Death as a phenomenon generally elicits negative feelings; these emotions tend to run deeper if the person who dies was an admirable person. Even in some cases where the person in question was not well liked while alive, the solemnity of death can inspire an appreciable level of reverence. While we typically mark the gravity of death, it is equally important (if not more crucial) to let that somberness inform our actions as we continue to live.
This blog has examined death-related themes a couple of times: both subjects – a Nigerian and a Ghanaian – left us after traversing the diamond jubilee mark. In most parts of Africa, the death of a person above a certain age (typically 70) is observed with appreciative emotion rather than marked by overt mourning. The two personalities – Chinua Achebe and Kofi Awoonor – lived full and fulfilled lives; while Achebe passed on in an American hospital after a long illness, his colleague Awoonor was an inadvertent victim, brutally murdered in a nasty political conflict in Kenya. Even though we celebrated them, these two incidents darkened 2013. In 2014 the trend has not been markedly different. A prominent daughter of Africa, Prof. Ewurama Addy for instance passed recently (she will receive her own blog-post soon).
In the meantime I want to comment on the shocking passing of Komla Dumor. As most people know, he died at home in January at the age of 41. While this is not to downplay the loss of the representatives of an older generation, Komla Dumor was about half the age of the aforementioned foregone illustrious offspring of Africa and was in the proverbial prime of his life. To put it bluntly, his death was jarring. As the writer Nana Awere Damoah succinctly put it, brown leaves fall and green leaves fall; Komla Dumor’s ripe green leaf has fallen.
The tributes have been numerous and understandably far ranging from people who knew him intimately, acquaintances, colleagues and admirers from afar among others. The general theme that has sparkled in all of these homages has been veneration: the man was respectful and respectable. The writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her homage to him noted the man’s simplicity: despite (if not because of) his eye for perfection he appreciated the simple things in life and shunned overt applause because of the risk of the kitschy. From her tribute it was clear that for him, Africa (and for that matter Africans) was better off focusing on the more pressing problems (such as corruption and ineptitude) rather than lust for titles and acclamation for example. This trait is something that I think we can allow to inform our celebration of him as we continue to live.
We all grieve in our own ways and there has been an outpouring of shock, disbelief and even anger on social media in response to his death. It’s been a few weeks since the tragedy and beyond these emotions there has to be something tangibly sustainable that marks the impact of the great man.
My focus is therefore on how we promote his legacy to acknowledge the impact he made on Ghana, Africa and the world. As we reflect on the young man’s passing I think it is important to foreground the values he held dear.
There have been a few monumental steps in this regard. The BBC for instance instituted a fund in Dumor’s name to assist African journalists. The Ghana Journalists Association on the other hand called for a fund to assist his children and wife. In my opinion this tribute, while laudable as it stems from good intentions, is misplaced. A more pertinent move would be for the GJA to create a fund that their members can access for their children’s education. Journalism is an extremely important but unfortunately poor-paying calling in Ghana; this step will accordingly alleviate some of the economic burden on journalists and have the indirect but eventually positive impact on the quality of their work.
Another question that has come up has been whether Ghana needs to organize a state funeral for the man. Being the unassuming person he was I would think that he would be more content with the state investing in improving the condition of journalists in a specific way. If for instance, the government sponsors one or two journalists to a prestigious journalism school annually or allocates more money to improving the facilities at the School of Journalism we will go a long way to make the quality of journalism something we can all be happy about.
More essentially than these grand overtures at marking his life we can all contribute in our unique ways: drivers, journalists, teachers, farmers, drivers, students, the unemployed (yes those without work), medical officers, etc. all have a part to play in development. It sounds cliché but that is all Komla Dumor did: his best.
We can then be more satisfied with progress in our country and continent. After all, we are all proud of and grateful for Komla Dumor’s life and achievements.
Thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones.