by Apolinari Tairo
Targeting to attract people of the African origin to visit their continent of origin, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo has designated the year 2019 as the “Year of Return” to commemorate the resilience of Africans forced into slavery and to encourage their descendants to come home.
“We know of the extraordinary achievements and contributions Africans in the Diaspora made to the lives of the Americans, and it is important that this symbolic year, 400 years later, we commemorate their existence and their sacrifices,” President Nana said earlier in September last year.
His timing was based on the first recorded landing of a ship carrying Africans in Virginia, US, in August 1619 according to historians.
The Ghanaian president proclaimed 2019 as the “Year of Return” for all Diaspora descendants of Africans who were captured and transported into the Americas as slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Titled, “Year of Return, Ghana 2019”, the proclamation was read in September last year at a ceremony held at the United States National Press Club in Washington DC to formally launch a program of activities marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to English North America in 1619.
The Year of Return seeks to make Ghana the focus for millions of African descendants reacting to their marginalization by tracing their ancestry and identity. By this, Ghana becomes the beacon for African people living on the continent and the Diaspora.
The Proclamation recognizes Ghana’s unique position as the location for 75 percent of the slave dungeons built on the west coast of Africa and the current President’s policy making it a national priority to extend a hand of welcome back home to Africans in the Diaspora.
As well as taking note of the fact that “Ghana has more African Americans living in the country than any other African country,” it also expressed happiness about Ghana’s Right of Abode immigration law that grants freedom to persons with this right “to live and to come and go into and from the country without let or hindrance.”
Another factor influencing the Proclamation is the 115th US Congress Resolution (HR 1242) establishing the 400 Years African American History Commission to commemorate the anniversary.
With the Washington universal launch, Ghana is thus empowered to proceed with its intention to undertake activities throughout the year, 2019, to commemorate the event.
Speaking at the launch, President Akufo-Addo recalled Ghana’s early Pan African leadership role and pledged that “under my leadership, Ghana will continue to ensure that our hard-won Pan African reputation is not lost.”
“Making Ghana the focus of activities to commemorate the landing of the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies in North America is, therefore, a huge opportunity to entrench Ghana’s leadership,” President Akufo-Addo said.
The Chief Executive of the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), Mr. Akwasi Agyemang, situated the “Right of Return” within the context of the Christian Bible in which the people of biblical Israel were promised a return to their rightful land after 400 years in exile.
“In the year 2019, we open our arms even wider to welcome home our brothers and sisters in what will become a birthright journey home for the global African family,” he said.
Celebrities including supermodel Naomi Campbell and actors Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson kicked off the year-long program by attending the Full Circle Festival in Accra in late in December.
Ghana is still dotted with dungeons and castles established during the slave trade, which serve as a powerful reminder of the past to educate citizens and foreign visitors about slavery.
US former president Barack Obama and his family visited the Cape Coast Castle in 2009 and described it as a place of “profound sadness.”
“It reminds us that as bad as history can be, it’s also possible to overcome,” Obama told reporters during the tour of the landmark, with its infamous “door of no return” in the dungeon.
In 2000, Ghana passed legislation designed to make it easier for people from the African Diaspora to live and work in this African country. President Akufo-Addo has pledged to simplify the visa process.
Tourism Minister Catherine Abelema Afeku is organizing music and culture festivals, including Ghana independence celebrations in March this year including Panafest, a theatre festival aimed at bringing together Africans on the continent and those in the Diaspora to celebrate then discuss the issues of slavery.