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By Jemila Abdulai and Gameli Adzaho
Members of Ghana’s online community would justifiably want to quickly forget last Saturday 18th January 2014 for the sad tidings the day brought. From noon or so, rumours started filtering into various online platforms that “something bad” might have happened to leading BBC world service presenter Komla Dumor.
Like the pitiful notes and sombre drumbeats of bad music emanating from a player outside our control, the dreadful news continued to self-propagate, finally filling our hearts and minds with misery. And as the pitch increased, the clouds darkened, and our worst fears descended like torrential rainfall. Komla Afeke Dumor, the “boss player”, is gone from the earth and has taken his vim to another sphere.
Photo by BloggingGhana member Nana Kofi Acquah on Komla Dumor’s 41st birthday
Although local media like Komla Dumor’s former workplace Joy FM were reporting on his death, many found it unbelievable that the media maven could have passed on at 41 years. Some like Mac-Jordan even attempted to verify the information:
“Almost everyone I reached out to didn’t want to comment on the subject because they too were waiting for a more concrete/official info from their sources (colleagues, families and associated) in the UK.”
When the unfortunate news was finally confirmed, the crashing reality of the event left many like Maya Mame in a deeply reflective state:
“Since last night, my thoughts and prayers have been with his family, especially his three small children who have lost their father.”
To others like Kajsa Hallberg Adu who are not too familiar with the solid image Komla had built for himself in the Ghanaian media landscape, the reaction was one of fascination, a curiosity to understand the massive outpour of public grief. She wrote:
“However, the magnitude of media space provided in Ghana reminded me only of when Ghana’s sitting president passed away in July 2012, and actually a radio host remarked that “last time we did this kind of all day broadcast was for President Mills”. I even heard rumours of a state funeral being prepared!”
While the debate continues on whether or not the Boss Player warrants such a global outpour of grief and tributes, it is undoubted that he took giant pacesetting strides in his chosen profession as a journalist. His service and passion for his motherland Ghana is equally undisputed as was his great disposition and well-rounded family life.
It is therefore not surprising that Oral Ofori included Komla Dumor in a commemorative post of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr, calling him “a selfless man who commanded great respect”.
Nor is it untoward that political cartoonist The Black Narrator chose to showcase Komla Dumor being welcomed by the likes of Ghana’s first President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, former President Atta Mills, distinguished Poet and Author Kofi Awoonor, and Professor Marian Ewurama Addy, former Quiz Mistress of the National Science & Maths Quiz. Indeed, “a child who knows how to wash his hands dines with elders.”
That said, Mr. Dumor did not only find company with the likes of presidents and thought leaders. He also reached out to the general public and up-and-coming youth in personable and gentlemanly ways that resonated with his loving and witty nature. Edward Amartey-Tagoe observed how widespread his social media reach was:
“He was heavy on Instagram and made time to interact with his Twitter followers and Facebook fans. On Facebook Komla had 114,000 fans, On Twitter he had 43,103 followers and on Instagram where he mostly documented his travels and career, he had 3,800 followers.”
Ghana’s 2012 journalist of the year, Manasseh Awuni recalled his first interaction with the Boss Player:
“Surprisingly, Komla was the first to reach out to me. It was on August 28th 2012, shortly after I was adjudged the GJA Journalist of the Year. Someone had drawn my attention to the fact that Komla Dumor was celebrating me on his Facebook page. Komla Dumor of all people? I doubted. But it was true.Before I could send him a message to thank him for his kind words, however, he sent me a message in my inbox: “Congrats, young man! I’m so very proud of your achievements. Send me a text on +44759…. so I get your number and we can talk.”
“There’s so much more to tell about Africa than the usual stories about war, famine and disease.” – Komla Dumor
And so he did.
Beyond, his outstanding interactive and public engagements skills, Komla Dumor pursued his journalistic duties with a high degree of excellence, style, and courage, as evident from the high quality work he produced.
His “great big smile” and pleasant personality succeeded in winning over numerous folks, as the usually sarcastic satirical blog YesiYesi Ghana pointed out:
“With his endearing persona and that great big smile, he has inspired many like me, although we only knew him on radio and on TV. We are inspired by his genuine spirit and his tireless efforts to tell the African story from an African perspective without the usual prejudice and derision.”
Afua Entsuah of Rambling Roomies described him as “a breath of fresh air” in the African journalism landscape, “not shying away from asking tough questions, but also bringing a balanced story about the triumphs and tragedies of Mama Africa”.
Thus, Komla’s distinctive achievements in his chosen field placed him among the greats of Ghanaian and indeed African broadcasting. Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng opined that:
“For me, he’s the greatest Ghanaian journalist/broadcaster ever. He taught us all that excellence pays…A few weeks ago, I heard him on BBC World and he pronounced excellently a Russian word and I found myself asking how people like him do that. Do they learn before every newscast or they just know how to play with words?”
