This year, the world’s eye will focus on our country Ghana once again and I am super excited about it.
Seldom do I get this elated in anticipation of any national event, but I find myself curiously excited, imagining that in some months away, the international media will send reporters and crew to our shores as we remember the beginning of the infamous trans-atlantic slave trade that has impacted the world in such extraordinary ways.
Expectedly, descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the Americas would throng the country to mark 400 years since the first enslaved West Africans, onboard a British ‘slave’ ship, left the shores of Ghana and arrived in Virginia.
It makes a lot of sense, therefore, that the government has declared 2019 as the ‘Year of Return’ and has invited the global black family to a birth-right journey home. Solemn as it will and need to be, the return of the global black community ‘home’ may provide enormous economic benefits to the country.
When it was launched in October, last year, at the National Press Club in Washington DC, USA, the President, Nana Akufo-Addo, said the time had come for people of African descent to make that journey back home, ostensibly to help build the nation of their ancestors.
However, very little has been heard of the ‘Year of Return’ in the country beyond the announcement by the President.
The year may have just begun but the ‘crazy’ publicity to spur local and international interest should have started last year, leveraging the positive response that initially greeted the President’s call to the world.
‘The Year of Return’ is of such importance that it must be national in character.
It should provide the opportunity to tell the story of the slave trade in full and rally the entire citizenry around this historic event. That is why the government must increase the momentum of driving home to the world, the importance of this historic event and also examine its impact on the economy.
This year, with the right preparations, tourism expenditures could generate the needed income to boost the economy and stimulate the investments necessary to finance growth in other sectors of the economy.
During the remembrance period, all hotels, restaurants, commercial transport operators, super-markets and souvenir retailers, among others, will do brisk business and the expected benefits to be derived are enormous.
It is also expected that the visit of the global black community to retrace their roots in Ghana will offer an opportunity for them to explore business opportunities within the country.
The government must, therefore, deliberately position tourism as a springboard for extensive development this year.
To give the government a clue to what’s in stock for tourism this year, American cable television network, CNN, ranked Ghana number four on its list of places to visit in 2019 and attributed Ghana’s place on the list to “The year of Return”.
“The country's ‘Year of Return’ marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America. It is a somber recognition of the evil that befell Ghana's past inhabitants and their descendants — and the strength with which they've faced it.” This means the country is going to witness a surge in tourist visits.
Surge in tourist visits
Already, visits to two of the former slave castles on the shores of the country have increased by 30,000 tourists in 2018 and it is expected to further increase this year.
For instance, tourists visits to the Cape Coast and Elmina castles increased to 140,506 tourists last year from 108, 954 and 111,297 recorded in 2017 and 2016 respectively.
In December last year, over 40 Hollywood celebrities of African descent decided to spend the Christmas festivities on the shores of the country. While they were in Ghana, the group visited the historic Cape Coast Castle and shared the stories of their varied experiences on social media and invited others to visit too. The reaction from the larger black community to return home has been truly amazing in the diaspora.
The soar in visits to these castles alone, ahead of the historic “Year of Return” remembrance, should send some positive signals to the government to ‘up the game’ and prepare to adequately host and cash in on this historic return of the global black community to the motherland.
Although there were African slaves in some parts of the Americas before the arrival of that slave ship in 1619, that year is recognised historically as the beginning of the infamous ‘export’ of millions of West Africans to North America as slaves.
Slavery caused the most traumatic interruption in the natural evolution of West African societies which extensively eroded the self confidence and self determination of the people for a long period.
In Ghana, the remembrance of the slave trade, which remnants are scattered along the coast of the country in the form of slave castles, received a lot of attention in the early 90s and culminated in the establishment of the Emancipation Day in 1998.
The Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 1 every year to mark the end of slavery because on this symbolic day, in 1834, Slavery was abolished in the then New World Societies, the present day United States, the Caribbean and the islands of the Atlantic.
Patronage of the Emancipation Day by the global black family was enormous during the first few editions until it became not so interesting.
The rituals that summed up the celebrations included visits to the slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina. It also included a visit to Assin Manso where slaves making the journey from the hinterlands to the coast on foot had their last bath before being sent into damp and dark dungeons in the slave castles to await a ship that would take them to the Americas.
Door of no return
At the Cape Coast Castle, the last door through which the salves accessed the ‘slave ship’ was called the ‘door of no return’ to signify the impossibility of the slaves to return home.
But this year, the pilgrimage back home will reverse that notion of the slave masters.