How Komla Dumor became the face of Africa

  • 21 January 2014
  • From the section Africa

Following the untimely death of BBC presenter Komla Dumor, 41, BBC Africa editor Solomon Mugera looks back at his short but brilliant career.

Komla Dumor was the face and the voice of Africa - a new young, enterprising, internationally connected, ambitious Africa, with a can-do attitude.

When pioneering the launch of Africa Business Report on BBC World News, he set out to challenge the stereotypical view of Africa. He was passionate about telling the story of how the continent was changing, of rapid economic growth and technological advances.

But he was not a praise-singer. He was determined to present a balanced story, warts and all, and to show the human face behind the headlines.

Even as a number of African countries were being heralded for being among the world's fastest-growing economies, he wanted to dig deeper.

For he knew that while in those countries a select few were wining and dining in five-star hotels and driving the latest luxury cars, in the same neighbourhood there were families struggling to live on $1 (£0.60) a day.

"There must be balance or please, don't patronise me," he used to say.

Visiting oil-rich Angola in 2012, he made two memorable pieces - one at the country's Porsche dealership, the other with a woman who was using a wheelbarrow to fetch water. She only agreed to talk to him if he used his immense frame to help push the barrow for a while, which of course he did.

Although he was blessed with the voice, the face, the on-screen presence and the authority to be a broadcasting legend, he was an accidental journalist.

Beating traffic jams

Born in Ghana to a family of academics, Komla set out to become not a journalist or broadcaster but a doctor.

He had enrolled at Nigeria's University of Jos in 1988 to study medicine.

Unlike his brother Korshie, who went on to become a doctor, Komla abandoned the course and returned to Ghana for a fresh beginning. He took a degree course in sociology and psychology.

During a strike at the University of Ghana in 1998, KD, as he was known to his peers, saw a job advert for a traffic news reporter at the local Joy FM station and thought he would give it a go to earn some extra money.

His career in broadcasting was born.

He would do traffic news rounds on his scooter - telling listeners how to beat traffic jams - and then race to lecture halls for his lessons.

By the time Joy FM offered him the much-coveted role of hosting its morning show in 2000, Komla had become a household name.

While Komla thought his journey into broadcasting was an accident, friends say communication ran in the family DNA.

Natural choice

His mother Cecelia Dumor graduated with a Master's degree in mass communication.

She is thought to have moulded Komla's career in journalism before she died in 2008.

By that time, Komla's feet were firmly under the table at the BBC World Service.

His father, Ernest Dumor, was a professor of sociology.

The prominence of his family did not begin with the parents. His grandfather Philip Gbeho was a renowned musician. He was asked by the country's founding father Kwame Nkrumah to compose Ghana's national anthem following independence from the UK in 1957.

"He had a deep baritone voice and Komla seems to have inherited not just the voice but even his grandfather's body physique," says cousin Dzifa Bampoh.

Three years after joining the BBC's African service in 2006, Komla went on to present TV programmes.

After his success at Africa Business Report, Komla was the natural choice to host the BBC's flagship Focus on Africa TV programme in 2012 - its first TV news programme for the continent.

Once Komla was asked what he loved about Africa: "Its resilience. After all, we have been through, we are still here."

His extra-large size was commensurate with the passion with which he spoke about Africa.

At a Ted talk in 2013, he gave four points about telling the story of Africa. He wrapped up his presentation saying: "Hire the best talent to tell the story, or the view is great from my hotel."

Despite his towering figure, he never came across as intimidating - unless you were a politician with something to hide, being interviewed by him.

He loved people, because he believed stories are about people: to tell a story well, you need to understand people.

But he didn't see people in terms of contacts like some journalists. He saw people as human beings and collaborators in a mission to tell the African story.

This is why the Mandela family chose him to share their experience of losing their father and grandfather last year - and why they have now paid their own tribute to Komla.

A graduate of Harvard University with an MA in Public Administration, Komla married lawyer Kwansema in 2001.

They have three children: daughter Elinam Makafui (God has always been there for me, Praise him), aged 11; son Elorm Efadzinam (God loves me, he comforts my heart), eight; and daughter Emefa Araba (I am at peace), two.

International broadcasters, including the BBC, have often been accused of being coy to promote black African talent but with Komla, the BBC got it right, as he smashed through internal and external barriers. BBC TV now boasts many African presenters and reporters.

In his short career, he changed so much.

He will be sorely missed.

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