Komla’s passing reveals the death of social etiquette

In the sober hours of January 18th, social media ignited with news that acclaimed news anchor, Komla Dumor, was dead. Initially, I thought it was a rumor but as Facebook evolved into a virtual tombstone, I knew it had to be true. The reaction was swift. Ghanaians around the globe responded with sympathetic posts and tear-jerking hashtags. But gradually, the tenor of grief turned sour.

We replaced our polite ‘rest in peace’ platitudes with blatant questions about the cause of death and what he could have done differently. We could not believe that a seemingly healthy 41-year-old could die of cardiac arrest so we dissected his diet and his personal life and drew cringe-worthy conclusions. First, we accused the BBC. The job was overwhelming. Zigzagging from Marrakech to Soweto reporting on Africa was too much for one person… Then, we turned on him and chided him for the very reasons we admired him. He worked too hard; he was too ambitious, this is what happens when young people chase money…

The level of insensitivity peaked when someone in Komla’s inner circle leaked a personal message that detailed the complex dynamics of his job and his alarming blood pressure level. In minutes, what was supposed to be a heart-to-heart between trusted friends became fodder for Facebook pundits. On a day that the Dumor family must have been feeling most vulnerable, our lack of empathy was at an all time high. In another insensitive moment, a Ghanaian woman published pictures of the deceased’s children accompanied by a post calling on all wives to see Komla’s death as a wakeup call to purchase blood pressure machines. She opined that women who did not monitor their husbands’ blood pressure would have to assume responsibility if their husbands died. Her tactless rant ended with unsettling insinuations about Komla’s widow. The last I checked, the post had nearly 200 ‘likes’.

Not to be outdone, a group called the Young Liberals Party of Ghana sent an opinion piece to ghanaweb.com entitled “Dumor is dead and so?” The distasteful heading was matched by a poorly written article urging Ghanaians to focus on political issues instead of mourning Komla. After reading that piece and various Facebook posts, I have to ask, what happened to basic etiquette? What ever happened to being respectful of the dead and their families? Social media has given us an unfettered platform to share our thoughts, but increasingly, it has become a tool to tear people down when they are at their lowest. So as a grieving family prepares to bury a beloved father and son, I do not question what Komla could have done differently, instead, I wonder what I could have done differently.

I did not know Komla but, I knew his voice. It was compelling and convincing. From my TV, I got to know his smile - it beamed of promise. His friends speak of his infectious humor and his heartwarming charm. At the same time, he was a driven individual who anchored his talent in hard work. For that, he was rewarded with an unprecedented promotion from Ghana’s Joyfm to the BBC where his knack for connecting with people resurrected fledging shows like ‘Africa Business Report’ and ‘Focus on Africa’. Last year, rumors swelled that he had been called to join President Mahama’s government but that gathered no steam. In his circle, we heard whispers of presidential ambitions. After all, with his international acclaim, a win was inevitable… The thought of what such a talented and accomplished man could have been is what makes Komla’s death heart breaking.

He was well-groomed, well-spoken and committed to telling positive stories about Africa. I was proud of him, but, I never told him. We had enough mutual friends that I could have easily sent him a personal email with the simple words: “I am so proud of you!” But, I didn’t – he’s too big to be reading emails from fans, I thought. Boy was I wrong. The last message Komla posted on twitter were “thanks v v much that’s v kind of you”. It was to a fan. Now I wish I had not admired him from a distance.

For me, Komla’s sudden death will always be a somber reminder to reach out to people I admire and encourage them with edifying words - they may not be around tomorrow.

Dear Komla,

I am soo proud of you.