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Nov 6, 2013

Forum held in New York in honour of Prof. Kofi Awoonor


A forum has been held in Manhattan, New York in memory of Prof. Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor, former Council of State chairman, who was among 67 people killed in the terrorist attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Kenya on September 21, this year.

Dubbed “I will say it Before Death Comes”, it attracted the academia, business class, policy makers, development professionals, civil society, students, Ghanaians and Kenyans living in New York and New Jersey.

It was organised by the African Development Institute (ADI) and the Harvard University Club (HUC) as part of the Africa Now Policy Series, dedicated to discussing contemporary African issues.

Dr Kwame Akonor, Board chairman of the ADI, explained that the memorial to Prof Awoonor was primarily because of his ideals and convictions as a Pan-Africanist, who believed in the need for Africa to have autonomy and agency in directing African affairs, rather than relegating its destiny to outside and external powers.

He posited that the way Prof Awoonor died through an act of fratricidal terror at the hands of people who had deluded themselves into thinking that they were advancing the cause of Africa by committing such an act, could never be justified.

Mr Joseph Ackon, Consul-General of the Ghana Mission, New York, who spoke on behalf of Ambassador Ken Kanda, Ghana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations said the late Prof Awoonor led a fulfilled life, having served his country  in various capacities, as a political activist, diplomat, educationist, literary scholar, poet and novelist.  Aside his love for Ghana and passion for the arts to succeed, Prof Awoonor used traditional forms of oral poetry from his Ewe heritage to carve out a place in history as one of Africa’s most renowned writers.

“Instead of mourning him, let us celebrate him.  For, he died having achieved what very few people of his kind were able to achieve in his life time”, the Consul-General stated, adding that in life one should not lay so much emphasis on the length of time on this earth, but rather the quality of life one lives.

Dr Zachary Yamba, a retired Ghanaian Educationist, sharing his perspectives on Prof. Awoonor said his death “is a loss to humanity, but we are blessed by his works which are immortal and destined to re-awaken another generation to his literary and poetic genius”.

“As we gather to celebrate the life of this literary icon, I believe that the enduring legacy of Prof Awoonor will be for new generations to be inspired to continue the legacy of the griots…modern day griots whose poetry is a testament of the creative genius of our ancestors, Dr Yamba, a retired head of the Essex County College, New Jersey, added.

Furthermore, he tasked the new generation of students to be inspired by works of people like Dr Kwame Nkrumah and Kofi Awoonor, who supported the teaching of African Literature.

Dr Lawrence Freeman, a writer who once interviewed Kofi Awoonor described the latter as unique because he “spoke out truthfully, undiplomatically on the crucial issues facing the world and especially the plight of Africa”.

Issues addressed by the late Prof. Awoonor over two decades ago were still with us in the society, Dr Freeman recalled, noting that “the world is trapped in a spiraling global financial system, a profound economic crisis today, the cries out is for a new paradigm of economic development, a new paradigm of thinking”

“The lack of economic development of Africa was very dear to Prof Awoonor’s heart and he was never tired of criticizing those false conceptions, which unfortunately are still dominant popular opinion today, which insists that democracy is achievable without raising the standard of living of the people but which he disagreed.

He questioned the sincerity of the West today in still pontificating about democracy and human rights when millions of children under the age of two and five years died from malnutrition, hunger, diarrhea, malaria and respiratory infections.

Furthermore, Dr Freeman observed that Prof. Awoonor found affinity for the ideas of Mr La Rouche and his organisation who have been championing for 40 years, the need for a New Just World Economic Order, where poverty is eliminated and human beings use their creative poetic powers to advance to new plateaus of economic growth through the discovery and realisation of new scientific principles.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, a Kenyan Literacy scholar said it was the spirit of Pan-Africanism that sent Prof Awoonor to Kenya for Storymoja Hay Festival, for writers, where he met his death.

The Kenyan Deputy Representative to the United Nations, Ms Koki Muli Grignon, said there was the need to celebrate the lives of all the 67 people who died during the terrorist attacks in Kenya, because they didn’t die in vain.

She said the death of those innocent people had united the people of Kenya in the fight against terrorism for justice and peace.

Source: ISD (Harry Reynolds, New York)