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The Year of the Return Ghana

In the heart of Accra, Ghana’s capital, just a few meters from the United States embassy, lie the tombs of W. E. B. Du Bois, a great African-American civil rights leader, and his wife, Shirley. The founder of the US-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People moved to Accra in 1961, settling in the city’s serene residential area of Labone and living there until his death in August 1963.

Mr. Du Bois’s journey to Ghana may have signaled the emergence of a profound desire among Africans in the diaspora to retrace their roots and return to the continent. Ghana was a major hub for the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

In Washington, D.C., in September 2018, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo declared and formally launched the “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” for Africans in the Diaspora, giving fresh impetus to the quest to unite Africans on the continent with their brothers and sisters in the diaspora.

At that event, President Akufo-Addo said, “We know of the extraordinary achievements and contributions they [Africans in the diaspora] made to the lives of the Americans, and it is important that this symbolic year—400 years later—we commemorate their existence and their sacrifices.”

200 yrs

Since the abolition of slavery

US Congress members Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, diplomats and leading figures from the African-American community, attended the event. Representative Jackson Lee linked the Ghanaian government’s initiative with the passage in Congress in 2017 of the 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act. Provisions in the act include the setting up of a history commission to carry out and provide funding for activities marking the 400th anniversary of the “arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”

Since independence in 1957, successive Ghanaian leaders have initiated policies to attract Africans abroad back to Ghana.

In his maiden independence address, then–Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah sought to frame Africa’s liberation around the concept of Africans all over the world coming back to Africa.

“Nkrumah saw the American Negro as the vanguard of the African people,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard, who first traveled to Ghana when he was 20 and fresh out of Harvard, afire with Nkrumah’s spirit. “He wanted to be able to utilize the services and skills of African-Americans as Ghana made the transition from colonialism to independence.”

Ghana’s parliament passed a Citizenship Act in 2000 to make provision for dual citizenship, meaning that people of Ghanaian origin who have acquired citizenships abroad can take up Ghanaian citizenship if they so desire.

That same year the country enacted the Immigration Act, which provides for a “Right of Abode” for any “Person of African descent in the Diaspora” to travel to and from the country “without hindrance.”

The Joseph Project

In 2007, in its 50th year of independence, the government initiated the Joseph Project to commemorate 200 years since the abolition of slavery and to encourage Africans abroad to return.

Similar to Israel’s policy of reaching out to Jews across Europe and beyond following the Holocaust, the Joseph Project is named for the Biblical Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt but would later reunite with his family and rule Egypt.

The African-American community is excited about President Akufo-Addo’s latest initiative. In social media posts, many expressed interest in visiting Africa for the first time. Among them is Amber Walker, a media practitioner who says that 2019 is the time to visit her ancestral home.

“It is definitely comforting because that kind of red carpet has not been rolled out by our oppressors in the Western world,” she added.

In making the announcement President Akufo-Addo said: Together on both sides of the Atlantic, we’ll work to make sure that never again will we allow a handful of people with superior technology to walk into Africa, seize their people and sell them into slavery. That must be our resolution, that never again, never again!”

But Ms. Walker took issue with Mr. Akufo-Addo for appearing to downplay the actions of some Africans in the slave trade. “In the president’s [Akufo-Addo’s] statement, he sounds like the entire blame is placed on white people coming in with weapons and taking black people away, but that’s not necessarily the history. So I think that needs to be acknowledged,” she said.

She suggested a form of reconciliation such as took place in post-apartheid South Africa—a truth and reconciliation process that will satisfy the millions of Africans whose forefathers were sold into slavery.

In 2013 the United Nations declared 2015–2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent to “promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.”

The theme for the ten-year celebration is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”

The “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” will coincide with the biennial Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (Panafest), which is held in Cape Coast, home of Cape Coast Castle and neighbouring Elmina Castle—two notable edifices recognized by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as World Heritage Sites of the slave era.

Source – UN.ORG 

Ghana Citizen Welcome Home Celebration

As Osibisa’s “Welcome Home” played in the background, 126 African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans, dressed in colorful traditional costumes, became Ghana’s newest citizens.

The oath of allegiance was administered by a judge in a ceremony at Jubilee House, the seat of government. The ceremony is the biggest highlight as Ghana marks 2019 as the Year of Return. One after the other, the new citizens took turns to shake hands with their president and went on to collect their citizenship certificates.

“On behalf of the government and people of Ghana, I congratulate you once again on resuming your identity as Ghanaians,” President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a speech on Wednesday, Nov. 27.

OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, GHANA
Celebrating being Ghanaian

This year marks 400 years since the anchoring of an English ship in Jamestown, Virginia in the United States carrying a small group of enslaved Africans. While Africans had been in other parts of the Americas region (including the present-day United States) before 1619, that year is widely regarded as the commencement of the slave trade in the US.

As Quartz Africa has previously reported, throughout 2019, Ghana has been hosting a raft of activities, at home and abroad, to encourage the descendants of those who were forcibly sent away to return. In June, the president embarked on a five-nation tour of the Caribbean to promote the initiative.

“We recognize our unique position as the location for 75% of the slave dungeons built on the west coast of Africa through which the slaves were transported. That is why we had a responsibility to extend the hand of welcome, back home to Africans in the diaspora,” the president added in his speech.

OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, GHANA
New Ghanaians in resplendent traditional attire after the ceremony

“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 has been absent is restored here,” Rabbi Kohain, who spoke on behalf of the new citizens said.

OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, GHANA
Ghana newest citizens

This is not the first time Ghana has given citizenship to diasporan Africans who have established residency. In one of his last acts in office, former president John Mahama witnessed a naturalization ceremony ‘restoring’ citizenship to 34 diasporan Africans in December 2016.

The idea of a homecoming of “our brothers and sisters” who were taken away is one that Ghana has long fancied and championed. Right from the founding of the modern nation in 1957, early Ghanaian leaders led by the first president Kwame Nkrumah preached Pan-Africanism, one that transcended the shores of continental Africa.

The granting of citizenships give an added force to the country’s Right of Abode law which was passed in 2001. That law gives anybody of African ancestry in the Americas, the right to stay in Ghana indefinitely.

AP PHOTO/CAROLYN KASTER
Cape Coast Castle on the Gulf of Guinea in Cape Coast, Ghana where slaves were traded

Aside from sentimental reasons, the return of the African diaspora is economically 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 will bring in much-needed revenue.

About 500,000 tourists are expected to visit Ghana during the Year of Return; up from the 380,000 that visited in 2018. Businesses are eagerly anticipating an influx of visitors over the festive season with the Afro Nation and Afrochella festivals expected to attract thousands of young diasporan Africans. In the US this year, Ghana has been heralded as a major end-of-year vacation destination among some African American celebrities, black college alumni organizations and similar groups.

The government is also not losing sight of the investment potential and human capital of the highly educated “returnees” who decide to permanently move to Ghana.

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