Komla Dumor: BBC’s voice of Africa falls silent

Telling the stories of the continent he loved: broadcaster Komla Dumor. Photo: Madelene Cronjé

Telling the stories of the continent he loved: broadcaster Komla Dumor. Photo: Madelene Cronjé

Komla Dumor (1972-2014)

In the world of broadcasting, Komla Dumor, who has died aged 41 after a suspected heart attack, was the face of a new and enterprising Africa.

He was a towering presence on television and the best talent the BBC had to tell the continent’s story – whether from its palaces or its slums. Komla respected the rich and the poor, the powerful and the helpless and those in between, in equal measure. He was the anchorman on many big stories, from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to shootings on the Norwegian island of Utoya in 2011, from President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa to the funeral of Nelson Mandela last year. His interviewees included Kofi Annan and Bill Gates.

Dumor started his broadcasting career on the back of a motorised scooter, negotiating the crowded streets of Ghana’s capital, Accra, telling Joy FM listeners how to beat traffic jams and then racing off to attend lectures at the University of Ghana. By the time Joy FM, the country’s leading commercial radio station, asked him to host its morning show in 2000, Dumor had become a household name. It was a busy news year for Ghana, as the country elected a president to succeed the soldier-turned-civilian Jerry Rawlings.

In 2006 he moved to London to join the BBC’s African service. Three years later he became the presenter of Africa Business Report. With BBC Radio facing stiff competition in Africa, in 2012 the corporation launched Focus on Africa, a daily news and current affairs television programme, and Dumor was the natural choice to host it – which he did until the day before he died.

Asked what he loved about Africa, he once replied: “Its resilience. After all we have been through, we are still here.”

Dumor was born in Accra to a family of academics. His mother, Cecilia, was an educationist, editor and writer of children’s books, and a key influence in encouraging him to take up journalism. His father, Ernest, was a professor of sociology, and his sister, Mawuena, a geologist who worked in communications for mining companies. Grandfather Philip Gbeho was a renowned musician who was asked by the country’s founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, to compose the country’s national anthem following independence in 1957. Dumor was said to have inherited both his powerful voice and his striking physique.

He attended school in Nigeria, and won a place at the University of Jos to study medicine in the late 1980s. But, unlike his brother Korshie, who went on to become a doctor, Dumor returned to the University of Ghana to take up a degree course in sociology and psychology and then studied for a master’s in public administration at Harvard.

During his time as a radio broadcaster in Ghana, he took pride in his attempts to challenge corruption in the public sector.

In November 2013, New African magazine named Dumor as one of its 100 most influential Africans. – Solomon Mugera, © Guardian News & Media 2013

Komla Dumor was born on October 3 1972 and died on January 18 2014.

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