Celebrated Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor was among the 59 people confirmed dead with 175 injured Sunday in an attack by Somali Islamist rebels, Al-Shabab, on a Nairobi shopping mall, Westgate, where the well-armed militants confronted thousands of shoppers.
Reacting to the attack on the Kenyan shopping mall, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday condemned it and extended his heartfelt condolences to the country's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and its citizens.
Agence France Presse (AFP) quoted Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama as expressing deep shock in a statement he issued in Accra. "I am shocked to hear of the death of Prof. Kofi Awoonor in the Nairobi mall terrorist attack. Such a sad twist of fate..." he said
Awoonor, 78, was killed while shopping with his son at the Westgate Mall, Ghana's Deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu added. His son was injured and has been discharged from the hospital, Ofosu said.
Awoonor was Ghana's representative to the United Nations under the presidency of Jerry Rawlings from 1990 to 1994, and was also president of the Council of State, an advisory body to the president, under former President John Atta Mills. He stepped down from that role earlier this year.
He was a renowned writer, most notably for his poetry inspired by the oral tradition of the Ewe people, to which he belonged, AFP reported.
Much of his best work was published in Ghana's immediate post-independence period, part of which he spent in exile outside the country after the country's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, whom Awoonor was close to, was overthrown in a coup. His books included 'Rediscovery and Other Poems', published in 1964.
Meanwhile, CNN reported yesterday that about 30 hostages were still inside the mall, as well as perhaps a dozen gunmen.
Kenyatta told reporters yesterday that the Kenyan people had showed resilience as a nation and would triumph against the attackers.
The tragedy was also personal; one of his nephews and his fiancee were among the 59 people killed.
"They shall not get away with their despicable, beastly acts. Like the cowardly perpetrators now cornered in the building, we will punish the masterminds swiftly and indeed very painfully," Kenyatta said.
Kenyan government and Western diplomatic sources said Al-Shabaab militants were holding about 30 hostages inside the shopping centre. There are 10 to 15 gunmen involved, Kenyatta said.
More than 175 people were injured in the attack, Kenyatta said, offering his support to the wounded and relatives of the dead. He said he and other Kenyan officials visited hospitals yesterday morning. "No one should lose their life so needlessly, so senselessly and no family should have to receive news that their loved ones have been killed by a criminal bunch of cowards," he said.
It was the deadliest terror attack in Kenya since al Qaeda blew up the US Embassy there in 1998, killing 213 people.
The attack which started on Saturday targeted a popular weekend meeting spot. Kenyans and expatriates gather at the luxurious Westgate Shopping Mall on weekends to drink lattes, catch a movie or browse through the more than 80 stores.
Al-Shabaab, al Qaeda's proxy in Somalia, claimed responsibility, and said it was not backing down. In a message on its Twitter feed, the group said "all Muslims" were escorted from the mall before the attack.
"When justice is denied, it must be enforced," it said in a tweet yesterday. "Kenyans were relatively safe in their cities before they invaded us and killed Muslims."
Since Kenya launched attacks against Al-Shabaab in Somalia in 2011, the group has hurled grenades at Kenyan churches, bus stops and other public places.
Last year, the Kenyan military played a major role in handing Al-Shabaab forces a defeat when as part of a peacekeeping mission, they liberated the key Somali port of Kismayo.
Jonathan also joined the rest of the world in condemning the atrocious, callous and abominable attack on defenceless Kenyans and foreign nationals at the Westgate Shopping Mall in the Kenyan capital.
In a statement issued by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, the president assured his "Kenyan counterpart and the people of Kenya of Nigeria's sympathy and full solidarity as they grapple with the consequences of the attack and strive to end the terrorist siege.
"President Jonathan further assures them that in keeping with the spirit of recent agreements for enhanced bilateral cooperation between Nigeria and Kenya, the federal government will give all possible support and assistance to Kenya in its efforts to contain the scourge of terrorism and avoid a recurrence of yesterday's heinous attack on Nairobi."
Jonathan prayed for God's comfort for all those who lost loved ones in the attack and to grant the injured speedy recovery.