Many dates go down in the history of Ghana as significant and life-changing moments.
February 28 is marked to celebrate the lives of the three World War II veterans shot during a demonstration. March 6 marks the day Gold Coast became Ghana, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from the British and July 1 marks the day Ghana officially became a republic.
In 2009, the then-President John Evans Atta Mills declared September 21 as Founder’s Day to honour the birthday of the first President of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah who was born in 1909. Since then, Ghanaians have been celebrating and educating the younger generation about their history.
However, on Saturday, September 21, 2013, the day was marred by the sudden death of one of Ghana’s most prolific and outstanding literary voices, Kofi Awoonor.
Awoonor died at Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall after gunmen attacked and killed over 60 people, leaving close to 100 more severely injured. Awoonor was in Kenya for the annual Storymoja Literary Festival.
Since 2013, Ghana has had mixed feelings in celebrating the lives of the two icons.
Notably, the similarities between the two figures go beyond sharing the date, September 21.
Both Nkrumah and Awoonor stood firmly for the African identity and its portrayal. Whiles the former expressed his thoughts through Philosophy, the Pan African theory and the belief that Africa can be a united and absolute independent state, Awoonor demonstrated his through his literary works where he used oral literature and tradition and mixed his native language into his literary works. Awoonor always believed that every human being should represent themselves as a true product of their immediate society.
To honour their African and Ghanaian identity, both Nkrumah and Awoonor dropped their English names: Francis and George respectively.
Nkrumah was not just an activist through speeches and action, he also had a particular interest in the creative arts and was himself a writer of more than 20 books. As president, he helped open the Ghana Museum and most importantly the African Studies Department of the University of Ghana to encourage studies in African culture and literature.
Awoonor produced many literary works, was an editor for several literary magazines, managed the Ghana Film Corporation and helped establish the Ghana Playhouse, which developed the theatre scene in Ghana.
Both Awoonor and Nkrumah attended Achimota College, travelled for further studies in the USA and returned to serve their country.
Nkrumah became a member of the United Gold Coast Convention in 1947, the leader of the Convention People’s Party in 1949 and Ghana’s first president in 1957. Awoonor became Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil in 1984 and to Cuba in 1988 and was Ghana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations before becoming the chairman of the main advisory body to the president of Ghana from 2009 to 2013.
Their similarities go beyond the positive sides of their lives. They both served time in prison for different ‘crimes.’ Nkrumah was arrested in 1950 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment after the colonial government banned his political party, CPP, but was released a year later after winning municipal and general elections. In 1975, Awoonor was arrested after he was accused of attempting to overthrow the military government but was later released a year later.
The most significant of all their similarities is the fact that they both died outside the country. Nkrumah passed away in 1972 in Romania. He had lived in exile in Guinea for six years after his government was overthrown in 1966. Awoonor died in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013.
Although the life and success of both icons have been celebrated in Ghana over the years, Awoonor deserves better spotlight in the history of Ghana for his dedication to the literary and political scene and his pioneering footprints in poetry and oral literature in Ghana.