Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has said that the late Ghanaian diplomat and poet, Kofi Awoonor and himself could have been together at the Storymoja/Hay Literature Festival held in Nairobi, Kenya.
He said he was invited to the same festival but could not attend.
Awoonor was killed by terrorists last Saturday at the Westgate Shopping Mall shooting in Nairobi.
Soyinka said two commitments: a public conversation with a very brave individual, Karima Bennoune, an Algerian national, whose trenchant publication – Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, and the annual conference of international investigators in Tunis, were responsible for his inability to attend the festival.
He said: “My absence was particularly regrettable, because I had planned to make up for my failure to turn up for the immediate prior edition. Participant or absentee however, this is one edition we shall not soon forget. It was at least two days after the listing of Kofi Awoonor among the victims that I even recollected the fact that the Festival was ongoing at that very time.
“With that realisation came another: that Kofi and I could have been splitting a bottle at that same watering hole in between events and at the end of each day. My feelings, I wish to state clearly, did not undergo any changes. The emotions of rage, hate and contempt remained on the same qualitative and quantitative levels,” he added.
Soyinka spoke in Lagos yesterday during a memorial reading session tagged Humanity and Against and held in honour of the late Ghanaian poet.
He described the late Awoonor as a passionate African who gave primacy of place to values derived from his Ewe heritage. “That, in turn, means that he was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of ecumenism towards other systems of belief and cultural usages – this being the scriptural ethos that permeates belief practices of most of this continent. We mourn our colleague and brother, but first, we denounce his killers, the virulent sub-species of humanity who bathe their hands in innocent blood,” he added.
Renowned poet, Prof JP Clark explained why Soyinka and himself were not at the funeral of the late Chinua Achebe at Ogidi, Anambra State, blaming it on politicians that hijacked the funeral. He noted that Prof Soyinka and himself did not sit and plot action on whether or not to attend Achebe’s funeral in Ogidi.
“Politicians hijacked the Achebe’s funeral. I said to myself, if there is life after death, Achebe would be laughing at the politicians. So, writers could not have found a space in Achebe’s funeral. From the President to the Governors, they hijacked it,” he noted.
Clark said critics might be wondering why a memorial is being held in honour of Awoonor in Lagos unlike when Chinua Achebe died.
President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Prof Remi Raji, who read from his collection of poems, The Fire Next Time, said of the late Ghanaian poet: “African literature has indeed lost an influential voice. The name, Kofi Awoonor, was very present in our minds as young students. Though I never met him in person, his writings have been influential. The ANA has sent a condolence letter to the Ghana authority. Today’s memorial is very instructive. His death is a reflection of the urban barbarisms in the globe today.”
Other scholars who read excerpts at the memorial were Prof Kole Omotoso, Prof Femi Osofisan, Dr. Wale Okediran and Lola Shoneyin.