The end of the year is in sight, and it could not come soon enough. 2014 has truly been an annus horribilis in which too many great Ghanaians have passed away, well before their time.
Normally, at this time of year, one starts to hear friends, family and colleagues share what has now become a common sentiment: that, all too soon, we’ve come to the end of yet another year. That attitude, as a new year approaches, usually feels about right, but not this time around. For 2014 has been an annus horribilis, and its end could not come soon enough.
For me, this year has been one of far too many deaths, and as we come close to its conclusion, I want to pay tribute to a few prominent Ghanaians who have passed. In one way or another, I knew all these people, whether as friends, colleagues or acquaintances.
The annus horribilis started right away in January when I received a call, asking: “Is it true about Komla?’’ “Is what true?’’ I asked. Komla Dumor, a Ghanaian journalist who was a fast rising star at the BBC, had died. Just like that. Aged just 41. As far as we knew, Komla, who had so much to offer the world, was healthy, so no-one expected to wake up to news of his death. Especially as Komla had himself been reading yesterday’s news to the world just the night before.
I had known Komla since 1998. It was that year, when he started at Joy FM and whilst I was working as a copywriter, that we had employed him to co-host Miss Lux Universe. As the creative member of the team, I wrote his script, and after the event, we would often meet at work-related functions.
Komla’s sudden passing was tragic, but it was just the first of the year. Even as we were still coming to terms with his death, I received another phone call, in February, this time informing me of the death of Richard Jonah, who I had known socially. Son of Sir Sam Jonah, Richard was also a success in his own right, building companies within the information technology, financial and mining industries.
The next piece of tragic news came on 17 May with the death of Paul Victor Obeng. PV, as he was affectionately known, was an engineer and politician – and one of the few Ghanaian politicians who seemed to act in the interests of Ghana rather than his party. In Tema, where he lived with his wife and children, PV was loved by all. No matter who you were, rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, PV would make the time to chat. And with sincerity. PV’s death came as a great shock to me because this was somebody I had seen in London in February and last spoken to in May.
All these deaths were becoming too much, but if I thought things couldn’t get any worse, it was only because I had no idea what was about to come. On 22 August, my world shattered. Or rather, it shattered on the next day when I heard the news. My good friend, former boss, colleague, mentor, advisor, brother, Dan Kermah had died. If I thought I had been devastated by the other deaths around me, then I have yet to find the words for what Dan’s death, at the too-early age of 51, did to me.
Paul Victor Obeng was one of the few Ghanaian politicians who seemed to act in the interests of Ghana rather than his party. In Tema, where he lived with his wife and children, he was loved by all.
I had known Dan as my boss at Lintas back in 1995. As my Creative Director, I always had to work with him directly. He was creative, passionate and dedicated to making sure no work ever left our department until we were satisfied it had answered the client’s brief. Although my manager, Dan worked with me, and everyone else, more as an equal colleague. When he left Lintas, he set up Studio One where he would go on to produce documentaries, commercials and events. He would often call me to work on projects with him and it became normal for him to call me on a Saturday morning and say ‘’Kofe, are you home?’’ When I answered in the affirmative, he would always follow up with: ‘’Good. I’m bringing some waakye so we work on…’’
As a result of Dan giving me so much freelance work, we became good friends and soon we were telling each other our secrets. He was trustworthy, loyal and full of wisdom and he opened his arms to everyone. Dan is credited with building the careers of many of our top television and radio presenters, actors and musicians. According to his friend and colleague Peter Agbeko, “Dan was committed to research and projects focused on improving all aspects of life in Ghana and beyond. He was passionate about enabling people to become better at whatever they did. He was a transformational leader and change agent who had great dreams. He passionately believed in counselling and mentoring of people, particularly the younger generation. He had a gift of innovative thinking, a visionary spirit, and the tenacious patience required to successfully lead meaningful reform.’’
In his tribute, MP Fritz Baffour had this to say: “Dan was a deeply thoughtful and sensitive human being, whose painstaking approach to work overrode the egos and eccentricity of showbiz to produce the desired results. He was innovative yet receptive to ideas and suggestions mooted by others…Ghana, in these cynical and difficult times, has lost someone who could have made our nation a little more bearable to live in with his artistry and work.’’
These were the kinds of tribute people paid to Dan. And to have lost him in 2014 is so painful that I know the gap he has left in my life can never be filled. At the time of his death, Dan and I were working on a number of projects, initiatives we had sincerely hoped would benefit Ghana.
2014 has been a cruel year marked by the deaths of so many who were too young to die. Deaths of people who were making a real contribution to the world, in their own way, and still had so much more to offer.
The final prominent Ghanaian I want to talk about who fits into this category of world-changers snatched from the earth too soon is Efua Dorkenoo. The first time I met Efua, I didn’t realise who she was. To me, she was just the welcoming host who had received my friend and I, both strangers to her, into her home in London with warmth, and brandy.
The first time I met Efua whilst knowing who she was came later on, after I had been interviewed about my views on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I knew a lot about FGM, but it wasn’t a battle I was personally involved in fighting. However, after the interview, I was intrigued to find that a group in the UK were about to launch a huge campaign, and as a copywriter and creative, I thought I could use my skills to help. So I reached out to Efua who, when we met, welcomed me with open arms and a warm hug. Neither of us realised that we had met at her home the year before.
Efua fought tirelessly in her battle to end FGM. She campaigned unstintingly and was successful in seeing laws brought into effect. In 1994, after having done consultancy work for the likes of the United Nations, Efua received an OBE. Throughout her life, she was dedicated to fighting FGM and gave it all her passion and energy. After meeting her, I wrote a documentary about her that we were going to work on together. Sadly, her premature death has killed this dream.
The world lost far too many great lives this year. I sincerely hope each one of them, and the loved ones they leave behind, are at peace. They all gave so much to the world whilst following their hearts and living their dreams. They no doubt made sacrifices along the way, but at the end of the day, they left behind true legacies of success, achievement and greatness. If, at the end of our lives, we can leave behind legacies comparable to Komla’s, Richard’s, PV’s, Dan’s and Efua’s, then we will certainly have lived a life worth living. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.