Document Journal explores the marketing initiative bringing celebrities, world leaders, and diaspora artists back to West Africa.
In 1960 Ghanian politician and revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah became the first president of the newly independent Republic of Ghana. After centuries of living under the strict confines of British colonial rule, the people of Ghana were free to dictate visions of their own future under the direction of local leaders like Nkrumah who had an understanding of the people’s needs and desires.
Nkrumah’s vision for the country was greatly informed by his commitment to promoting Pan-Africanism, an idea and movement that encourages all people of African descent to unite and create stronger bonds. As one of the godfathers of Pan-Africanism, Nkrumah believed that “we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity.”
Decades after his presidential term, the spirit of Pan-Africanism continues to thrive in Ghana. Just last year, the country hosted the All African People’s Conference, an event that celebrated the 60th anniversary of the groundbreaking conference of the same name that was initially hosted by Nkrumah in 1958 in Accra and brought out Pan-African leaders from around the world. Last year also saw an influx of Black American celebrities partying with local residents and exploring the dungeons of the Cape Coast during the December holiday festivities. Actor Boris Kodjoe led the group in honour of the nation’s Full Circle Festival, which was attended by Black-ish actor Anthony Anderson, musician Diggy Simons, and over a dozen other influencers and celebrities.
Ghana’s latest and most ambitious push for Pan-Africanism is 2019’s “The Year of Return”, an initiative that was introduced last year by President Nana Akufo-Addo. The Year of Return marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were taken from West Africa to mainland America, where the first recorded slave ship arrived in Virginia in August 1619. According to CNN, an estimated 75% of slave dungeons in West Africa were in Ghana, meaning that for the millions of Africans that were captured, these dungeons represented their last memories of home. In remembrance of this moment in history, the government and tourism board have sent out a global call for visitors from around the diaspora to visit the nation and discover the beauty and opportunities that come with African unity and connecting with not only Ghanaians but people from all African nations.
Document Journal spoke with five Ghanian artists about why it’s important for the African Diaspora to visit Ghana and why the Year of Return is a positive step towards uniting the Global African community.
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, Founder A A K S
“There is a need for more professionals engaging in businesses in Africa and the Diaspora can certainly help with this, particularity the returnees working for multinational organizations outside of Africa. We can certainly do with their international experience to bridge the skills gap in Africa. Generally, perceptions of Africa has changed over the years and people want to be involved and help build the Africa that we all want or foresee. I am also a returnee, I lived in Ghana while growing up; I left to the United Kingdom when I was a teenager to study and after many years, I returned with my acquired skill sets to start my fashion brand AAKS. In all, I couldn’t have dreamed of the best job in the world and working in Ghana while employing over 20 people!”
Prince Gyasi, Visual Artist
“It’s always important for Africans to return to their roots and learn more about their culture. Their return contributes to the socio-economic growth of Africa. Through innovation, entrepreneurs in the diaspora and organisations are widening spaces in the continent for African development and growth. August 2019, marks 400 years since the first enslaved African arrived in Jamestown Virginia. This is a great moment for Africans in the Diaspora to see the Year of Return as not just an occasion but also as a tool which could be use to help change the narrative. This moment is very important for every African to remember the days our forefathers and mothers were forced to go through the Doors of No Return. Celebrating this special occasion with the idea that, some celebrities from Hollywood will be visiting and some returning to Africa is great but my question is Are they coming here to negotiate and engage with the locals as well? I guess we have to wait and see.”
Kwame Akoto, Sculptor
“I am doing something for the year of return. I launched Nkyimkyim Za; a festival on creative Communal labor at Ada on the 26th of January this year. The event is also an opportunity for other creative and well-wishers to collaborate and or contribute to my Nkyimkyim Installation at Ada, Ghana. I think Africans in the diaspora returning to the Mother continent (Africa) is significant and worth celebrating. It marks an important conscious effort by Africans to get together to not only commemorate some of our painful experiences but to do something about them.”
Joshua Kissi, Creative Entrepreneur
“When people hear return to Africa, they feel like its only reserved for people who are very conscious of their roots and have a hotep type of mindset. But it’s like no, that is a right granted towards everybody, not because you have a higher consciousness, not because you have a higher education or higher tax bracket. At home, everybody’s welcome and I think that’s an important part that people need to think about when they’re thinking about travelling back. It also helps them kind of erase the preconceived notions that they have about what life is like in Africa. I think it’s really important to get to know a piece of you that you probably haven’t really thought through and even if you have it’s great for you to embark on a journey.”
Leonie Badger, Founder Studio Badge
“I think that in many ways, we are all searching for a place that we can call home. The beauty of life is that when you chance upon that place, it resonates with you deep in your soul and you feel it. I have met so many people from the diaspora that came to Ghana looking to explore and have a good time but ended up connecting so much with the vibrancy and warmth of our people, and the richness of our culture and heritage that it immediately felt like home. Finding home in this way is such a beautiful experience and it feeds into expanding your understanding of yourself as a significant piece in a whole. If you’re on the fence about making the journey, do your heart a favour and do it.”