While we may no longer hear or see Komla Dumor in real-time, he left what might be the most essential piece of advice for fellow and aspiring journalists vis-a-vis Africa’s media sphere and global representation in his TEDx Houston talk:
“Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter. It’s not so much what the international media does, but what you write about yourself.”
A Mentor and Friend
The combined force of his professional excellence and personable nature made Komla Dumor a natural role model and inspirational figure for both upcoming African journalists and young Africans seeking to pursue their dreams. The tributes of those who knew him personally hint at a man who took a genuine interest in other people.
Bernard Avle, high-flying host of Citi Breakfast Morning Show (rival to Joy FM’s Super Morning Show) recalled what it was like to compete against his “great broadcasting mentor”:
“You defined what modern morning radio ought to be and in jumping at the opportunity Citi FM offered me that December…. I secretly pictured myself walking in the wake of the glory you had brought to our practice. My difficulty as a 23-year-old host of a morning talk program was monumental. Here I was competing against you, very guy I wanted to listen to each morning.
It was a no contest! But you made it easy for me. You used to tell Sammens that you thought I was really good. And when I heard those words from your lips myself, I could scarcely believe my ears.”
Comfort Ocran of Legacy and Legacy published a poem in Komla Dumor’s honor, referring to their camaraderie with this verse:
When we stood together, you always dwarfed me.
You’ll put hand on me,
And it will be like David and Goliath.
But we were on the same team –
The “It is Possible” Ghana team!”
Akwasi Sarpong summed up what his former BBC colleague meant to him with a solemn tweet:
Proud Ghanaian & African, Household Name
A distinct feature of the Boss Player was his voice. Many Ghanaians, including Naa Oyoo Quartey and Nehemiah Attigah, recounted their memories of preparing for school or work to the sound of Komla Dumor’s voice on the radio:
“I will never forget his unique gravelly voice every time he came on air on the Super Morning Show and for 6 years the show was never one to be missed. His rise from GBC to JoyFm 99.7 and finally to BBC was meteoric!” – Naa Oyoo
“Some years back, I woke up to the baritone voice Komla Dumor every morning. I was inspired, educated and entertained each morning. My brother and I will listen on our way to work with high expectations which were almost always met. He changed the face of radio morning shows in Ghana. – Nehemiah
His foray into the global media sphere with BBC only amplified the fact that Komla Dumor was becoming a household name. Until his death he was the only West African news reader with BBC World News and this resonated deeply with many African viewers, including Abena Serwaa:
“Komla Dumor was one of Ghana’s brightest stars. Whenever you heard him on the BBC, you were proud to be Ghanaian. Proud to be African. He was a rising star who was still accelerating to even greater heights. Komla was a great representative of what it means to be Ghanaian. He was indeed a contemporary African icon and cherished role-model.”
In a 2007 BBC interview Komla Afeke Dumor was asked: Who is your Ghanaian hero and why?
His response: “Kwame Nkrumah because of his courage; he lived and died for the Ghana and Africa that he believed in.”
Coincidentally, Komla Dumor was born the exact year Kwame Nkrumah passed on. What’s more, the aspiring medical doctor turned radio journalist turned global journalist is being remembered for exactly the same reasons as his hero.
Awards, recognition, accolades, the list is endless. After all is said and done, the man Komla Dumor is no more. But his works and influence live on, as will the lessons people garner from his life well-lived.
For Jemila Abdulai, Komla Dumor serves as a reminder to be courageous and pursue one’s passion:
“We’ve heard the story many times. About notable people who dropped out of school “and ended up just fine”. Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Albert Einsten, Walt Disney. All individuals who are regarded as “successful”. That said, many of these people are often removed from Ghanaian or African realities. Enter Komla Dumor…
…Perhaps the most courageous thing Komla Dumor might have done – and any of us for that matter – is to tell the truth, to recognise his passion, purpose, calling, and to follow it – regardless of what anyone said.”
In Kuukuwa Manful’s words, Komla Dumor’s story is an epic novel; unfinished, but timeless. She wrote:
“You see, in the world of fantasy literature, writers have been known to die before they complete a series, and other writers step in, and finish the story. That’s the thought that took me to bed. And then I woke up, and got to photoshopping. Komla Dumor was working on a book. I hope he finished it.”
It might take a while yet for many to come to terms that the Boss Player has moved on. Our prayers and condolences for his family might not be stemmed anytime soon. But perhaps we can find some solace in Mutombo da Poet’s conviction that Komla is safe, resting peacefully in the arms of his Lord:
“We push, they shove,
plans of arson, burn bush on the stove.
But we sport medieval shield and open door to yield
and thunder, cymbals, shudder and thimbles
whisper, “Komla is safe.”
RIP Komla Dumor
1972 – 2014