For me, Friday January 17, 2014 did not start like any other day. I often start my day with a page of biblical admonition and practical life lessons from the Our Daily Bread devotional guide.
On this Friday, however, I left home with two different messages. Shortly before I left for work, I logged in to Facebook and there was a notification that I had received one message.
It was a message from Komla Dumor. Komla Dumor? What did he have for me this early morning? I had not interacted with him this year. I opened the message.
“Manasseh, I thought I should share this with you,” it started. “It's for your eyes only,” he warned and went on.
Unfortunately, I cannot reproduce the main content of that message here because he said it was meant for my eyes only. I can only quote part of it in this piece.
On Saturday, when I posted a similar thing, I had reason to believe that a hacker tampered with my Facebook account and the message went viral. I am told he sent a similar message one or two other persons. Though it’s out there, I still respect his privacy.
Komla’s message had more information than usual. He went beyond the subject matter of the message. The short-paced and revealing message carried a sense of urgency. It was touching.
“Selah! Selah! Praise Him! Tomorrow is another day. Believe in yourself,” he ended.
When I jumped onto my motor bike and headed for work, it was Komla’s message, and not my morning devotion, which occupied my mind. The story behind the breezy journalism superstar bubbling with enthusiasm both shocked and humbled me. And long after I replied the message, I kept thinking about it.
I hadn’t known Komla Dumor for a long time. He had inspired many young journalists into broadcasting. But I was not one of them. I never listened to him on Joy FM. Not even once. I grew up in a community where GBC was the only mass communication medium.
When I gained admission to the Ghana Institute of Journalism and came to Accra in the dying embers of 2006, Komla left before I first tuned to Joy FM.
I have met Komla Dumor only once. That meeting lasted a little over 30 minutes, including his visit to the washroom. He had had to struggle to make time for me because he was very busy.
Surprisingly, Komla was the first to reach out to me. It was on August 28th 2012, shortly after I was adjudged the GJA Journalist of the Year. Someone had drawn my attention to the fact that Komla Dumor was celebrating me on his Facebook page. Komla Dumor of all people? I doubted. But it was true.
Before I could send him a message to thank him for his kind words, however, he sent me a message in my inbox: “Congrats, young man! I’m so very proud of your achievements. Send me a text on +44759…. so I get your number and we can talk.”
That’s how my friendship with Komla began. I’m not one of those who had known him for a long time. Our friendship lasted for only one year and a few months on phone and Facebook. I wanted to meet him, but on two occasions I realised he had already left before I could do so.
But on his last visit, I was fortunate. After Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, Komla posted on Facebook that he was heading for Ghana for another memorial, the 5th anniversary of the passing of his mother. I sent him a message that I wanted to meet him, and he willingly agreed.
We met at Alisa Hotel on December 15th, the evening before he embarked on his final journey back to London the following day.
Komla was everybody’s man. He shook hands with actor Chris Attoh and before we entered the lobby, he met Samuel Attah Mensah of Citi FM. As they exchanged pleasantries, a short man who looked as though he had strong wine in his head, jumped in and enacted his own version of Asamoah Gyan and the little girl’s Melcom advert.
“Are you Komla Dumor?” he asked, with his left hand to his mouth in bewilderment while his right hand gripped Komla’s firmly. “I love you ooo! From Joy FM and now to BBC! Our own Komla Dumor” he shouted, still gripping Komla’s hand.
“Are you sure you are Komla Dumor?” he asked again. Komla only smiled and told him he was, indeed, Komla Dumor. Samuel Atta Mensah and I stood by, enjoying the raw drama, unrehearsed and unedited.
Then suddenly, he left Komla’s hand. ‘You are lying. You are not Komla Dumor. Komla Dumor is at BBC. I watched him only yesterday,” he said and walked away, still chanting Komla’s name. Komla’s smile broke into laughter and we joined him.
“So Charlie, how?” Komla asked me when we finally sat at the bar and ordered cappuccino and Malt. Don’t ask who took what.
“Well, we are doing the best we can to fit in the big shoes you left behind,” I said.
