My guest columnist this week, Mr Akwasi Agyeman, is the CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority and Coordinator of the “Year of Return” project.
He shares his thoughts on the project…
It was a windy evening in July 2019; the Atlantic was breezing and left in its trail a familiar sound of fury. Men and women from afar had converged on this old sleepy yet defiant town for a night of remembrance.
This was the “Year of Return” and thousands had heeded the clarion call of our President to return to the motherland.
They marched upon the grim, giant edifice with its whitewashed walls through whose gates their forbears had passed en route to the New World through the Door of No Return, bound and chained as chattel slaves.
In front of the Cape Cast Castle, the Paramount Chief of the Oguaa Traditional Area, Osabarima Kwesi Atta III, met the marchers.
The echoes of his words were carried far by the violent waves: “I welcome you, I welcome you home.”
From the gates of the castle to the slippery slopes down the dungeons, I went off in deep thought, my mind harking back to a clear, crisp day in Washington DC 10 months earlier. What does this mean? When, if ever, will there be closure?
“We have to work together to make sure that never again will we allow a handful of people with superior technology to walk into Africa, seize our peoples and sell them into slavery.”
These were the words of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo during the global launch of the Year of Return initiative at the National Press Club in Washington DC, in front of an audience of influential politicians, business people and the media.
In his parting words, the President said: “I urge you to come back home and we will welcome you with open arms.” They responded warmly and came, in their numbers, in what has now sparked a continent-wide scramble for similar initiatives of returning our kith and kin. The race is on to deliver.
Ghana’s African diaspora connection pre-dates our independence. During the struggle for independence, the then political leaders reached out to the African Diaspora. One such notable ‘returnee’ was Dr Kwame Nkrumah who eventually became the first leader of the free nation.
During the immediate post-independence era, Dr Nkrumah made a conscious effort to continue the connection with the African Diaspora.
He invited many well-known African diasporas to visit Ghana, among them were W.E.B. Du Bois, George Padmore, Malcolm X etc.
This early connection became the catalyst for several “Ghana is the motherland” claims. In 1992, the country adopted the Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (PANAFEST), mooted by Efua Sutherland as a cultural vehicle for bringing Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora together around the issues raised by slavery.
To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence and also in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the North Atlantic slave trade, the Joseph project was launched by the then Minister of Tourism, Jake Obetsebi Lamptey of blessed memory in 2007.
Joseph, represented in both the Bible and the Quran, was sold into slavery, rose in the land of his slavery and reached back when the brethren reached out to him.
Fast forward to 2020 and President, Akufo-Addo, has taken the diaspora outreach to a completely new level.
Beyond ‘the Return’, Ghana is now poised to be the ‘Mecca’ of the global African family and the nerve centre of the African renaissance.
The “Year of Return” was not just about numbers. A seed of a new African narrative has been planted. When our brothers and sisters returned, it was as if some scales were lifted off their eyes.
The Africa of scourge, disease and poverty that they had been served with, was after all not the reality of our lot. And that means a lot.
It has been a lot of exciting hard work with other stakeholders to bring the President’s initiative from a declaration to reality.
The challenges were many and considerable, but we were not daunted.
We were rather poised to confront and then surmount them as they came. We have even more work to do, and that work involves a shared responsibility to build a new Ghana and a new Africa.
At the Ghana Tourism Authority, we are girded and ready to ride on the wave of last year’s successes and help live this dream.
Let us all share in the strength, power and inspiration of those who rose, triumphed and continue to triumph over the greatest of all adversities.