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He was called "one of the emerging African faces of global broadcasting," a journalist whose charismatic style and substantive reporting landed him a spot on New African magazine's November 2013 list of the 100 Most Influential Africans. Members of his Harvard Kennedy School family were devastated to learn this week that BBC Television host Komla Dumor MPA/Mason Fellow 2003 passed away at his home in London on Saturday (January 18) at the young age of 41.
A native of Ghana, Dumor began his broadcast career as a traffic reporter, calling in traffic reports from his scooter on his way to college classes. He joined the BBC in 2006 and most recently served as host of the "Focus on Africa" program on BBC World News, where he was highly regarded as a charismatic presenter, dedicated to covering the most critically important issues affecting the continent in a thorough and thoughtful way. Posting on Twitter, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama called Dumor “one of [the nation’s] finest ambassadors” and “Ghana’s gift to the world.”
Administrators and faculty who knew Dumor during his time at the Kennedy School remember him as an engaging, effusive student, always willing to go the extra mile for a friend.
"He was warm and witty and very, very funny – it was like having Steve Colbert in the class,” said Linda Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, who grew close to Dumor over the years. "He was one of our more exciting, talented and enchanting students.”
Paula Jacobson, who was director of the Mason Fellows Program at the time, said that Dumor stood out from the crowd "for his courage to ask tough questions, to hold others accountable, to dig for the truth and then to tell the story in a way that enabled his listeners to connect, to challenge their own assumptions, to gain new perspective."
“I certainly can’t forget his humor, cheer, and most of all his insights,” said John Thomas, former lecturer in public policy and faculty chair of the Singapore Program. “He was always an active participant in discussions and a thoughtful interpreter of Africa to faculty and fellow students alike.”
“I was immediately struck by his charisma, genuine sincerity and unmistakable deep voice,” said Melissa Kang, who served as Coordinator of Student Services and Programs for the International Development Programs office. “One only needed to spend a few minutes with Komla to feel his compassion and generosity.”
Classmates admired Dumor for his convictions and his character.
“He was a natural leader - didn't need to be taught. He had a curiosity about his fellow man and took the time to talk to anyone,” said Bain Ennis MC/MPA 2003. “It is what made him such a good reporter. He was a leading light and role model for Ghana and in a broader sense the continent of Africa. He was determined to shift the focus and change the way the world talked about and portrayed Africa and was ideally positioned to do so at the BBC.”
“A towering figure, he was a gifted journalist who loved people,” said Roberta Oster Sachs MC/MPA 2003. “Komla always got the full story, and when a discussion became too intense, he could break the ice with a smart remark and open up space for laughter. He had the edge of a smart reporter and the heart of a community leader.”
Julio Bitelli MC/MPA 2003 said, “Komla was superlative in so many ways -- in his talent and grace; in his love for his family, for Ghana and for Africa; in his unflinching loyalty to his friends; and in his enjoyment of the good things in life and his commitment to uphold what is right.”
“Komla was passionate about life. He was passionate about Africa. Specifically, Komla was passionate about changing how Africa was presented to the world,” said Chai McConnell HKSEE 2000. “Komla opened my eyes, and those of countless others about that amazing continent and its people.”
Faisal Hassan MC/MPA 2003 remembers meeting Dumor when they first arrived as mid-career students in the summer of 2002. “I was drawn to Komla,” Hassan said. “His warm and easy manner made you instantly open up to him; people told him their secrets and we all shared with him our hopes and dreams. He was a generous spirit.”
Dumor’s friends agree that his spirit will live on -- in the hallways and classrooms at the Kennedy School and far beyond, where he made his imprint upon the world. Although he died young, Komla leaves behind an impressive legacy -- his wife and three children as well as the millions of viewers and listeners he informed and influenced during his remarkable journalism career. He will be greatly missed.