President John Dramani Mahama yesterday called on Ghanaians to emulate frankness and justice that the late Professor Kofi Awoonor stood for during his lifetime.
He said: “Professor Awoonor was frank and humorous no matter how bitter the issue was”.
President Mahama said this when he joined scores of Ghanaians to celebrate the first anniversary of Prof Awoonor’s death as part of an international symposium organised in his memory at the University of Ghana, Legon.
He said: “Ghanaians will forever miss the late Prof Awoonor who was not only an intellectual, writer, poet, comrade, friend and Advisor whose tongue will remain in the minds of others”.
President Mahama said the late Prof Awoonor was always prepared for death as it was portrayed in his writings and urged all to be ready for any challenging circumstances.
Prof Awoonor (13 March 1935 – 21 September 2013) was a poet and author whose work combined the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during decolonization.
He taught African literature at the University of Ghana. Prof Awoonor was among those who were killed in the September 2013 attack at Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was a participant at the Storymoja Hay Festival.
Prof Awoonor was born in Ghana when it was still called the Gold Coast. He was the eldest of 10 children in the family and was educated at Achimota School and the University of Ghana.
While in the university, he wrote his first poetry book, Rediscovery, published in 1964. Like the rest of his work, Rediscovery is rooted in African oral poetry.
In Ghana, he managed the Ghana Film Corporation and founded the Ghana Play House. His early works were inspired by the singing and verse of his native Ewe people.
He then studied literature at University College London, and while in England he wrote several radio plays for the BBC.
He spent the early 1970s in the United States, studying and teaching at Stony Brook University (then called SUNY at Stony Brook). While in the USA he wrote ‘This Earth, My Brother and My Blood’.
Prof Awoonor returned to Ghana in 1975 as head of the English Department at the University of Cape Coast.
Within months he was arrested for helping a soldier accused of trying to overthrow the military government and was imprisoned without trial but was later released.
His work, ‘The House by the Sea’ is about his time in jail. After imprisonment, Prof Awoonor became politically active. He continued to write mostly nonfiction.
Prof Awoonor was Ghana’s Ambassador to Brazil from 1984 to 1988, before serving as ambassador to Cuba.
From 1990 to 1994 Prof Awoonor was Ghana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, where he headed the committee against apartheid. He was also a Chairman of the Council of State.