Komla Dumor: icon, iconoclast, great broadcaster

INTRODUCTION: BBC presenter Komla Dumor died of what is suspected to be a heart attack in his home in London last Saturday. Since the news of his death was confirmed that fateful day, a lot has happened from then till I woke up at 3:30am on Wednesday to put this piece together.

It has been a tough task for me to decide on what exactly to write about the man. The irony is that, since Saturday, a lot has been said about him by practically everyone, both those who knew him and those who did not know him such, that there is nothing to say anymore. 

However, the reality for me is that there is still so much material to choose from to write this piece that I was at a loss about how to start.

I have felt like that football manager who had so much talent in his squad that he didn’t know how to use them. The difficulty was that, regardless of how the manager felt, he had to pick a team to face the opponent in the next match and similarly as my editor had aptly admonished me on

Facebook last Tuesday when I posted my dilemma, “we appreciate your difficulty…But deadlines survive and you’d better start typing.”

So as I kept listening to and watching and reading the various tributes about him from close friends, colleagues and acquaintances as well as going through his life story again and again, it dawned on me that there were three characteristics that would best describe the enigmatic personality we all knew as Komla Afeke Dumor.

There is no doubt that Dumor was an icon in the profession he chose, he was an iconoclast in everything he did and he was above all, a great broadcaster in a manner we have not seen and probably won’t see in a very long time. I would humbly like to expatiate on what I mean in each case.

DUMOR THE ICON: My dictionary defines an icon as “a famous person or thing that people admire and see as a symbol of a particular idea, way of life” and it seems to me that throughout his broadcasting life that was exactly what Komla Dumor was.

During his time as broadcaster with the BBC and having found himself on such a powerful stage as given him by the global broadcaster, Dumor was like the face and the voice to push African issues to the rest of the world.

There were many Africans of the blood and soil (Prof. Ali Mazuri talks about Africans of the blood and Africans of the soil) who found themselves working at the BBC and other international broadcast organisations who had the same opportunity Komla had but could not use it as much as he did to project African ideals.

Everywhere he went in the world to talk about Africa he did it with passion. He never ceased to criticise the things done wrongly on the continent such as bad leadership and mediocre services, but he never dwelt on the negatives as he would be heard projecting the positives of the continent.

Perhaps it was this aspect of him that ensured that at the gathering of the African Union in Addis Ababa last Tuesday, one minute silence was held to the memory and honour of Komla Dumor. That, my dear friend, is no mean action for a man who flunked medical school and was depressed at some point in his early life. 

It must be said that before he would go to the BBC, Dumor had established himself as a local icon by becoming the best broadcaster. achieved while he was on Joy FM as host of the Super Morning Show.

Komla set very high standards for himself and those standards went with him everywhere he worked. He was a different person when he was on air to when he was off it. He took his work very seriously and demanded same from everyone he encountered.

He was consistent in his pursuance of excellence so much that he left no room for failure and for me as a watcher of the radio and television landscape over many years, Komla blossomed from someone who found radio by accident into that global icon because he never wanted to lower the bar.

Recently he was heard talking to young people at one of the Springboard events that there was no such thing as a local standard and that there was only one standard which  was the global standard. He always thought that lowering the standards, as many people on the continent of his birth liked to do, would lead to mediocrity and failure.

As far back as August 1999 when he granted me my first interview with him for a profile in the Graphic Showbiz, Dumor laid down the ground rule that guided his life, his profession and his ambitions. He said to me that he was an insatiable person because he “believes that if men were to be satisfied with what they have the world would come to a standstill.”

He was never satisfied with being just a presenter at Joy FM, he had done that for a decade and needed a new challenge which the BBC offered. As he once told me, he did not leave to the BBC for money but to test himself. “JOY FM was paying me very well. So I didn’t leave for money! I was just trying to test my talent on the international stage that’s why I took the BBC offer. I wasn’t seeking greener pastures.”

He was the guy who always said “think big, start small” or “start local, think global” and evidently he walked his talk. Having started as a Mobitel Traffic watchman to the global broadcast icon that he became, Komla Dumor became a symbol that demonstrated how to pursue and achieve your dreams as he showed example for all to follow in their chosen fields of endeavour!

DUMOR THE ICONOCLAST: The dictionary definition of an iconoclast is “a person who criticizes popular beliefs or established customs and ideas.” I will further add that the iconoclast is not the one who only criticizes but also walks the talk to ensure that popular beliefs and customs, especially the negative ones, are obliterated from society.

In trying to paint a picture of Komla Dumor’s iconoclastic pedigree let me draw an analogy from a historical figure. When Kwame Nkrumah arrived in the Gold Coast he thought the intelligentsia who had funded his return and given him a job was too slow to make the dream of independence real in the foreseeable future.

He therefore resorted to some radicalism which wasn’t taken lightly by them and he therefore left the party they brought him to work for to form his own party. He continued, from 1949 when his party came into being, to criticize what had been believed to be the best for the African and demanded independence immediately and it happened in less than a decade!

Mind you, there had been talks about independence or the possibility thereof for many years. It took an iconoclast who believed that the status quo was not the best for the people and worked towards obliterating it that independence happened. He knew it wasn’t going to be given on a silver platter and it wasn’t. 

To be continued…

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