President Akufo-Addo of Ghana has officially declared 2019 as the Year of Return for the African diaspora, whose ancestors were taken from Africa and enslaved in the Americas. But it is also an opportune moment for Ghanaians to reflect on their own shortcomings. By Audrey Donkor
The Year of Return commemorates the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown, Virginia and invites the African diaspora to undertake a birthright journey home to Ghana, the location of 75% of slave dungeons along the west coast of Africa.
According to the Ghana Tourism Authority, half a million Africans in the diaspora are expected to make the trip home to Ghana in 2019: 350,000 from North America, and the remaining 150,000 from the Caribbean, South America, and Europe.
Events planned for this year-long celebration include investment forums, summits, concerts, and festivals showcasing African arts, technology, and culture.
This homecoming drive further cements Ghana’s status as a leader of pan-Africanism. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence. Kwame Nkrumah, the country’s first President, was a Founding Father of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union.
Prominent African-Americans such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Bunche, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, and Robert Wright visited or lived in Ghana during the 50s and 60s. George Padmore and W.E.B. Du Bois, both leaders of the pan-African Movement, relocated to Ghana and are buried in Accra.
The Year of Return also builds on previous efforts to encourage the African diaspora to resettle in Ghana and contribute to the development of the African continent. In 2000, Ghana passed the Right of Abode law, which allows people of African descent to live in Ghana indefinitely.
The obvious benefits to be accrued from the Year of Return include increased revenues from tourism in 2019 and beyond, investment deals and partnerships in various sectors, and closure for the African diaspora, who finally set foot in their ancestral home.
Taken for granted
A less obvious benefit is the opportunity it affords Ghanaians to reflect on the legacy of slavery and colonisation and our experience as an independent country.
Whereas Africans in the diaspora are constantly reminded of the history of slavery through their marginalisation, the average Ghanaian hardly, if ever, reflects on the history of slavery and colonisation. Ghanaians take their hard-won independence for granted and consequently their awareness is less developed.
It was after all the African chiefs and kings who sold fellow Africans they had captured from enemy states into slavery. Four hundred years later, young Africans, including Ghanaians, are still crossing the sea in droves to the diaspora under inhumane conditions.
Again, their departure is involuntary and spurred by the betrayal of their own leaders, who have forsaken the principles of the independence struggle and put their selfish interests above the peace and development of their countries.
Like the ancestors of the African diaspora arriving home, these young Africans are making lengthy journeys across the continent to reach the Mediterranean coast. Just like their ancestors, they are boarding overcrowded boats, drowning at sea, and getting thrown overboard. Some of these migrants are even getting trafficked or sold into slavery.
For too long, Africa and the entire world has blamed the white man alone for the scourge of slavery. Perhaps, as Ghanaians collectively and formally accept the culpability of our ancestors in this blight on history, we will begin to confront the parallels between the actions of our past kings and those of our present-day bureaucrats and ordinary citizens.
How can we in good faith invite the African diaspora to unite with us when we cannot unite with each other back home?
No amount of foreign investment and partnerships or nation branding can lift us out of poverty unless we eschew the vices of corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency, tribalism, and nepotism.
It is hypocritical to talk of unity when politicians connive with foreigners to inflate the costs of development projects for kickbacks, at the expense of the Ghanaian taxpayer.
It is unpatriotic and short-sighted to overprice housing units in the city centre, crowding out the youth, who then have to live on the outskirts of the city and spend about four hours driving to and from work daily.
Likewise, it is mind-boggling and utterly reprehensible to support and encourage foreigners to engage in illegal mining activities which pollute our rivers and water bodies.
The African diaspora is welcome to Ghana, a land where they are likely to find peace and solace away from the discrimination and marginalisation they have lived with for so long.
To become a beacon for Africans everywhere however, Ghana must strive for socioeconomic transformation, good governance, security, and equal opportunities for all its citizens. Our right to invite the African diaspora home cannot be earned through our past laurels. NA