Sunday, January 19, 2014

For Komla Dumor

I went to bed last night hoping that I'd wake up this morning and all that happened yesterday would just be an unexplainable blip in the order of the world. But that voice, that face, that handshake, that viral smile stayed me through the night. And this morning everything is still the same.

As a professional, it's easy to understate Komla Dumor's achievements. He went from plucky radio station in Ghana, to Network Africa, to World Today on the World Service, to BBC World and Focus on Africa TV. The journey from Africa to a global broadcaster of such renown is not so common. He singlehandedly changed the sound, and look of the BBC's global broadcasts - no mean feat for an individual. The rest of us black Africans who're in the global news business walk the path Komla cleared for us.

The reason he rose was two things, editors saw/heard him and thought, "bloody hell, this guy is talented". And, he put in work, as they say, Looking at his boundless energy on screen or his permanent enthusiasm on the radio, you wouldn't know how hard Komla worked. So many times I remember waking up to him doing some live broadcast, going asleep to him, and waking up to him again on the same story. The number of cover shifts he did before moving permanently to BBC World. In 2012, I saw him taking some language classes, Portuguese he told me. He wanted to go to the World Cup in Brazil. If I wanted to stand a good chance of going, I'd better get learning. He didn't rest on his laurels.

I won't even talk about talent, it was there for all to see. There are very few people who have memorable screen moments, but even in his relatively short time, there are so many. His bright orange tie during the Dutch Royal Wedding last year (a testament to the sharpest dresser in news), spinning the basketball on his finger at the end of one edition of Focus with Peter Okwoche, and of course the great unveiling of that Black Star football shirt at the World Cup in South Africa.

He was an Afrorealist. He acknowledged Africa's faults, but also celebrated its triumphs. That's why his TEDxEuston speech went down a storm. He had the authority to do that. He knew the worst of the continent, but he was the best of us.

Komla had real presence. Physically, you couldn't miss him. If you were blind, you would hear his booming voice. If you were deaf, his handshake left you in no doubt. And if you were lucky enough to get a hug from him, the knots were gone by the time he let go. He riffed on everything. What he loved on his last work trip, needing to go to Ghana to relax, the latest quips from his three beloved children. How is Chiko, he'd ask, and the little one. Bros, he would say. His smile. His smile. A warm warm guy.

Death comes to us all, this we know. Sometimes we're prepared, more often we're not. But this feels like an injustice. Komla was just getting started.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sometimes I think I'd be sad if you died

For Chikodili.

My body clock has a few misaligned cogs and wheels as a result of the nights, so I've been up since 2.30am trying to decide whether to do this. I've mostly looked at the clock projection on our ceiling, listened to you hum right beside me, and try to figure out what to say.

I remember when leaving for work in the early days, and I'd kiss you just enough to wake you slightly so you'd know I was gone. I wanted our parting to be sweet and sorrow. I'd get short shrift if I did that now, because chances are you've been up late writing, or the Youngling has kept you awake. When they've left the nest, we'll do that again. We've grown. Together. You and me..

We're not a couple that does PDA, which doesn't mean the A isn't there. We still laugh about how when we first met, even though we may have been going somewhere together, we never walked beside each other. It was mostly you lagging behind, and me yelling at you to walk up.

I'll never forget a few months ago when I was standing by the sink, doing dishes. The Youngling was probably proclaiming as he always does, "Papa is doing dishes". You looked up at me with a straight face, voice heavy with solemnity and said, "you know, sometimes I think I'd be sad if you died."


There's that picture of us on the day we first met (sometime in May), and I wonder what was going through our heads. I'm sure it wasn't marriage. But here we are six years on, married for four, with a beautiful two-year old boy.

I think the real reason I'm doing this is because, you're a person who gives everything great thought. You never turn down an opportunity to seek underlying meaning to even the most mundane of things. Your threats (yes, they are threats) to run away this week to a monastery is a perfect illustration of how introspective you can be. And just as I know and suspected, you've been thinking very much about your milestone birthday, if the posts, here, here, and here, are anything to go by. 

