Al-Shabaab killed my brother, the poet
But when violence takes the teetering life-force of the aged the pain of loss is all the more acute. And we say to ourselves: “though they may have been with us for just a little while longer, they were forced to depart yet too soon.”
I was casually perusing social media and noticed a post by the Ghanaian poet and author Nii Ayikwei Parkes, assuring friends and followers that he was safe and accounted for on his visit to Kenya for the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi.
if an insect will bite you, you’ll find it in your own cloth
The post registered with me. It had been just a few hours after a hectic shift on a BBC News intake desk where initial reports of the horrific attack flooded in.
I offered a silent note of relief, glad and thankful that Nii Parkes wasn’t affected.
Sadly, not all would escape the warped retribution of the terrorists who attacked the now infamous Westgate Mall.
I discovered via another social media post that the eminent literary son of Ghana and diplomat Professor Kofi Awoonor was murdered in the Westgate Mall atrocities of 21 September 2013.
The Somali based al-Qaeda cell group, Al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility, announcing their orchestration of the attack on social media as reprisal for the Kenyan army’s offensive as part of the peace keeping African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
On reflection of all the harrowing reports that broke the Westgate Mall attack, perhaps the most callous by the al-Shabaab terrorist is the discriminate release of hostages who purported to be of the same faith.
Heartbreakingly, I wonder whether Prof Awoonor was given the same choice, was he able to plead his case, an aged man, a fellow African, experienced in wisdom, able to command attention with might of his pen.
A father who has lectured and shaped the minds of thousands of Africans in universities, schools and homes across the Diaspora?
‘Prof’ as Parkes reports he was affectionately called, was to address the Storymoja Festival ‘East Engages West’ event as part of a panel of West African poetry guests. He didn’t make it.
In Kenya the Swahili word “Umoja” is synonymous with a sense of unification, based on a very African sentiment of community and brotherhood of struggle, the opposite to any act of terror.
It is a sensibility that makes this African loss all the more painful; a pain that is perhaps best captured in the verse of the Ghanaian proverb loosely translated: “if an insect will bite you, you’ll find it in your own cloth”.