· Connecting the African diaspora for tourism and investments in Ghana
Before we delve into the substance of today’s column, this is to wish all readers a happy, healthy, and purposeful year 2020. And before I recount a meeting with one of Hollywood’s glamourous and accomplished stars (who graced “The Year of Return” promoted by President Nana Akufo-Addo, in 2019) let’s start with a note by the iconic Maya Angelou. She observed that you may not necessarily remember what a person told you, but you will never forget how they made you feel.
On first meeting Boris Kodjoe, I noticed some essential qualities about him. To begin with, he is quite a charismatic figure, and on top of that, he was wholly comfortable wearing his own skin. Also, telling from his knowing smiles and attitude, the actor seemed fully at home here in Ghana.
I met him at the +233 Jazz Club and Grill, Accra, which had billed the indomitable singer and saxophonist Gyedu Blay Ambolley to pray, play and regale the club into the new year with his Jazzy Highlife. And here I was fiddling to take a selfie with Boris when the actor himself offered to use the camera to do the honours. It was touching, even more so as his smiles beamed for the picture. As Angelou put it, there are people you hardly forget from the first impression.
I met a number of stars while studying and living in California near Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world. But meeting Boris in Ghana was different. This was like being with a natural brother – away from a madding crowd – in our very own natural turf that the Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah graciously ordained Ghana in 1957.
Year of return, 2019
One notes purposefully and with great pride that in the heart of Accra lie the tombs of W. E. B. Du Bois (1868 – 1963), a great African-American civil rights leader, and his dear wife, Shirley. Du Bois served as a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the editor of the historic CRISES magazine. He moved to Ghana in 1961, under the patronage of the Osagyefo until his death in 1963.
Ghana (then the Gold Coast) was a major hub for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The sojourn of Du Bois to Ghana signaled the emergence of a profound desire among Africans in the diaspora to retrace their roots and return to the continent.
It was no surprise then that in 2018 in Washington, D.C. President Nana Akufo-Addo formally launched the “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” for Africans in the Diaspora. That occasion gave a fresh meaning to the mission to continue to unite Africans on the continent with their brothers and sisters in the diaspora, and to engage in meaningful dialogue and investment activities for mutual economic and social growth.
At that occasion, the President acknowledged the extraordinary achievements and contributions of Africans in the diaspora to America. The symbolic year, 2019, reflected the honoring of those sacrifices. The landmark signaled the global African family, home and abroad, to mark 400 years of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia.
One of the main goals of the Year of Return campaign is to position Ghana as a key travel destination for African Americans and the African diaspora. The events planned throughout the year 2019 served to boost tourism for Ghana. Beyond that, the initiative supported one of the President’s key developmental agendas in Ghana Beyond Aid. For that reason, tourism can be a healthy indicator for business and investment.
The granting of citizenships added force to the country’s Right of Abode law which passed in 2001. That law gives people of African ancestry in the Americas, the right to stay in Ghana indefinitely. Aside from the sentimental reasons, the return of the African diaspora is pragmatic for Ghana. Earlier this year, the government waived visa requirements for some countries and slashed the cost of a visa on arrival in half in hopes that heritage tourism would bring in external revenues.
Speaking on behalf of the new citizens, an emotional Rabbi Kohain said, “The most valuable possession that was taken away from us was our identity and our connection; it was like severing the umbilical cord… But tonight, our identity, the dignity, the pride that have been absent are restored here.”
The idea of a homecoming started from the founding of the modern Ghana in 1957 led by Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972) through the earliest idea of Pan-Africanism mooted by the activists Marcus Garvey (1887 – 1940) and later by George Padmore (1903 – 1959).
A movement for tourism
About 500,000 tourists were expected to visit Ghana during the Year of Return; up from the 380,000 that visited in 2018. Businesses eagerly anticipated the influx of visitors for the festive season with the Afro Nation and Afrochella festivals attracting many young diasporan Africans.
In the US, Ghana has been heralded as a major vacation destination among some African American celebrities, black college alumni organizations and other groups. The visit to Ghana by a delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives and the likes of African American celebrities like Boris Kodjoe, Steve Harvey, and the rest, presaged a movement that has come to stay.