Ghana’s economy gets a $1.9 billion boost from ‘Year of Return’ activities.
If you didn’t know, 2019 marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were taken from Ghana. Throughout the course of the year, there have been several programs, activities, and special ceremonies held to commemorate the event.
In September 2018, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo declared 2019 as the Year of Return in order to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves in America. He called on people of African descent to return to their home continent (read Ghana) in a “major landmark spiritual and birth-right journey”. The campaign positions Ghana as a “key travel destination for African Americans and the African diaspora.”
Many of the events have been held in Ghana and travelers from the Diaspora have made it their priority to head to the country during this time.
More than 200,000 travelers arrived in Ghana in 2019, and because of this Ghana has now been established as a preferred destination for people of the African Diaspora.
This large influx of tourists allowed the country to see a boost of $1.9 billion into its economy, according to the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Barbara Oteng-Gyasi.
“Besides, the estimated spending per tourist has seen a significant increase from $1,862 in 2017 to the current figure of $2,589 per tourist. The impact of tourism on the economy is estimated to be about $1.9bn, whilst the average stay in the country saw an increase from eight days to ten days,” she said.
This has been achieved with the over 80 YoR events, including stakeholder meetings, investment forums, music concerts, art exhibitions and cultural festivals.
She also adds that there has been tremendous community involvement which has stimulated the local economy including hoteliering, tour operating and other related businesses.
In addition to the monetary boost, the President of Ghana granted citizenship to more than 200 people of the African diaspora and land was offered to others as a way to encourage them to make the country their new home.
This monumental occasion has also helped to improve relations between Ghana and those from the Diaspora. There has been more positive international media coverage centered around the country, which also led to a few high profile visits.
The country’s tourism authority has plans to continue to implement more programming and to develop more historical sites to keep the momentum going.
President Akufo-Addo has revealed that a program is being structured to take over the Year of Return initiative after it ends in 2019.
At a press engagement on December 13, the president disclosed the ‘Beyond the Year of Return: The Birthright’ has a whole set of outline that aims to continue the mission of bridging the distance between Africans and the diasporans.
“Really we ought not to make this (Year of Return) a one-off. It should be a permanent feature as part of our outreach both in terms of using it as a vehicle for solidifying the relations on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said.
Lets talk about Ghana’s Year of Return and its politics of exclusion.
The year-long campaign comes to a heady climax this December with a full calendar of events planned including concerts, African-American celebrity sightings (Beyoncé’s rumoured to be en route!), art exhibits, visits to heritage sites, fashion shows, movie premieres, and creative economy and trade conferences.
Akufo-Addo’s call has been a great success thus far. According to figures released by the Ghana Immigration Service, Americans arriving in Ghana increased by 26% to their highest ever rate between January and September 2019. The numbers of visitors from the UK (24%), Germany (22%), South Africa (10%) and Liberia (14%) also grew. All told, Ghana reportedly issued 800,000 visas this year and this week announced that all nationalities will be eligible to receive a visa on arrival for the next month or so due to the heavy demand.
While the Year of Return has been laudable in many ways, however, its exclusive focus on the transatlantic slave trade, with the US at the centre, has erased other crucially important aspects and legacies of Ghana’s history of slavery.
This history is much more layered than the campaign will have us believe. Missing, for instance, is any mention of the trans-Saharan slave trade in which an estimated 6-7 million people, including from the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno, were forcibly transported to North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. This took place between the rise of Islam and the 20th century, a period ranging over 1,250 years. The legacy of this trade is still palpable in Mauritania where slavery is still a present-day reality. The country only formally abolished slavery in 1981 and local activists estimate that 20% of the population, all black, are still enslaved.
Where are the calls for these descendants to return? Where are the African descendants outside of the US, the Jamaicans, Cubans and Brazilians?
By excluding these other narratives, important stories of resistance are also missed. The stories of Cudjoe and other members of the Accompong band, of the Haitian revolution, or of Nanny in Jamaica, who is believed to have been captured from the Asante ethnic group and was one of the Maroons, a group of enslaved black people who escaped enslavement and established their own communities. For close to 30 years, the group fought the British and freed others. Communities like Nannyville Gardens in Kingston, Jamaica, stand in her memory. Her portrait is on the 500 Jamaican dollar bill.
Alongside not telling the full (hi)story of slavery, the Year of Return campaign also does not honour the memory of how systems of slavery were administered when it thrived. Despite the fact that much of the enslavement took place in what is now northern Ghana, commemoration activities have been confined to the south and particularly the capital, Accra.