The year 2019 marks 400 years since the first slaves were taken from Africa to the Americas, in what was later called the transatlantic slave trade. In order to commemorate the anniversary, Ghana’s President Akufo Addo announced in September 2018 that the country would be launching a marketing campaign called “Year of Return, Ghana 2019,” which would target the African and African American diaspora.
The incentive behind this agenda is to encourage the diaspora, particularly Black Americans, to visit the great African nation, which in itself has several historical sites such as the Elmina Castle, which according to PBS transported about 30,000 slaves from the castle to the Americas each year, and the Cape Coast castle, where about 1,500 slaves were placed in dungeons and were forced to live in very dehumanizing conditions.
It is without a doubt that the legacy of slavery has indeed had a negative impact on black people in the diaspora. The Year of Return programme in Ghana seeks to inform and educate people on the gruesome events of the slave trade and perhaps perform a spiritual rite of passage of cleansing from slavery to freedom; from death to life.
The big question is how does Ghana benefit from all of this?
According to Reuters, the Ghana Tourism Authority is expected to have about 500,000 visitors this year for the celebration. This would be an increase from the 350,000 tourists that showed up in 2018. In addition, the Ghana Tourism Authority anticipates making $925 million in annual revenue for 2019. This value would represent a 50% increase compared to the year of 2018.
Although this amount in the tourism industry is overshadowed by Ghana’s $2 billion Cocoa industry, Reuters claims that tourism remains very significant to the Ghanaian economy.
Tourism in Ghana has done relatively well over the past couple of years and has attracted famous celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Jidenna, Anthony Anderson, Idris Elba, Michael Jai White and many more. The country also formulated a 15-year-long tourism plan.
According to CNN, the plan is to increase the yearly number of tourists from one million to eight million per year until the year 2027. If the plan is successful, Ghana’s travel industry would be projected to make about $8.3 billion a year by 2027 in addition to the associated benefits. However, there should be a parallel strategy to expand infrastructure to meet the deliberate strategy that will grow tourism. Transportation, hospitality industry and other factors that encourage tourism must be taken into consideration as well as investors, who will want to play in this space. The relative security and political stability that has characterized the political landscape in Ghana remains a plus to drive investor and tourist confidence and must never be compromised or traded for the bellicose self-interest of some pseudo messiahs in some parts of the continent.
The Year of Return tourism campaign would give Ghana a nudge ahead in the tourism market, compared to its fellow west African neighbours like Nigeria and Senegal that have shared experiences in the Slave trade saga. It would also seek to make Ghana a very appealing place to visit for foreigners who are considering new vacation destinations.
The Year of Return should be more than a promotion of tourism. It should also be a year of reconciliation between the Africans in the Diaspora and Africans who remained on the continent. It should be a period when Africans on the continent should not only receive them, make peace for these four centuries, but also take some responsibility for their fore father’s treachery in selling their own blood and conniving with the slave merchants. It is the year of taking responsibility; a year for peace. That should be the more sublime value of this year. It is commendable that Ghana has taken the initiative to put this together.
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So, what are you waiting for? I encourage all my brothers and sisters in the diaspora to book a flight to Ghana during the Christmas period, in order to experience the sight and sounds of the African continent through the lens of the country, and perhaps exorcise the dark painful history of betrayal that has mired and estranged relationship among black people.
Paul Olele Jnr writes from Washington DC. He is a 2019 graduate of George Washington University and currently works as graduate Media and Research Intern at the Initiative for Global Development.