Kenyan soul sadly robbed from healing voices
Date Released: Wed, 25 September 2013 16:00 +0200
Creative Spirit THIS week's attack during a siege of a shopping mall in Kenya by the al Shabaab militant group was not only a fight for ideology but it will also be remembered as the day when Africa has lost some of its most important voices as a result of the violent attack.
Kofi Awoonor who was killed in the shopping mall attack was a Ghanaian poet and author whose work combined the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during decolonisation.
Awoonor was in Kenya to participate in the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day celebration of writing, thinking and storytelling. He was due to perform on Saturday evening before his death. The Ghanaian government confirmed his death the next day. His son was also shot, but was later discharged from hospital.
The celebratory Storymoja Hay Festival in which Awonoor was going to participate, has since been cancelled as display of respect to the families who will be mourning the losses of their loved ones.
The way in which different nations mourn is cultural specific but the decision to shut down the festival might not have been the right thing to do. The arts are more than just about celebrations.
The arts have an enormous potential to provide a catharsis, healing and therapy when it is most needed.
During this tragic time in Kenya, this festival could have used the power of its creative intellectual capital to offer hope and comfort to a continent that is reeling with disappointment that an al Shabaab operative brought the life of one of Africa's most distinguished writers and intellectuals to an end in such a violent, hideous and public manner.
Non-violent and very ordinary citizens often become the fodder in militant operations. It is a sad and painful reality.
For young South Africans in Cape Town, the Westgate Mall massacre will also be remembered for robbing them of the life of James Thomas, a South African who was killed in the attack. Thomas was the chairman of the Cape Town Youth Choir and a dedicated man who committed his life to helping young people stake a better future.
In addition to committing his resources and energy to chair the Cape Town Youth Choir, Thomas was also involved in several other community projects which included founding the Triple Trust Organisation, an NGO that aims to help people to become economically self-sufficient. He used every possible method and deep creativity to break through people's passivity to create jobs for themselves.
One of the other young victims of this tragedy is Ruhila Adatia-Sood, a popular Kenyan TV and radio personality. She was in the rooftop car park of the Westgate shopping centre where she was part of a team hosting a cooking competition for small children at the time of the attack.
She was six months pregnant with her first child when she died. Adatia-Sood was a graduate of Rhodes University in Grahamstown.
These are three of the many victims with whom we can identify.
We know of them because of our connections to the kind of work we do.
Or in the case of Ruhila Adatia-Sood, we mourn her loss because we remember that she sat and walked amongst us at some time.
The other victims remain faceless statistics in a tragedy that has shaken us all.
The deaths of the faceless victims will be mourned collectively.
The incidents of militant operations around the globe will not cease simply because we are all reeling in shock.
The unfortunate tragedy about these incidents is that in the battle of ideologies we all seem to be moving even further apart from each other.
In various expressions of anger, Islam and Muslims in general will once again be painted as violent, immoral terrorists who have absolutely no respect for the sanctity of human life.
This perception is prejudiced. Intolerance and a disrespect for human life is a feature of all religions that breed fundamentalism.
Violence that stems from fundamentalism, robs itself of the kind of people who can heal and nurture a nation's soul.
The deaths of Awonoor, Thomas and Adatia-Sood leave all of Africa so much more poorer and so much more oppressed.
By Ismail Mahomed
Source: The Herald newspaper
Ismail Mahomed is the Artistic Director of the National Arts Festival. He writes in his personal capacity
Photo: VICTIM OF THE MASSACRE: Kenyan TV and radio personality Ruhila Adatia-Sood, who studied at Rhodes