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Prof. Kofi Awoonor , your name will be mentioned in dispatches
E. Ablorh-Odjidja

A death in such an atrocious circumstance should not be wished upon anybody. But did those murderers ever know your work, read a single line of your poem or grasped the pathos of it all?

Rest in peace, Professor Efo Kofi Awoonor. Your "name will be mentioned in dispatches." And I should add that it would come with the medals too.

I knew Prof. Awoonor. He was a friend and a mentor to the writer’s world. He encouraged me to keep the craft going; at a younger age while working at GBC-TV. At that time, he was the Managing Director of the then Ghana Film Unit. And I had just started in television production. I revered him as a role model.

The last time I saw him was in 2007 when my wife and I visited him at his house at Haatso in Accra. Fortunately, I had my video camera with me and I got him to speak on some subjects of interest.

But the phrase “your name will be mentioned in dispatches” particularly sticks to my mind now because it brings up another memory of a kind generous man, Charles Segbefia, a colleague at GBC and a mutual friend.

Between Charles and Kofi there was always a shared camaraderie. The famous phrase “dispatches” was shared between them as greeting and a handle to some humor that only the two of them understood back then.

For a long while, I was to remain a neophyte to the meaning expressed in the phrase “mentioned in dispatches” until I asked Prof. Awoonor about it.

“Efo,” meaning elder, "what does your name will be mentioned in dispatches mean,” I asked.

What followed was a humorous description of the fate of the soldiers of the West African Forces who had fought in WWII with numerous instances of bravery cited, particular in places like Burma.

According to Efo Kofi Awoonor, their brave acts back then were recognized only on paper - in the various dispatches that were sent to headquarters while the same brave acts on the front lines, cited for them on paper, earned real medals for the white officers who were some distance away from the front lines.

There at once was Prof. Awoonor, displaying the nationalism that sparked and energized his soul; that was also to earn him a place in history as a writer, a politician and now as martyr to a senseless brutality.

Prof. Awoonor was known early in the days of Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP as one of the "Socialist Boys". They were the intellectuals among the young and the old party members. Truly, the coup of February 24, 1966 was to scatter this group and to dissipate the energy of a period that many had considered Africa’s renaissance.

After years of absence from our mutual home of Ghana, we were to meet again in New York City, when I moved there to continue with graduate schooling at Columbia University. He was then teaching at Stony Brook University.

“Behold Efo” I said to him at our encounter, “we are now travelers. Hopefully, we will not return home covered with debt.”

Back in Ghana, when he was the boss of the Film Unit, I used to visit his office after work to have sessions of conversation with him on literature and a myriad of other subjects. His advice to me those days was that a writer should not be timid.

During this same time, I got exposed to how intense a poet Prof. Awonoor was. On one occasion, we met at Keta to shoot scenes from some of his poems for educational television program at GBC-TV. Again with his friend Charles Segbefia by his side and another writer whose name I faintly recall now as a Mr. Dawes.

In that program, Prof. Awoonor strolled on the beach as he recited one of his own poems. The words have been meaningful ever since. And now more so, since they reflect the life of the downtrodden as this extract from his poem Discovery tells

My people, I have been somewhere
If I turn here, the rain beats me
If I turn there the sun burns me
The firewood of this world
Is for only those who can take heart
That is why not all can gather it.
The world is not good for anybody
But you are so happy with your fate;
Alas! the travellers are back
All covered with debt
Something has happened to me
The thing’s so great that I cannot weep.

What debt Efo Kofi owed mother Africa he paid fully with his writings and poetry and now with buckets of his blood in the terrorist siege in Kenya, on September 21, 2013.

I strain to understand how such a despicable, immoral act could take away a life so illustrious. What or who do we replace Efo Kofi with?

Not that every life is not precious. But do we replace him with one of these killers shouting “God is great”? Which God, yours or mine? It can’t be the same God for the rest of us. Or that of any sane human that walks this earth and thinks about God’s grace and boundless mercies.

This murder can’t be the desire of the God of salvation and compassion. This act is the incarnation of evil itself.

The last time we spoke, Prof. Kofi Awoonor disagreed with me on some issues of ideology and politics. But this would be a conversation for another day. A writer must not be timid, I reminded myself. Fortunately, he was the author of that very thought.

Prof. Kofi Awoonor, in some instances and on some issues, might have been wrong. But he wasn’t timid. He had a very complex character that was appropriate for a writer of his stature. May his soul rest in peace.

And now my eulogy to Efo Kofi

When the dirges are written
And sang in cadences
In the rhythm of memory
May Efo Kofi stand tall
In the line up
Of writers and ancestors.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, publisher,, Washington, DC, September 24, 2013

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