All I wish to do is to remind you that it's a milestone, not a millstone. You can look back and be proud of what you've achieved both professionally and personally. I know you don't like to wear your breasts and ladyparts as a badge of honour, but Anyika is an achievement. It won't win you an Oscar or a Booker, or even a day at the spa. But here's the thing, none of those accolades, and none of the adulation would adequately reward and acknowledge what you've done. "Life is God's most precious gift", and I can never thank you enough for sustaining it daily in the Youngling.

Here's what's wonderful about your birthday: you can look forward. There are still smells to smell, sights to see, winds to feel. And it's because of your capacity to be alive that the journey is only just beginning. Everyday, everyday, I chuckle, and invariably, it's because of something you've said or done. A token of why we're married, a small indicator of why I love you, why I'm most alive when I'm with you.

There'll be no grand parties, no parades (it sounds like gale force winds outside), and there won't be too much fanfare, but make no mistake, this is a celebration.

As for the book(s), believe me, that's the least of my worries.

In the immortal words of Tiny Tim, as burned on celluloid, God bless us, everyone.

With all my heart,
Nkem (and Anyika)

ps. I promise not to do something like this for at least another ten years. 
pps. It's now gone 5am and I'm coming back to bed. Please don't kick me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

OBJ on HARDtalk

Starts about 1'20" in.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

World Debates - Africa

The blurb from the BBC World News website:

The levels of violence and war across Africa have fallen dramatically. New data confirms most African states are now more stable and democratic.

But what kind of democracy?

And is Africa's great potential still being held up by governance issues related to political transition?

All the above issues took centre stage at the World Economic Forum meeting on Africa, which took place this June in Cape Town.

Political and business leaders joined the BBC World Debate to discuss the impact of good governance on economic growth and stability and the lessons to be learned from extreme cases such as Zimbabwe.

Panellists: Oby Ezekwesili, Tendai Biti (who's in jail as I type this), John Kufuor, Raila Odinga, Jendayi Frazer, and Wendy Luhabe.

Part 1, starts 10mins in.

Part 2

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pisani on AIDS in Africa

Elizabeth Pisani has been doing the junket since her book, the Wisdom of Whores, was released. Reviews, and interviews galore. The book, I suppose, is trying to batter conventional wisdom on what we think we know about AIDS transmission and treatment. I haven't read the book, so I hope this isn't too much of a simplification. The reviews should give more of an idea.

I saw her HARDtalk last week, in an interview that was remarkable in its level of broken taboos. Go to the HARDtalk page, and watch the interview. On the right hand side of the page, click on the third clip on Africa. She talks about the sexual practices of Africans in relation to the transmission of HIV.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rainbows and clouds

You've obviously seen the pictures coming out of South Africa. A cloud appears to have descended over the Rainbow Nation as the indigenous population in Joburg loot the property of immigrants. So far, more than twenty people have been killed.

Obviously, the instinctive response seems to be, "how could this happen in South Africa, that bastion of liberalism and progressive thought." The truth is that SA has a liberal/progressive constitution, but this liberalism isn't a reflection of actual South African society. See William Gumede's article in yesterday's Guardian. And I've always been suspicious of it. I never thought South Africa's adoption of gay marriage was a genuine reflection of what people thought.

But it's understandable that after suffering under the heavy thumb of apartheid, the politicos and intelligentsia would want a constitution where there's no discrimination whatsoever. It's an argument which has been rumbling since the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. The "Black community" is generally antipathetic to homosexuality, but gay rights activists always ask what is so different about their struggle. This obviously has greater currency in the US where society is more liberal, and where this conflict for African-Americans exists. In many African countries, homosexuality, or buggery as some constitutions still state, is illegal. Illegality of homosexuality and virulent anti-gay feeling in society are miles apart from acceptance and gay marriage.

Homosexuality is just a reflection of how far perception and reality in South Africa are.

Friday, May 16, 2008