In October this year, the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo, declared 2019 as the Year of Return to people of African descent outside of Africa, especially those who were dismembered from Africa through the slave trade. The year 2019 marks the 400th year since the official beginning of the transatlantic slave trademarked by the first arrival of enslaved Africans in Virginia, USA.
Speaking at a ceremony at the US National Press Club, the president of Ghana declared that the “time has come for people of African descent to make the journey back home. Ghana is offering African-Americans and Caribbean people the opportunity to return…” This pronouncement offers a historic opportunity for advancing Africa-Caribbean reconnection.
Even before her independence, Ghana has been at the forefront of not only Pan-Africanism but also the reunion with people of African descent and black people globally. Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, laid a solid foundation for Ghana’s reputation as a potential home for people of African descent all over the world. An enduring testament to this is the ‘Black Star’ in Ghana’s flag, inspired by the Black Star Line of Marcus Garvey’s ‘back to Africa’ movement.
Since independence, Ghana has provided a home for people like George Padmore, W. E. B. Du Bois, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Boone, Julian Mayfield, among others. The George Padmore Library and the W. E. B. Du Bois Centre in Accra have preserved the memories of these two great sons of Africa who had the courage to live, work, die and be buried in Ghana. Martin Luther King (Jr.) and Malcolm X, among many others, visited Ghana to renew their inspiration for the liberation and unity of African people all over the world.
To give further substance to this historical role and ambition of being a home to people of African descent, Ghana passed the Right of Abode Law (in 2001), which aims to grant people of African descent the right to reside in Ghana indefinitely and to progress to citizenship. In 2007, Ghana launched the ‘Joseph Project’, which signifies a fundamental requirement for a process of unlearning, relearning, and unification of Africans at home and people of African descent in the diaspora.
Similar to the biblical Joseph meeting his brothers and family, the idea was that there is a need for a corporeal contact between Africans and African descendants in the diaspora to shed off the myths they hold about each other and reconnect as brothers, sisters and one people. Africans and the people of African descent still need to learn about each other’s experiences, struggles, accomplishments, and hopes as a prerequisite for dissolving resentment and psychological boundaries, and to reclaim or re-establish a collective pride in their common heritage. Biblically, Joseph meeting his brothers marked an epoch of forgiveness and reconnection through a process of unlearning and relearning.
By declaring 2019 the Year of Return, the current president of Ghana has re-affirmed Ghana’s desire to consolidate its reputation and leadership role in reconnecting Africa with people of African descent in the diaspora. The Caribbean and Africa should seize this opportunity to close their ranks. While there are many issues to resolve, stories to be told, and tears to be shed, a corporeal contact is fundamental and a rational must. This will require courage more than anything else to overcome the challenges that readily come to mind and those that will arise.
Maya Angelou noted, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently”. It’s only through courage that this historic, deep-seated desire for reconnection can be achieved. And it is only through courage and unity that the Caribbean and Africa can hold hands together and tell the world that we are not our brother’s or sister’s keeper; but we are our brother, our sister and one people. It is only through this that Africa and the Caribbean can collectively charge forward towards the enemy’s line and push back the frontiers of underdevelopment, disrespect, and indignity. It is only through this that a coherent call for reparation will gain a renewed vitality and greater traction. It is only through this that the Caribbean can fully benefit from the vast natural resources and opportunities in Africa, and the chasm of commerce, industry, and intellectual exchange between the two regions be bridged. It is only through this that a true Afribbean cultural renaissance can emerge. It is only through this that, perhaps, Africa will become alive to its own vast potential and historical responsibility to all people of African descent. It is only through this that the door of return will remain permanently open. It is time to reconnect!
Martin Luther King’s message Birth of a New Nation was inspired by his visit to Ghana. The year 2019 offers a better opportunity for a more enduring message “the birth of the Afribbean” that will significantly influence the lives of generations to come. I hope we realize and seize this historic opportunity.
Dr David Yawson
Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies.