Kofi Awoor: Simplicity and Commitment
By Muli wa Kyendo
The best writers make friends and influence people. With his poetry, Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet achieved this feat and developed followers around the world. I am among those followers, having been introduced to his poetry as a student in secondary school in Nairobi. I was sure I wanted to write like him – using my people’s culture to make profound statements in simple, accessible language, imagery and idioms. It’s a goal I still strive to reach.
To us, as youths, this was not only a brilliant insight; it was a dramatic encapsulization of the brutality of life – the vicious trap in which humanity finds itself caught-up. Indeed, the affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces into which we step. When we clean it cannot go. It was an imagery that any boy raised in rural Africa could understand. Henceforth, when faced with a dilemma; Dave and I would remind each other of the poem in a secret code understood only by the two of us. And we would laugh, as Dave would say, “Like an African.”
Later in life, I have found myself often quoting the poem to others and being frustrated that they couldn’t laugh like an African – loud and prolonged. Without knowing whence it came, perhaps they couldn’t understand the significance.
At home, the sea is in the town
Kofi was sadly among more than 69 people killed in Nairobi in a ghastly attack of a high-class shopping mall, the Westgate, by the Somali gunmen of the Al-Shabaab Islamists on September 21, 2013. He was in Nairobi at the invitation of a local writers group, Storymoja to participate in its Hay Festival and to impart some of his knowledge and skills to a new generation of writers.
In a statement the organizers of the even said: “We were honoured to be graced by his 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.” The Festival was brought to an end on Saturday evening "in sympathy with those who have lost their lives or were injured" and for the safety of attendees.
Kofi’s best known publications include Rediscovery, a volume of poetry and this This Earth, My Brother. That his death dominated news all over the world is a clear testimony of the amount of people he had made friends with and influenced through in writing.
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