Who did the Year of Return Forget ?

In Return by Ewurama Brew

The Year of Return was a collaboration between the Ghanaian Tourism Authorities, the Panafest Foundation and the Adinkra group in the U.S. The mission was to “celebrate the victims of the Trans-Atlantic slave Trade who were scattered and displaced throughout the world in North America, South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.”

The Year of Return took place in Ghana, a country in West Africa, in 2019. It was an invitation for many Africans abroad, African Americans and the people of the Diaspora to return to Ghana to celebrate life and hope for all Africans around the world. The Year of Return was more successful than expected. Thousands of people flew from various parts of the world to experience this powerful moment dedicated to our brothers, sisters and kin who were taken from their homes and forced into slavery. The call for “return” was a beautiful reunion story. Ghana hopes to keep this story alive by inviting more people to experience the Year of Return every year, as expressed by the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture. The Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture spoke immensely about the economic growth in Ghana and the plans put in place to increase development and employment for Ghanaians and for foreigners who plan to invest in Ghana.

There were about 78 different activities planned by Tourism, Art and Culture for those from the Diaspora. Amongst these various activities, two important things took place. First, there was a swearing of the oath of allegiance of 126 Africans from the Diaspora who had lived in Ghana for many years and were finally eligible to receive their citizenship. Some had lived in Ghana for ten years, and others for more than twenty years. All citizenship recipients wore a joyful expression that could not be stripped off. This ceremony took place in 2019 during the Year of Return as part of the celebrations. It began with the Ghanaian National Anthem, followed by a welcome home speech from the MC. Then the Minister of Interior explained generally what becoming a citizen entailed.

Many African Americans and Caribbeans from the Diaspora joyfully received their citizenship with dancing as they raised their mini-Ghanaian flags. Both men and women who received their citizenship at the ceremony expressed the beauty of being home and feeling a part of Ghana. One lady receiving her citizenship said that she could confidently say that she is home each time she travels out of Ghana and returns. Lastly, The President of the Republic of Ghana expressed how honoured he was for the number of individuals from the Diaspora who choose to be Ghanaian citizens.

As Ghana embraced what the future could look like, the Year of Return also forced visitors and residents to address the past; address what Ghana had been. The President expressed the dread of many Africans who were forcefully taken from their homes through the Elmina Castle. The Elmina Castle is situated in the Central Region of Ghana. This castle was built by the Portuguese settlers in 1482 as a trading post. As time went on, many colonizers, including the Dutch and Great Britain, took over the castle, which became a common ground for the slave trade. The Elmina Castle is also known as “The Door of No Return,” meaning once you leave the door of the castle, there is no coming back to your homeland. Many members of the Diaspora visited Ghana during the 2019 Year of Return to visit the Elmina Castle. During the tour of Elmina Castle, many visitors were overwhelmed with emotion as they maneuvered through the Castle approaching the “Door of No Return”. Some visitors described the joy of walking through “the Door of No Return” as a sign of freedom from their oppressors.

Among the numerous events during the Year of Return, the President of Ghana’s 2019 Homecoming Summit was a part of the activities that captured massive attention. The 2019 Homecoming Summit took place at the Accra Conference Centre. The Homecoming Summit provided a space for those from the Diaspora to gain knowledge about Ghana’s economy. Various ministers like the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Information, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Tourism were all present at the Summit to discuss plans put in place for those prepared to come back and boost the economy.

After watching the 2019 Year of Return Homecoming Summit, I realized that while this was an excellent opportunity for those from the Diaspora, it seemed as though the opportunities presented only catered to those from the Diaspora. The Year of Return Homecoming Summit has been one of the largest summits since Ghana’s independence in 1957. The Minister of Finance discussed creating investment opportunities for those from the Diaspora, which has not been an option for many living in the country.

During my trip to Ghana in December 2018, I had the privilege to interact with a few people. Some I had known personally and others I just happened to meet. The most common topic of discussion was the lack of jobs in Ghana and how money was hard to come by. Most of these people would ask, “how is it where you come from?” or say, “I am sure life is better than it is here in Ghana.” I was saddened to hear that the majority of the people that I interacted with dreamed of life elsewhere rather than staying in their own home. Most of these interactions were with people who had graduated from university and were still seeking a job worth their degree, and even when they found a job, they were hardly paid what was owed to them. Meanwhile, during the Homecoming Summit, there was massive talk about investments opportunities and job opportunities for those who returned temporarily. People from the Diaspora were favoured more than those living in the country.

Overall, although the 2019 Year of Return Homecoming Submit encouraged those from the Diaspora to capitalize on opportunities that inspire growth and development in Ghana, these opportunities are not the same for the indigenous people of Ghana. Ghana plans to enhance its economy by investing in ideas of the Diaspora yet neglecting the voices of the Indigenous Ghanaians who have lived in Ghana for generations. By excluding the voices of the Indigenous Ghanaians, the country cannot thrive. Therefore, there should be equal space and opportunity for both the indigenous people of Ghana and the Diaspora to flourish. Ghana should embrace ideas from both parties as they are relevant to the development and growth of Ghana. As we move forward, our solutions should respect the duality of experiences and give space for all who wish to invest in the growth of a nation.