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‘Year of Return’ in Ghana

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, Ph.D | 11/21/2019, midnight

For a very long time, Ghana has been the African country of choice for most African-Americans who want to reacquaint themselves with their African roots. This was long before President Obama’s now-famous trip to the “Door of No Return” at Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast of Ghana.

The popularity of Ghana dates at least to 1957, when in-coming first independent President Kwame Nkrumah uttered the famous phrase, “Ghana’s new independence will mean nothing without the full independence and unification of all of Africa.” Dr. Martin Luther King was there. So was then-USA Vice President Richard Nixon. 

Yearly, Ghanaian tourism totals from the African Diaspora are among the highest in Africa. So when Ghana’s current president, Nana Akufo-Addo, started making Internet commercials in 2018 inviting the African Diaspora to come back to Ghana this year for a “Year of Return” Festival to celebrate the 400 years of absence because of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, many of us were all in.

The festival dates were supposed to be the beginning of November, and most of the activities were supposed to be held in Kumasi, an inland city centered on the continuing cultural dominance of the Ashanti ethnic group and the Asantehene Golden stool.

Although I was an invited speaker for the occasion, a bad omen was the absence of anyone at the airport to pick up the small party with which I arrived, and none of the contact phone numbers provided, worked. We could have panicked, quickly made return air reservations back to Accra, the capital, but didn’t.

Eventually, we got settled into the hotel set up for us, then relocated several times until we found a hotel we actually liked. Somehow, I couldn’t shake the feeling of behaving like a spoiled African American guest—an O’Bruny as regular Ghanaians sometimes call us derisively. 

During the next few days, there were several serious meetings and Jolof rice lunches/dinners, but no sign of welcome from the president who had invited us. There was also no sign that the regular Ghanaian citizens expected us, or had prepared any special events or activities for us. There were two important social gatherings of Diasporans from the Island of Surinam, from the Netherlands itself, from Trinidad-Tobago, from Canada, from the Black Hebrews of Israel, and from the USA. The music was great and the optimism was high. But where was the conductor of this enterprise?

We all attended a deep drumbeat-laced African naming ceremony, made speeches in a local park about our longing to no longer feel like a ‘motherless child, a long, long way from home.’ And we shopped. But no one wrapped us in the warmth of a general welcome home. Ghana just kept on about its daily business.

Clearly, whoever was in charge of this ‘homecoming’ had failed to properly carry out the task. Those in charge were a local organizing committee called the Caribbean-Africa Chamber of Commerce, and the governmental Office of Diasporan Affairs.

Their collaboration didn’t work. At the end of the day (actually 5 days), a hastily arranged group of Diasporan leaders—in a six-hour special meeting—took charge of evaluating this particular effort and the organization of a “Year of Return Part II” scheduled for 2021.

It will be better done. The spirit won’t wither and the interest won’t die.

By the way, there currently are more than 5,000 African Diasporans from various parts of the world living in Ghana. Ghana just made over 250 of them dual citizens, with the right to vote, to own land in freehold, etc. Virtually none of them showed up to welcome us either.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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