ACCRA, Sept 22 – Renowned Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor was among the 59 people confirmed dead so far in an attack by Somali Islamist militants on a Nairobi shopping mall, Ghana’s president said Sunday.
John Dramani Mahama said in a statement: “I am shocked to hear the death of Prof. Kofi Awoonor in Nairobi mall terrorist attack. Such a sad twist of fate…”
Awoonor, 78, was killed while shopping with his son in the Westgate mall, Ghana’s Deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu said.
His son was injured and has been discharged from the hospital, Ofosu said. Awoonor had been due to appear at the Storymoja Hay literary festival in Nairobi on Saturday.
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.
Much of his best work was published in Ghana’s immediate post-independence period, part of which he spent in exile after the first president Kwame Nkrumah, whom Awoonor was close to, was overthrown in a coup.
His books included “Rediscovery and Other Poems,” published in 1964.
Awoonor returned to Ghana in 1975 and was later arrested and tried over his suspected involvement in a coup, according to a biography from the US-based Poetry Foundation.
He was released after 10 months, and the foundation said his imprisonment influenced his book “The House by the Sea”.
During his time in the United States in the early 1970s, Awoonor was chairman of the Department of Comparative Literature at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
He was also Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil and Cuba in the 1980s, the foundation said.
Kenyan troops were locked in a fierce firefight with Somali militants inside the upmarket Nairobi shopping mall Sunday in a final push to end the siege.
Somalia’s Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels said the carnage at the part Israeli-owned complex was in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia, where African Union troops are battling the Islamists.
The Westgate mall is popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates, and was packed with around 1,000 shoppers when the gunmen marched in at midday Saturday, tossed grenades and sprayed automatic gunfire on terrified people.