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Komla Dumor, who hosted the BBC program Focus on Africa and was perhaps the best-known journalist on the continent, died of a heart attack last Saturday in London at age 41. (BBC World Service/Flickr)

Komla Dumor: The African Journalist Who 'Lifted The Continent'

by Jonathan Blakley
Jan 22, 2014 (Tell Me More)

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Jonathan Blakley

Americans probably didn't know the name Komla Dumor unless they were real news junkies. But for Africans, he was a household name for anyone who followed news across the continent.

As the BBC's most prominent reporter and host covering Africa, he was quite likely the most recognized journalist on the continent. Dumor, a native of Ghana with a master's degree from Harvard University, started as a traffic reporter for a local radio station in the Ghanaian capital Accra. But a few years later, he joined the BBC in 2006 and quickly became a star in the organization.

He stood out for both his presence — he was tall, had a deep baritone voice, a shaved head and a smile that was visible from miles away — and the quality of his reporting. He seemed equally at home interviewing presidents or walking through the streets of a shantytown.

He roamed the continent for several years until the BBC made him the host of Focus on Africa, a television program launched in 2012. And last year New Africa magazine put him on its list of the 100 most influential Africans.

Dumor, who was just 41, died of a heart attack Saturday at his home outside London.

"Ghana is in mourning. People are even putting up black ribbons at the radio station where Komla worked" in Accra, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR's Africa correspondent, told NPR's Tell Me More. "This country is still in shock. It can't believe that one of its most popular figures, somebody who had a good word, and a smile, and a chuckle for everyone, has died so suddenly."

Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama was among those who expressed condolences, calling Dumor "one of the most illustrious sons of Ghana."

As a producer for NPR, I often saw Dumor on my travels in Africa. Just last month, we ran into each other in Soweto, South Africa, as we covered the events surrounding the death of Nelson Mandela.

We were in line for six hours just to get our government-issued accreditation. Dumor didn't ask for VIP treatment, and didn't complain like the hundreds of other journalists in line. He and I shared a smoke and a laugh, and we waited — me in my cargo pants and T-shirt, and Komla, in his standard blue suit, dapper shoes and trademark dark-rimmed glasses.

We talked about Mandela's legacy and why South Africans were celebrating his death more than mourning it.

"This is how we [Africans] do it. We mourn, then we celebrate life; this is how we do it here," he said.

He had great insight into Africa and it came across as he explained the continent — the good and the bad — with clarity, context and compassion.

He felt Africa had long been underreported and misreported, and he made it his mission to change that.

"Komla had become much more than a journalist to so many people," Quist-Arcton said. "He stepped onto the television screen. He stepped into their living rooms. He smiled the whole time. Yes, he covered the difficult stories in Africa, and I think people felt very close to him. People speak of him very much as a friend. He lifted the continent. They felt that he made people understand that there are all sorts of things going on in Africa, not just bad things."

Asked what he loved about Africa, Dumor once said: "Its resilience. After all we have been through, we are still here."

He is survived by his wife and three children as well as his extended family in Ghana.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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