By Michael L Jarvis
The president of Ghana has been on a five-nation swing across the Caribbean taking in Guyana, St Vincent, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.
This working visit comes as the West African nation puts weight to its ‘Year of Return, Ghana 2019’; an initiative commemorating 400 years since the start of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Where the previous iteration of that horrific triangular journey initiated by European nations (mainly England, Holland, France, Spain and Portugal) was about forcibly ripping people from the embrace of their land, society and culture, to brutally traffic them off to unknown lands as slave labour, this reverse journey has a noble purpose.
It’s intended as a voyage of voluntary return by invitation of an African nation that was used as a departure point for that ghastly human-trafficking endeavour.
When he formally launched the “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” for Africans in the Diaspora last year in Washington DC, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo gave fresh impetus to a long articulated ideal to unite Africans on the continent with the diaspora.
“(This) is a statement of our determination that never again should the African peoples permit themselves to be subjected to such dehumanizing conditions, sold into slavery and have their freedoms curtailed in order to build up forcibly countries other than their own and create wealth for the peoples of unknown lands to which they were sent, wealth from whose enjoyment they were largely excluded.”
That declaration rooted in the ideals of Ghana’s first president, the pan-Africanist Dr Kwame Nkrumah - leader of the post-colonial independence and pan-Africanist movement - makes the five-nation Caribbean sojourn of the current Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo historical, noteworthy and laudable.
The recent upsurge of interest in genealogy has seen many Caribbean people of African descent tracing their lineage back to Ghana’s Akkan tribe in particular.
Other findings are uncovering roots in Nigeria and other West African countries reflecting where particular European slave-trading nations at the time sourced their human cargo.
Indeed, the trek back to Africa - especially West Africa - started gaining momentum as early as the 1960s.
The experiences of the new returnees are well documented.
In most cases, a natural affinity and an instinctive reconnection with an ancestral culture survived and overcame the systematic and brutal attempts at removing all semblances of the original cultures of the kidnapped Africans, who were enslaved on agricultural plantations in the Caribbean and America.
There are hardly any African names that have been passed down through the generations of the African diaspora in the Caribbean.
But many inherent practices survived; hidden and preserved, and in recent times more and more African names are being adopted - and adapted in Afro-Caribbean society.
Speaking in Guyana, President Akufo-Addo noted the name of one of Guyana’s national heroes, Kofi.
“A national hero of Guyana with the name Kofi, an Akkan namely, clearly has strong links with Ghana,” he declared.
Linguistic similarities are also being studied, explored and practiced.
Pidgin language of some parts of West Africa, now part of the broadcast output of the BBC World Service, is reassuringly similar to many Caribbean dialects.
What used to be frowned upon as 'bad English' is now gaining wider acceptance.
But this tour goes beyond the cultural connection and notions of ‘back to Africa’ yearning and romanticism.
It also addresses the practicalities.
With Guyana on the verge of exploding onto the lucrative global oil market with discoveries of huge oil and gas deposits, Ghana which is also itself emerging as a significant player in the oil industry, is offering that country its expertise gleaned from its own experiences - including mistakes.
In Barbados, President Akufo-Addo has offered to provide around 400 hundred nurses to work in the health sector.
On the St Vincent leg of his trip, there were discussions about cooperation in the oil and gas sector, education and agriculture.
Visa-free travel is one of the outcomes of the Ghanaian leader’s state visit to the Caribbean.
Speaking after he secured the release of one of his countrymen and two Nigerians from immigration detention in Trinidad and Tobago, President Akufo-Addo advised Ghanaians to respect the local immigration laws.
“You can come into this country visa-free. There is no need, therefore, to get on the wrong side of the immigration authority.”
At the same time, he invited the people of Trinidad and Tobago to visit Ghana in this ‘Year of Return.’
Trade, investment and visa-waiver talks were also highlights of talks in Jamaica.
So, what’s in it for Ghana one might ask.
There’s no question that the outreach is an extremely laudable gesture that extends beyond the historical, ancestral and cultural.
As outlined by President Akufo-Addo, Ghana recognises its unique position as the location for 75 per cent of the slave dungeons built on the West coast of Africa; the ‘gates of no return’ departure points from where kidnapped Africans were hauled aboard waiting ships for the perilous journey to the Caribbean and America.
The journey back now being promoted, in reality and in spirit, offers promise and the hope to reconnect with the ‘motherland’ as explained by the Ghanaian leader:
“We have a responsibility, and we do extend a hand of welcome back home to Africans in the diaspora.”
He is hopeful that “the year would prove to be a joyful and learning experience for all of us, especially in affirming our determination that never again should the African peoples permit themselves to be subjected to such dehumanising conditions, sold into slavery, and have their freedoms curtailed in order to build up forcibly countries other their own.”
But beyond the emotional, there is the practical.
Ghana is planning a Homecoming and Investment Summit, an African-American Investment Forum, Pan-African and Emancipation Day Celebrations, and a film festival, among many activities that will be held to commemorate the year-long event.
As President Akufo-Addo put it, “the commemoration should enable us, in the African Union, to consolidate and strengthen our links with our Sixth Region - the African Diaspora of the so-called ‘New World’, which have laid somewhat dormant, and make operational and extend the Free Movement Protocol to those in the Diaspora seeking to resettle in Africa.”
Ghana diaspora homecoming is serious business.