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Opinions of Sunday, 26 January 2014

Columnist: Kumi, Frank

Komla Dumor’s death: mourning and gaining lessons at the time

In a similar fashion of how I receive unexpectedly soul-shattering break news about sudden demise of standout personalities—Alhaji Aliu Mahama (Former Vice president of Ghana), Nelson Mandella, Prof. Mills (Former president of Ghana) etc—such was how I stumbled upon the sad news of Komla Dumor’s death: in the realm of social media, while toggling between facebook walls and timelines.
A flurry of short messages about Komla Dumor laced with R.I.Ps began flooding my News Feed. As usual I quickly popped up the online pages of certain credible media houses to ascertain the veracity of this shocker since this is not the first time such a presumably hoax has gone viral on social media platforms. After a quick trawl through these pages, it sadly hit me that the news and the tailwind it seems to have gathered was true after all: Komla Dumor, the stout-looking Ghanaian journalist, with a soothing radio-friendly voice is gone forever in just a blink of an eye!
Who recalls Appiah Stadium, the NPP serial caller’s rant captured on a voice tape about the Ghanaian journalist who invariably lights up the image of Ghana and Africa anytime he appears on BBC with his “cool factor”? Yeah, quiet hilarious isn’t it? For his sudden demise to send ripples of shock across the world--from Bill and Melinda Gates to the President of Ghana to Kofi Anan, former UN Secretary General to the ordinary Ghanaian--is a clear demonstration of how endearing he was to Ghana and the rest of the world, particularly within the circles of journalism.
Komla’s death comes as staggering as we may find but the circumstances surrounding the untimely death of this lively and light-hearted iconic news anchor leaves so much invaluable lessons for many to ferret from. This may serve as a reminder to the many youthful working classes, in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who treat the numerous health campaigns and deluge of exhortations about the benefits of adopting healthy lifestyles with a shrug.
At a young age of 41 and making a living from a plum job at one of the biggest corporations in the world and appears to be also living the dream of many local journalists, it looked as if he had lived a fulfilled life. Rarely would anyone think that heart attack among the numerous causes of preventable maladies would suddenly quell the life of this seeming energetic gentleman.
In an unedited message published on reportedly leaked from a close friend, one can learn that ill-health from hypertension to extreme exhaustion from work was an underlying factor for the heart attack he suffered. The following were some of the pithily expressed confessions contained in his revelation: “My BP nearly gave me a stroke but I trod on.” “Exhausted sometimes…aching in my body and soul…mentally and emotionally drained, but I kept going.”
Around the festive season, I happen to come across a photo of the celebrated journalist and Mr Hebert Mensah, former chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko on facebook in what appears to be a celebration of the latter’s birthday. In a jaunty posture, Komla wielded three sizeable slices of beef while Mr Mensah gleefully held a bottle of wine with the photo caption: “Happy bday to my brother champion Chairman Herbert Mensah. Life is too short to enjoy small portions.”
Barely twenty-four hours after his passing on, the photo suddenly began recirculation, this time around, along with some of the facebook comments it seemed to have generated when it was first posted by him. One of the comments from one Carmen Morris reads: “You guys look healthy but that right there is a heart attack waiting to happen. That beef will still be in your tummy [sic] a year from now.” Immediately I saw the resurfaced photo with this particular comment boldly highlighted, I started asking myself whether this could have been a premonition or just one of the usual health safety advices from some health professional or an ordinary health-conscious consumer of foods.
His death has evoked immeasurable levels of grief, non-amenable pain, and droves of condolences and some peoples’ personal anecdotes they shared with him. Another important dimension we need to add to these sorts of equally commendable requiems should be centered on turning the dark and sorrowful sides of his death into a source of hope. A hope that signals he may be gone, but all is not lost provided lessons are learnt from hindsight.
Most of the times people honour their dear ones who fall prey to a certain disease by waging wars against it through massive health awareness campaigns and implementation of health interventions on a larger scale in order to prevent others from falling victims to similar illnesses. These gestures go a long way to symbolize deep honour and love for the person. Beyond the proposed BBC foundation to be set up in Komla’s memory, state burial, and any other commemorative deeds, the importance of intensifying the war and awareness of cardiovascular diseases—strokes, heart attack etc--cannot be overemphasized. As part of celebrating his legacy, it would be imperative that the Ghanaian media and its practitioners join forces with health agencies such the Ghana Health Services and health professional organizations—Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (PSGh), Ghana Medical Association (GMA) etc--to bring preventive health to the forefront of media discourse while cutting down the sterile political discussions.
Cardiovascular diseases continue to be among one of the leading causes of mortality globally. Importantly, most of the risk factors—unhealthy eating habits, drinking, smoking, lack of exercise--are modifiable and therefore absolute mastery over them is a definite possibility. Relentless and aggressive media campaign across the country would surely yield pleasing results as has been the case with other morbidities—For example: malaria, guinea worm eradication etc. Prof Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng’s call on the Ghanaian public, especially young adults, to “take control of their lives” to avoid preventable deaths is a worthy one and deserves to be taken seriously.
Losing a dear one is quite an unpleasant experience (a fact very well acknowledged), particularly when the person is comparatively young and seems to be at the apotheosis of his/her life and career. For today’s youthful working class, balancing an arduous career with a healthy lifestyle is a worthy cause many should embrace. The media’s role in the propagation of the benefits of this balance and the entrenchment of Komla’s legacy is something that is inextricable.

Frank Kumi
Registered Pharmacist
Tamale Teaching Hospital
Member, Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (PSGh)
Special interest: Health promotion