Last year, Ghana started a campaign for the return of people of African descent living outside the continent called “year of return.” The event drew a mammoth crowd from around the world and kicked off a memorial that has come to stay.
It has been 400 years since the first Africans were taken from their fatherland as slaves to different parts of the world, but especially the United States. The event dated as far back as 1619 has remarkably defined human coexistence, leaving traces of black race in lands far away from Africa.
Ghana (formerly Gold Coast) was a point of interest in the days of slavery. It’s estimated that 75% of slaves were held captive in dungeons on the west coast of Ghana, and millions of slaves were transported to their destination of slavery through Ghanaian ports.
The response to this development was overwhelming: from around the world, people came in their numbers, celebrities and people of color, to witness perhaps for the first time, the routes and dungeons where slavery was executed from in West Africa.
But there was more to it than the gathering of celebrities and popular figures. An attendee, Abiola Oke, shared his experience at the event, he said: “There were no Jamaicans here, no Trinidadians were here, we were one people. Our ancestors were the people that refused death. You are the products of the people that refused to die.” Talking about the dungeon, he added: “On this day, the beginning of Black History month, I reflect on our time at the Cape Coast Slave Castle in Accra Ghana built in 1652 – why this abomination of a place is called a castle is beyond me. 100 of us spent approximately 10 minutes in a slave dungeon meant for 200 captives, those uncomfortable minutes felt like an eternity and yet we knew that our time in that room was limited. Imagine what it must have been like for a captive who had no sense of when he or she would be let out. Many died in these dungeons.”
Co-organizer of the event, Boris Kodjoe told CNN: “Every person of color needs to get on this pilgrimage. They need to experience this journey and get in touch with their emotional heritage, walk through the dungeons and see the ‘door of no return.’”
“The year of return” was announced in September 2018, by Ghana president, Akufo-Addo at the Washington’s National Press Club. But there is more to it, at the end of the festival there was a hint to a broader plan by the Ghanaian government that dated years back to the year 2000, when the government enacted the Right of Abode Law that gave people of African in diaspora the right to stay in Ghana indefinitely.
In 2007, the Ghanaian government encouraged Africans in the diaspora to return and settle in the country. It paid off, by 2014, about 3,000 people from diaspora had settled in Ghana.
“‘The Year of Return’ is characterized by a music festival, an investment conference targeting diaspora Ghanaians, and the Right to Return initiative, encouraging African-Americans to seek citizenship in Ghana.”
But more than that, Ghana is seeking to use it to foster its tourism industry, and create a scape of attraction that will keep the rest of the world coming to the country. A few years ago, the government unveiled a 15-year National Tourism Development Plan (2013-2027), designed to promote local economic development and play a leading role in job creation, revenue generation, environmental conservation, national cohesion and overall economic growth.
To achieve this aim, Ghana has positioned tourism in its national development agenda with the aim of increasing the number of tourists to the country from one million to eight million per day by 2027. And that’s with benefit of $8.3 billion per year in revenue, among other things. The plan seems to be paying off as World Bank noted a tremendous increase in the country’s GDP growth in the year 2019. There is estimated 6.7% growth compared with 5.4% growth of 2018.
The Afrochela held on December 28 2019 is part of the yearly plan designed to sustain the 15-year long term. The idea is to keep tourists coming year-on-year with different kinds of festivals.
Ghana’s tourism head, Agyemang says the plan is now bringing people to the country like the holy lands. “This is a very important time for this country. People are now starting to make the pilgrimage here just like Jerusalem or Mecca, and we are here to welcome them if they decide to return,” he said.