“Don’t try to fit into my shoes,” Komla began. “You can only be the best of you and not someone else. You can only be the best of Manasseh and I can only be the best of Komla Dumor… I could not do what you are doing now. I didn’t have the opportunity to do the kind of journalism you are practicing now…”
We talked about my career and how I intended to be in the media industry for a long time. His suggestion was exactly what I had been thinking about but he refined it. “If I were to come back to Ghana and practice journalism, that’s what I would do,” he said.
We talked about the challenges one faces in Ghana if one decides to save the bleeding national purse. He shared his experience when he undertook his landmark probe into SSNIT more than a decade ago was like my own experience in GYEEDA.
At the end, we both agreed that Ghana ought to work again and he encouraged me to continue working hard.
That meeting was short but worthwhile. Before we parted ways, we took a photograph. I would later tag him on Facebook and tell him how grateful “the boy from Bongo” was for his time, to which said the “boy from Aflao” was also honored for the opportunity.
I can still feel that warm, long hug and the firm handshake at the dimly-lit Alisa Hotel car park. It was almost romantic. (Let me declare I am nowhere near the camp of those abnormal people who gave Nana Oye Lithur tough time at the vetting). I can still hear Komla’s voice asking if I still had his UK number and assuring me to call him anytime and that he was prepared to help me in any way he could.
Komla was one of those people who had genuine interest in my career. Despite his busy schedule, he had time to initiate discussions with me on stories I was doing, notably GYEEDA and the Korle-Bu investigations. He offered advice and suggested areas I could explore. He became like a caring elder brother and I am missing him like a father.
My main difficulty since Saturday afternoon has been how to reconcile, in my mind’s eyes, two contrasting images: that energetic figure I saw jump into his car and a stiff, cold piece of clay lying somewhere in a London morgue. I weep anytime this thought crosses my mind.
“This is not the time to weep,” someone told me last Saturday. “This is the time to pray.”
“Pray for what?” I asked. “Will prayers bring him back?”
And indeed, tears will not bring him back, I later realized. If any war could ever bring Komla Dumor back to life, I would certainly be a fighter, whether in a formidable army or a rebel movement.
Anytime I read the message Komla sent to me a day before his death, it reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech which he delivered two hours before his assassination. King told his followers that God had taken him to the mountaintop and his eyes had seen the glory of the Lord so he feared nothing. They did not understand him so they cheered.
Komla Dumor on the other hand, told me in the concluding part of his message that “I looked to the sky and ‘said thank you Lord for reminding me that you are on my side’ ...the enemy will be scattered.”
So why the enemy – death – not scattered, Komla? or, was death not the enemy? I still do not understand part of his message.
For now, the only positive thing about Komla’s death is the lesson it presents to us. Komla was only 41 but his impact on the world was enormous. This is the lesson.
Nobody is talking about how rich or poor he was. What has made his death a national, continental and global tragedy is how influential that life, the early part of which was characterized with failure, had been.
Death is certainly uncertain. We all know we will go. What we don’t know is when, how, where and why we will go. But when we are gone, what would be said of us? Will we have preachers, widows, children and fellow workers lying at our funerals with tributes more imaginary than fiction? Or we shall have stories of real impact on the lives of others?
Today is the third Monday of January and it is Martin Luther King Day, a national Day in the US. As we mourn Komla Dumor and celebrate his life, it is important to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermon to his congregation exactly two months before his assassination. In that sermon tiled “The Drum Major Instinct,” the peerless civil rights activist imagined his own funeral and spelt out what he would want to be remembered for:
"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.
"I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
"I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
"I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
"I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
"And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
"I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
"I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say."
How do you want to be remembered? Don’t say it. Live it. Komla Dumor says “Tomorrow is another day.” I don’t know what that means. But I know one thing for sure: tomorrow is not promised.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a Senior Broadcast Journalist at Joy FM. The views expressed in this article are his own thoughts and do not reflect those of Joy FM or myjoyonline.com.
Writer’s Email address: email@example.com