|Source: Komla Dumor’s Facebook Page|
“There’s so much more to tell about Africa than the usual stories about war, famine and disease.”
Son, husband, father, Ghana’s “Boss Player”, Africa’s storyteller, BBC World News broadcaster, inspiration – courage personified.
If anyone had told me that Komla Dumor’s Black Star would burst out into eternity on January 18, 2014, I would have called them a liar and then some. His 41 years of life might seem “short” to many of us, but from all indications, this amazing soul found it more than enough for doing what he set out to do: to be a journalist of the highest order and to contribute towards telling Africa’s stories. His awards, accolades and accomplishments are well recorded – perhaps more so after his untimely demise yesterday from a cardiac arrest in London – and numerous people are sharing their condolences and tributes on social media with variations of the hashtag #RIPKomla. Undoubtedly, he was a force to reckon with.
All this said, there are two things I admired about Komla Dumor – besides being a great journalist and a proud ambassador of Ghana, Africa – First, he was a family man. He shared countless anecdotes and photos of his adorable children, calling it his “other job”. He was proud of it. Second, he was down-to-earth. He took time to reach out to people, random people like myself on his networks, to encourage, to share his point of view.
The thing about being a journalist is that you spend a lot of time capturing other people’s stories, and less time telling your own. What I’d like to focus on however are some poignant, insightful comments Komla Dumor made and shared on his social media platforms, to get a sense of the man behind the man.
Like this Facebook status from September 7, 2012:
“I look at this picture and laugh sometimes. I was 19 and just dropped out of medical school. I was an embarrassment to my parents in 1992. I was angry with myself and the world. It was a long and hellish road back to respectability. I wish you patience and courage on your journey. Have a lovely weekend brethren and sistren. KD”
He made a decision. A tough one. And he paid the consequences for it. But was it worth it in the end? I’m gonna take a guess from the obvious joy he brought to his work – both as a radio journalist with Joy FM and later with BBC – that it was.
And this answer he gave to the question “What is the best thing about being Ghanaian?”during a BBC interview for Ghana@50 :
“People expect you to be good, talented or hardworking – or dribble a football (which I can’t do), because our reputation precedes us.
When I flunked out of medical school in Nigeria one of my professors (a Nigerian) said to me in shock. “You’re not supposed to fail, man! You’re a Ghanaian!”
I guess I let the nation down that time. Haha!”
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.
It must have taken some gut to up and quit medical school when you’re two years in. Especially in Ghana where society’s expectations and keeping up appearances sometimes trumps all – and becoming a medical doctor is sometimes regarded as the end all, be all – it must have taken super-human courage to chart his own course. It must have taken equal courage to apply for a position as a traffic reporter when you’re taking a full university load of courses – and when you’ve had zero prior journalism experience or training. But 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. Which brings to mind this quote:
“Envy not success, nor pity failure, for you know not what is success or failure in the soul’s reckoning.”- Neale Donald Walsch, Author, Conversations with God
|Komla Dumor recognised alongside his hero Kwame Nkrumah
at Washington DC’s Newseum (2009)
As an “untrained journalist” myself, I can imagine some of the questions Mr. Dumor must have asked himself – whether he was fighting a losing battle, whether he was wasting his time, whether it’s all worth it. He probably had moments when his dream
was felt suspended, moments when he forgot the why. While all of that is important, in the end, it doesn’t matter – nowhere as much as the fact that he strove on. He continued on, with dedication, passion, humor, class, and as we’re finding out, even in the instance of ill-health.
Like all people who embark on the narrow path or choose to go against the grain, he had his fair share of naysayers. These excerpts of a comment from 2012 by Mr. Dumor in response to a “detractor” truly captures elements of his journey we might only guess at:
“Finally on your selfishness of the black man claim – let me ask you — where were you when I was investigating corruption in Ghana at SNNIT? Where were you when my life was under threat for exposing a system of corruption that affected millions in Ghana? Where were you when I took my case to CHRAJ and spent 18 months as the sole complainant in the investigation? Where where you when I spent the next 8 years fighting the case in court? Where were you when I was traveling from London to Accra to aid in the investigation for the next 8 years? I DID It for the love of my country. I didn’t even take a SNNIT loan when I was in Legon. Now today you turn around and accuse me of selfishness for doing a job that portrays Africa in a good light?? When I go roaming as you say, I tell the stories of a young and exciting Africa – I share news with the rest of the world about great changes in Africa and the generation that’s driving it.
My commitment to Ghana and Africa is not in doubt– I served most of my professional life in Ghana and anyone who knows my record knows I was tough on all sides…The only thing I want to achieve here is that we too can make it on a global platform – An African can be a global journalist too – I have dedicated my life to serving my country and continent as a journalist so please do lecture me about selfishness.”
The point is this: when you decide to do what you believe (deeply) that you are called to, there will be naysayers. There will be expectations, maybe even hurt feelings. As Rumi says: “It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.” And as for those who don’t understand why you do it, realise this: It’s not theirs to understand. Keep walking.
Some people got upset that it took the BBC from morning to evening to announce Mr. Dumor’s demise and/or recognise him. It’s kind of ironic that people would say this regarding a man who very much encouraged people to tell their own stories. Why wait for the BBC to share on his influence, when and if he influenced you?Do it yourself! And so as Mr. Dumor eloquently said in his TEDxEuston talk last year on sharing balanced stories of Africa:
“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.”
His response: “Kwame Nkrumah because of his courage; he lived and died for the Ghana and Africa that he believed in.”
Well, his name was right there next to Kwame Nkrumah’s in Washington, DC’s Newseum at the Press Freedom section when I visited in 2009. See photo above.
Two Black Stars, shining for eternity. #RIPKomla.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.