Komla Dumor, a Ghanaian broadcaster with the BBC World Service and host of ‘Focus on Africa’ is gone. He died yesterday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 41, leaving a wife, 3 young children, and scores of fans spread across Africa and beyond in shock and disbelief.
I am one of those who are reeling. He was one of my favorite journalists.
I first heard Dumor on BBC’s hour-long world service program that is covered by my local NPR station, WNYC, probably about 3/12 years ago. Not being a TV person, I’m grateful to be able to hear the BBC here in NY on the radio. Normally on air between 9 and 10am, this was a re-broadcast occurring in the wee hours of the morning. I was immediately intrigued by this African man’s voice that sounded like some of my Nigerian classmates who’d attended an American school. Some of his words gave away an American twang but it didn’t sound put on or forced. Turns out he’d received a master of public administration (MPA) degree from Harvard, after getting a first degree in sociology and psychology at the University of Ghana. That was following a short detour at the University of Jos where he was pre-med. His name was unusual to me and for a while I couldn’t figure what it actually was or how to spell it, so try as I might, my initial google searches turned up nothing. In time I came to realize he wasn’t Nigerian – which explained why his name was such a challenge – though he was clearly very familiar with Nigeria. I recall him covering a story on the outskirts of Jos – my hometown – about a family that had been attacked as a result of the Muslim – Christian crisis occurring there. He was compassionate, yet informed, confident, yet sensitive. He grasped how charged that situation was – one incident in a long line of complicated intra-religious conflicts fueled, at least in part, by poverty and chronic unemployment. I sensed he was an unusual talent.
During the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, he broadcast live before some of the matches. He was effusive with joy at being there. The most memorable event for me was when he stripped off his white button-down shirt to reveal in his words, “his true colors”, a red jersey of the Ghanaian National Team. Even though I wasn’t witnessing this, I laughed out loud. When I saw it later on line, I howled again. Check it out here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25800327.
Komla had traveled all over the continent and he was passionate about its people. He sought to tell authentic stories of Africa – both encouraging as well as troubling – valuing balance and true African experts – ordinary, every day people who lived life on the continent and were intimately familiar with their surroundings, their heritage, their value systems, and their dreams. He exuded a pride that many of us share.
Komla was probably most impressive during this Ted talk given at Euston, in London several years ago. If you’ve never heard of this guy before reading this post, or you’re wondering what the fuss is all about it, this is one talk not to be skipped over. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfJn8HCKO8g
Lyse Doucette, a veteran foreign correspondent at the BBC described Dumor as a man who “looked for the light as well as the dark.” Apparently he was also a man of faith, a committed Christian. Why God took Dumor from us in the prime of his life will remain a mystery. But I pray that the light Dumor left us will continue to shine brightly.
Komla, we are already missing you.
Photo credit: BBC.