A response to the Westgate attack

A good friend of mine, who lives in Edinburgh and does community research in Cameroon, wrote this in response to the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre. It pretty much sums up the utter despair I feel about so much in the world, yet paradoxically, also captures perfectly the (almost) perpetual hope of a better world that motivates me every day. Thank you, Justin, for your eloquence. And for all those many, many lives touched by this tragedy, I hope that your grief and anger will, in time, give way to peace.

There was an attack at Westgate, a shopping centre in Nairobi, at the weekend, and many people were killed including Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet.

The attack was part of the war of terror that kills so many extraordinary ordinary people, and bolsters the power of those ‘on both sides’ who want to wield power over the rest of us.

How can we feel what is happening without becoming caught in their game of blame and revenge?

How can we feel the pain and anger and allow that to become a searing love that cuts through the lies and denies them their game?

Because there are so much more serious games – like the laughter of children and elders’ twinkling eyes, and burning hope and honesty and the foolishness of the wise who know they have no answers but hold the questions so close to the earth that it suddenly unexpectedly blossoms into poetry, plans and action – defiant true love.


How to take the world seriously, with a pinch of hope.

There is enough pain anyway in just the normal course of living and dying, without these people causing more pain to try and hide from their own.

How can we take the causes and consequences of their actions seriously without allowing them to make us take sides and so make us part of their game of impotence, rage and the silencing of others – whether by drone or suicide attack?

Beneath it all there is a different war, a war against the warring being wrought on people and planet. It is easy to miss, but it is there in every everyday act of kindness, and it cannot be defeated because in the end there is only death and life and the mystery that breathes them through our being.

ACROSS A NEW DAWN by Kofi Awoonor

Sometimes, we read the
lines in the green leaf
run our fingers over the
smooth of the precious wood
from our ancient trees;

Sometimes, even the sunset
puzzles, as we look
for the lines that propel the clouds,
the colour scheme
with the multiple designs
that the first artist put together

There is dancing in the streets again
the laughter of children rings
through the house
On the seaside, the ruins recent
from the latest storms
remind of ancestral wealth
pillaged purloined pawned
by an unthinking grandfather
who lived the life of a lord
and drove coming generations to
despair and ruin


But who says our time is up
that the box maker and the digger
are in conference
or that the preachers have aired their robes
and the choir and the drummers
are in rehearsal?

No; where the worm eats
a grain grows.
the consultant deities
have measured the time
with long winded
arguments of eternity

And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn


We are the celebrants
whose fields were
overrun by rogues
and other bad men who
interrupted our dance
with obscene songs and bad gestures

Someone said an ailing fish
swam up our lagoon
seeking a place to lay its load
in consonance with the Original Plan

Master, if you can be the oarsman
for our boat
please do it, do it.
I asked you before
once upon a shore
at home, where the
seafront has narrowed
to the brief space of childhood

We welcome the travelers
come home on the new boat
fresh from the upright tree

From “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” selected by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Nebraska Press and the African Poetry Book Fund, 2014

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