From Meek Mill’s music video being shot in Ghana; to the sequel of 2017 American blockbuster movie Girls Trip being set in Ghana; to the flock of high-profile American celebrities who have vacationed in the country; and even to the hundreds of African-Americans who have made the country their home in the past decade, Ghana seems to have established itself as the African pioneer of Roots Tourism.
While several other African countries rely on wildlife and scenic attractions for tourism, the West African country has done a brilliant job of capitalizing on history and culture to cement itself as a tourist hotspot.
The increase of the Ghanaian appeal to the African (American) diaspora can most significantly be traced to 2019, the year the Ghanaian government dubbed “The Year of Return”. The mega campaign was based on the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia, USA 400 years prior.
Ghana’s government ceased the opportunity to call the African diaspora spread across the Americas, the Caribbean and Asia to “come back home”—though, it seems African Americans heeded the call the most.
Visitors were able to visit historical slave sites such as the Cape Coast Castle Museum and St. Georges (Elmina) Castle Museum—both of which are now UNESCO World Heritage sites. Visitors would also be able to experience Ghanaian and African culture and music like never before at festivals like Afrochella and Ghana World Music Festival.
To top off the year, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo held a naturalization ceremony, in grand style, to confer citizenship on 126 African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans who had been residing in the country for a while.
In 2019 alone, the “Year of Return” campaign injected nearly $2 billion dollars into the local economy.
The following year, the government launched the “Beyond the Return” campaign, a 10-year project, to cement the “African Renaissance” by encouraging more visits and ventures from Africans in the diaspora.
Also in 2020, President Akufo-Addo stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd’s death.
“We stand with our kith and kin in America in these difficult and trying times, and we hope that the unfortunate, tragic death of George Floyd will inspire a lasting change in how America confronts head-on the problems of hate and racism,” President Akufo-Addo appealed.
He also requested for George Floyd’s name to be permanently mounted on the wall of the Diasporan African Forum at the W.E.B. Du Bois Centre in Accra.
The plaque was erected at a memorial service organized by the Ghana Tourism Authority, which African Americans living in the country attended.
“We continue to open our arms and invite all our brothers and sisters home. Ghana is your home. Africa is your home…We have our arms wide open, ready to welcome you home. Please take advantage. Come home, build a life in Ghana. You have a choice and Africa is waiting for you,” urged Ghana’s Minister of Tourism at the memorial service.
However, Ghana’s appeal to the African American diaspora dates as far back as 1957, the year Ghana became the first black African country to gain independence from European—in this case, British—colonization. The likes of W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Maya Angelou and Julian Bond travelled down to Ghana and some of them even lived there for a while.
A Fresh Sense of Belonging
For many Africans in the diaspora who made their way to Ghana in 2019 and beyond, the visit created in them a sense of belonging unlike any other.
Moreso, seeing historical sites related to the slave trade seemed to embolden many visitors’ plights for racial social justice as well as expand their outlook on the issue.
For many black visitors, it is perhaps their first time in a country where they are not “othered”. Black people are not a minority, and there is hardly any race-based discrimination and its accompanying politics. On the contrary, white people are the minority.
Ghana has presented an opportunity for black people to live free, unburdened and in all their authentic blackness, a freedom that warmly jumps at them right from the airport.
Some have even gone on to adopt local names and become self-appointed ambassadors of Ghana to their home countries.
However, Ghana is not a complete utopia compared to the returning diasporans’ home countries. The country is plagued by economic pitfalls, corruption and other social issues. Notwithstanding, it offers something wholesome and much-appreciated: a true sense of home.
Perhaps other African countries with similar rich slave histories can follow in Ghana’s footsteps.