Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

Henrike Grohs’ death sent shockwaves through the social media. A stunned arts community was spontaneous in its outpouring of tributes for the beloved one, who “dedicated her life to creating cultural links, to making the world a better place though art and culture”. There was no doubt about it: the 51-year-old, who was until her death last Sunday was the Goethe-Institut director in Cote d’Ivoire, was one of the most loved personalities in the culture circles.

“We arrived back safely from Abidjan today,” an obviously distraught German-Nigerian musician Ade Bantu wrote on his Facebook. “What was supposed to be a triumphant return from the one-week MASA festival has been overshadowed by the news of the death of our dear friend Henrike Grohs who was killed during yesterday’s (Sunday’s) senseless terror attack in Ivory Coast.”

Bantu recalled the opportunity he had in the past to work with Henrike on various projects and added that he had always admired her drive, dedication and passion for the arts. “She was selfless when it came to supporting artists. Two days ago we performed at Parkers’ Place in Abidjan thanks to Henrike who insisted that the club owner give us a chance. I recall her dancing, cheering and beaming with pride as we played our set. A few hours later, she was murdered. Our prayers go to her family, friends and colleagues and to all the other victims of the attack.”

The late director’s Lagos-based counterpart, Marc-Andre Schmachtel, also mourned her on his Facebook wall: “How do you say good-bye to somebody that has played a crucial role in a very decisive part of one’s life? Somebody that has left without notice? That had to leave because somebody else decided so? It is just not fair, it is unjust and it is not acceptable.”

Grohs, who answered the ultimate call with about 22 others during last Sunday’s al Qaeda terrorists’ attack, was born in June 8, 1964 in Berlin, although she grew up in Mainz. It was in Mainz that she had her early education. She was the daughter of the ethnologist Elisabeth Grohs born Beringer (1931-1996) and the sociologist and Africanist Gerhard Grohs (1929-2015) .

She would later return to her native Berlin to enrol for a course in ethnology at the Freie Universität. Also in Berlin, she was a project manager of the Education Programme of the Berlin Philharmonic and worked with Peter angle as a cultural manager at Next Intercultural Projects in the House of World Cultures (HKW) in Berlin. This was between 2002 and 2009.

She later joined the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg in South Africa as a consultant for culture and development in 2009. She was also a member of the digital concept of Music in Africa which was founded in July 2013 under the Music in Africa Foundation, with the support of the Siemens Stiftung .
She later relocated to the Ivorian commercial capital Abidjan in December 1 2013 to head the Goethe Institute.

Her death at the hands of the al-Qaeda terrorists stirred up sediments of painful memories of a similar death of another respected arts personality: the Ghanaian-born Koffi Awoonor. Awoonor was among those killed in an al-Shabab attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on September 21, 2013. He was in Kenya to participate in a four-day celebration of writing, thinking and storytelling at which he was billed to perform on the evening of his death.

Like Henrike, Awoonor (a poet) was loved by the art community members worldwide.
Ms Groh’s death also stunned her employers at the Goethe-Institut. Its president, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, lamented in a statement: “It is terrible that a woman who campaigned for a meaningful life with all her strength had to die so senselessly.”

The Institute’s Secretary-General Johannes Ebert, added: “We are stunned that Henrike Grohs was torn so tragically and cruelly from life.”
Also Music in Africa Foundation’s director, Eddie Hatiye said: “It is not only a huge loss to her family but a great loss of an individual who worked extremely hard to make the Music In Africa initiative what it is today.”

Meanwhile, a memorial service was held on Friday from 2 pm at the Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg. This came days after the opening of a book of condolences at the reception of the Institute on Tuesday.