The secretary-general of the Pan African Writers Association of Ghana, Atukwei Okai, is dead. He died at the Korle Bu Teaching hospital Accra Ghana on Friday after a short illness, family sources and associates say. He was 77.
Mr Okai, a professor noted for his excellent poetry recitation is believed to have been one of the first real poetry performers to have emerged in Africa. His poems are rooted in oral tradition. His performances on radio and television worldwide include an acclaimed 1975 appearance at Poetry International at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.
Mr Okai was born on March 15, 1941 in Accra, Ghana and from the age of three lived in the country’s northern region, where his father (Ga by birth) was a school headmaster in Gambaga.
In 1961, he went on a scholarship from the government of Kwame Nkrumah to Moscow, where he earned his M.A. (Litt.) from the Gorky Literary Institute in 1967.
When he returned from Moscow, he honoured invitations from schools such as Wesley Girls’ High School, and Adisadel College in Cape Coast, and Achimota Secondary School to give performances of his work, which had a memorable impact on the young students.
He began teaching at the University of Ghana, Legon, in 1971 as lecturer in Russian literature at the Department of Modern Languages, and in 1984 became Senior Research Fellow in African Literature at the Institute of African Studies. .
In 1989, he was elected the first Secretary-General of the Pan African Writers’ Association (PAWA), a position he held until his death.
His works include, Flowerfall. London 1969, Oath of the Fontonfrom and Other Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1971, Lorgorligi: Logarithms and Other Poems. Ghana Publishing Corporation, 1974, The Anthill In the Sea: Verses and Chants for Children, illustrated by Fiona Arkorful. Ghana Publishing Corporation, 1988; reprinted 1993.
Atukwei Okai and his wife Beatrice have five daughters.
Confirming the demise of the Ghanaian poet and academic from family sources yesterday, Wale Okediran, a former president of the national writers’ body, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), offered his regrets at the death of Mr Okai who he had an “extensive relationship spanning over twenty years” with.
As president of ANA, he had also served as a statutory member of the executive council of the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA), whose activities, alongside Okai, took him across the continent between 2004 and 2008 when he was in office, and thereafter. One significant highlight of their activities then was the hosting they received from the late Libyan strongman, Muammar Ghaddafi, in Tripoli, during one of the PAWA conferences.
Jahman Anikulapo, a renown culture advocate and co-coordinator of the iREP Film Festival, said the passage of Mr Okai was unfortunate, and that he would be remembered as “one of the early committed writers and leaders of the writers’ community in Africa”.
This, to him, was a prominent reason why Mr Okai “founded the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA)”, evolving as one of the recommendations from the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, popularly known as FESTAC, held in Nigeria in 1977. And before the Ghanaian poet took ill, he had been preparing towards the celebration of the 25thAnniversary of the continent-wide writers’ body to hold in Accra in November.
Mr Anikulapo noted the difficulties that Mr Okai had faced in mobilising African writers for many years, as they had been critical of the ironclad manner he foreclosed democratic participation in the leadership of PAWA, which he had led as a sole administrator since inception, and the reins of which he had tightly held on to till his demise.