The Year of Return and its offspring program ‘Beyond the Return’ is a call by the Government of Ghana to the Afrikan diaspora to return and be a part of the transformation of Afrika using Ghana as a gateway. However, the rhetoric as well as events associated with the ‘Return’ leaves one wondering if any meaningful thought has been given to the program and also who ultimately stands to benefit. Sadly, the “return”, has been monetized quite heftily by the government, private individuals, and non-Afrikan corporations and is losing its value as a catalyzer for our connection and coming together as Afrikan peoples. We have to rethink the whole concept.
At a fanciful suit and tie event in September 2018 at the National Press Club, Washington DC, the president of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo launched the Year of Return (YOR) 2019 urging Afrikans in the diaspora to come home. In this process, visa acquisitions were going to be laxed (not removed) and “returnees” (an identity promoted by the YOR) were to be granted a Right of Abode – a legal name for Taxation without Representation. “Never again will Afrikans be enslaved,” the president said with a calm demeanor as if Black=Afrikan people enslaved in various parts of Northern Afrika, especially in the war torn Libya, were not Afrikans and/or did not matter.
I stand on the shores of Oguaa, now known as Cape Coast. Here, I am presented a view of the slave dungeon –which stands as a solemn reminder of the consequence of our dismemberment- out of which many of our people upon capture were imprisoned in the unholiest of circumstances and ‘exported’ to the Americas. Here, many Afrikans from the diaspora come to embrace the gloomy history of our past. Of such encounters, however, the Government of Ghana profits massively as one is required to pay a fee before entering. While for Ghanaians, in the colonial sense of the word, the fee is much lower, I find it uncanny that the dungeons which truncated the Ancestral legacy of many Afrikans in the diaspora now see us pay as much as a European. It is the same in many public spaces. Yet, the Year of Return should have seen us address some of these moral imbalances, for granting the right of return is to recognize that the Black Global Diaspora is essentially a part and parcel of the millions of Black=Afrikans on the continent. In this recognition, our actions must – but have failed to – be as loud, if not louder than, as our words.
Meanwhile, the end of 2018 saw quite a number of Afrikans famed in the Hollywood scene led by Boris Kodjoe, who is of Ghanaian descent, return to Ghana. Here, the luxurious European owned hotel, Kempinski, played host to the launch of the festival which intended to connect Afrikans in the diaspora back to their roots. The curious may ask, what flights did we come here with? Which banks will be profiting from our transactions? Which hotels in Accra hosted our celebrities? We could go on, but my hope is we see the current state of the return by the Afrikan diaspora to Ghana monetarily benefiting corporations mostly run by non-Afrikans. The danger of the Year of Return 2019 was and continues to be our lack of criticalness towards the act.
A meaningful Year of Return
Now if the Year of Return 2019 and its subsequent endeavours dubbed as Beyond the Return will be anything to go by, it would be an honest strive to return to ourselves, back to our way, the Ancestral way. Thus, we will eschew the fanciful dinners in the name of launches and conferences and their recalcitrant complements, festivals by a few class of Afrikans, and commit to doing the serious and tedious task of re-membering ourselves throughout time and space. This also means re-telling our history in its accuracy and not propagating lies of 400-year-old myths. Our educational curriculum on both ends of the Atlantic as well as globally will be seriously questioned and restructured. We will commit to the task of celebration geared towards building for ourselves a great central Negro state.
Our return will be mental, emotional, psychological, economic, spiritual as well as physical. If we do not do the serious and arduous task we should not be surprised once we see coca-cola, kempinski or british airways sponsor a “return” of Afrikans in the Diaspora. So long as our coming together economically benefits our oppressors, our shoddy attempts at an undefined ‘return’ would only make our oppressors laugh all the way to the bank.
But as it may seem, we may already be headed down that road – the road where serious celebration is sacrificed for momentary celebrations. For most of the official activities for the Year of Return 2019 and beyond have been festivals, bazaars and music concerts of some kind. This Agya Ayi Kwei Armah calls ‘the festival syndrome’ (zombie jamborees). In the thoughtful words of Agya Armah in Remembering the dismembered continent:
“The ostensible aim of such festivals is to promote African culture, to develop it. In practice, they do nothing of the sort. As a matter of fact, they can’t. Here’s why. Culture is a process, not an event. The promotion of culture requires a regular process, not a haphazard scattering of spastic shows. The development of culture depends on a steady, sustained series of supportive activities whose primary quality is not a spectacular extravagance but a calm continuity”.
However, we seem to be trapped in the opulence of spastic shows and tourism initiatives.
A wise person once said that if you look at everything through the lens of money, you will miss the bigger picture. However, recounting the gains of the Year of Return 2019, the Minister of Tourism in Ghana and the media laid emphasis on the money accrued from the buzz around the campaign which was an amount of USD 1.9 billion. It seems the Year of Return 2019 gave Ghana a major drive to boost its tourism campaigns and so had the return become: a tourism initiative. Over a hundred Afrikans from the global Black diaspora had been granted citizenship in an effort to give some meaningful action to the talks of the return.
Little has been said of actual meaningful connections happening as a result of the campaign. Maybe little has been said because little has been done. Sometimes, the intentions towards what is to be done leave little to no hope. Take for instance the proposal to develop a major part of Cape Coast after a figment of Eurasian imagination (ɛ.n. Wakanda City of Return). Such proposed cities do not take into consideration the views of those currently living in the place and how we can come together and meaningfully build together. Towards this we can heed the words of Nana Marcus Garvey in Africa for the Africans when he wrote:
“It is hoped that when the time comes for the American and West Indian Negroes to settle in Africa, they will realize their responsibility and their duty. It will not be to go to Africa for the purpose of exercising an over-lordship over the natives, but it shall be the purpose of the Universal Negro Improvement Association to have established in Africa that brotherly co-operation which will make the interests of the African native and the American and West Indian Negro one and the same, that is to say we shall enter into a common partnership to build up Africa in the interests of our race”.
In only a few instances does one see the acts of kinsfolk entering into a common partnership to build for Afrika has become a pie which many endeavor to have a bite and Ghana is becoming its gateway.
We must strive for a connection of our consciousness amongst ourselves to build and create for unfortunate happenings have caused us to be strangers to each other and to ourselves. “Against the death brought by whiteness” writes Agya Ayi Kwei Armah “only the greatest connecting force will prevail; the working of minds connected, souls connected, travelling along that one way, our way, the way. Connected thought, connected action; that is the beginning of our journey back to our self, to living again the connected life, travelling again along our way, the way”. This will take serious and dedicated collective efforts.
It is with fervent hope that as Ghana institutes the subsequent program dubbed ‘Beyond the Return’, we see more intentional community building and integration acts geared towards a reclamation of our Afrikan self. The irrationality of hope lies in the absence of an actionable program and this is what I think we have to commit our minds towards. We have been shown the door, it is up to us to walk through it.
As we engage the Year of Return and Beyond I cannot help but ask: What are we returning to? What are we returning to build? How do we make our return a nourishing fountain nurturing our push for fahodie (freedom) and sovereignty? These are but a few questions that linger in my mind as I bring to rest my thoughts. However, for those of us looking to return, care must be taken that in our pursuit of a connection we do not further alienate ourselves. This means we must be critical and thoughtful of our travels. To those who thirst to return but cannot for whatever reason; if the joy of movement feels unattainable this year, let our souls not despair but find comfort in anticipation as we slowly and steadily ‘gather’ ourselves. For our eventual return like a healthy heartbeat, will not take a year but will be a lifelong journey.