A tribute on the passing of
Professor Damien M. Pwono
by Dr. Natalia Kanem
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and
Executive Director, UNFPA
17 March 2023
I was very saddened to hear of the passing of my dear friend and brother Professor Damien M. Pwono on March 7, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. On behalf of UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, I offer deeply felt condolences to the family and friends of this beloved, exceptional son of Africa.
He leaves an indelible mark on the worlds of music, the arts and culture, which transcend borders and unite peoples.
Musician, ethnomusicologist, cultural diplomat, professor, philanthropist, Damien wore many hats across his illustrious career. In each of these roles, he was a leading champion of the transformative power of the arts and culture in promoting tolerance and understanding, building peace and advancing development.
Damien’s vision, leadership and passion made a lasting impact on all those whose lives he touched, in his work with philanthropic organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation, where we first met; to the Aspen Institute and UNESCO, where he served as Secretary-General of the International Music Council; to his professorship at the University of Pittsburgh; to his work with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his country of birth, where he last served as Director of the National Institute of the Arts.
Over a career spanning three decades, Damien contributed to the development of several arts and culture festivals and platforms that brought artists, scholars and scientists together with Pan- African policymakers and business leaders to showcase their work and to reflect on the realities of Africa and the African diaspora across the globe.
Damien recognized the unique power of cultural diplomacy to enrich lives, foster solidarity and expand opportunities for Africans and the diaspora.
In recent years, Damien was a strategic partner for UNFPA in advancing rights and justice for people of African Descent, bringing his many years of experience to bear in the construction of projects that emphasized the vast contributions of Africans and Afro-descendants to global development. He played a key role in the re-imagining of UNFPA’s work in support of the agenda of the International Decade for People of African Descent, helping curate programmes and activities with regional and global impact.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Damien’s beloved family and all his friends around the world at this time of remembrance of a life truly well-lived.
May his beautiful soul rest in perfect Peace. Amen.