Kenyan officials were tight-lipped about details of the investigation. But it was believed that after screening the apprehended suspects, the three were found not to be part of the massacre.
Kenyans believe in literary works and they have accounted for this by splashing so many kind words on the late professor.
“Professor Awoonor is of course the Swallow that visited us with his iridescent plumage,” noted Tony Mochama.