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Why 2019 is the year for you to visit Ghana as an African American


Since the first slave ships landed in America some 400 years ago carrying Africans to work on plantations and serve their white captives, several attempts have been made by individuals and organisations to repatriate African descendants.

Ghana is the only African country that has tried on multiple occasions to return the black diaspora back to the home of their forebears. However, the multiple attempts in the past decades to settle African Americans in Africa failed due to an unwelcoming environment contrary to the promised land.

The West African country is giving it another shot in 2019 with the launch of The Year of Return programme that coincides with the 400-year anniversary of the first enslaved Africans from West Africa reaching American shores in 1619.

The Year of Return was also launched in September 2018 by Ghana’s president in the United States with members of the Congressional Black Caucus making it the only centrally organized public-private partnership with an African nation to commemorate the arrival of Africans in the U.S.

Before Marcus Garvey presented his famous “Back to Africa” programme in New York City in 1920, a Ghanaian merchant and pioneer pan-Africanist from the Gold Coast (Ghana), Alfred Charles Sam, had personally started a campaign to resettle African Americans in their “ancestral home” in freedom.

Chief Alfred Sam

Sam purchased the former German ship Curityba and renamed it S.S. Liberia to embark on a voyage back to Ghana to settle at Akim. He initially embarked on the first voyage with 60 African Americans who sold all their property to join him in the “promised land”. They made it to Saltpond but were denied ownership of the land Sam had promised at Akim.

After physical and financial hardships due to restrictions, some of the settlers returned to Oklahoma where they came from while others went to other African countries including Liberia.

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Much earlier in the 1800s, black slaves managed to escape bondage in slave ships and return back to the continent. Others, who were enslaved in the Americas, also fought for their freedom and won the right to be returned to Africa. Examples are the Afro-Brazilian slaves who settled in several coastal towns of West Africa.

There were also ex-slave repatriations funded by the colonists that founded Sierra Leone and Liberia. Individuals of African descent also single-handedly found their way back to the continent after witnessing torturous experiences black people faced in Europe and beyond, despite the abolition of the slave trade.

The departure of the Back-to-Africa Movement ship Laurada bound for Liberia, March 1896…Illustrated American Magazine

In the early 1900s, Marcus Garvey also championed the return of black people to the continent and the exit of European colonizers for the Africans to manage their own affairs. This ideology was supported by the early followers of the Rastafari Movement who believed that Marcus Garvey was the John the Baptist of the time and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was the Messiah.

Ethiopia is noted as the second country after Ghana to offer land to black people from the West after Emperor Haile Selassie I offered 500 acres of land at Shashamene (150 miles south of Addis Ababa) for the support he received in his struggle with Italy during its invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

In 1963, Rastafarians started emigrating to the “promised land” and their number swelled in 1966 after Selassie’s visit to Jamaica.

The overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1974 ended the movement as the coup makers took over all lands including Shashamene and many settlers fled the country. Today, many of the returnees do not feel welcome in the country as they are still regarded as foreigners and are refused citizenship.

Ghana is the only country in the 21st century that has legally offered to resettle people of African descent in Africa. In the year 2000, Ghana became the first African country to officially open its doors to people of African descent from all over the world.

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The West African country passed the “Right of Abode” law which allows any person of African descent to apply and be granted the right to stay in Ghana indefinitely.

This was followed by the launch of the Diaspora Affairs Bureau under the foreign affairs ministry in 2014 to manage the migration and engage the diaspora to provide a sustainable link with various government agencies to achieve development and investment goals.

As at 2014, over 3,000 African-Americans and people of Caribbean descent are estimated to be living in Ghana. The Diaspora Affairs Bureau has expedited the acquisition of the permanent residency which was earlier delayed by bureaucratic processes. It took some applicants years to get their official documentation when it was supposed to take six months.

Many resorted to renewable resident permits and marriages with Ghanaians to stay and work fruitfully in the country. Rita Marley, the wife of reggae legend Bob Marley, was the first person to be granted the indefinite stay in Ghana in 2014, 14 years after the law was passed.

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In 2016 alone, 34 Afro-Caribbeans were granted Ghanaian citizenship to enjoy full benefits as Ghanaians. Those who have stayed on appreciate the warmth and peacefulness of the country despite the few cultural setbacks like being regarded as more American and Caribbean than African despite years of living in the country.

Ghana was home to pan-Africanists like George Padmore, Maya Angelou, W. E. B. Du Bois, Pauli Murray among others who emigrated after the country’s independence in 1957 after establishing a friendship with the first president Kwame Nkrumah who himself had studied in the United States.

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Many other distinguished African Americans have visited the West African country in the 50s and 60sto witness the promised land and warm hospitality offered by Ghana.

A new crop of African Americans who either trace their genealogy to the West African country or have heard about the “home” it offers visit regularly to connect with the people and history, as well as see the tourist sites and castles that hold the dark memories of slavery.

Ghana’s 2019 Year of Return programme was designed to offer what was promised. It kicked off late December 2018 with dozens of Hollywood stars honouring the country’s invitation through Ghanaian-German actor, Boris Kodjoe, who pledged to visit his father’s home country with his celebrity friends.

From left to right: Michael Jai White, Djimon Hounsou, Boris Kodjoe, Anthony Anderson and Jidenna

In total, 93 celebrities including Anthony Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Michael Jai White, Idris Elba, Cynthia Bailey, Naomi Campbell, Jidenna, real estate mogul Jay Morrison, media personalities Mike Hill, Ebro Darden, Isha Sesay and many more were in the country for the week-long Full Circle Festival to connect to their African roots.

The first visit for many, the stars toured the beautiful landscapes of the country and spectacular historical sites where they were enlightened about the real Africa – which is not synonymous with poverty and war as always shown by the international media.

Michael Jai White was made a chief when he came to Ghana in December for the worthwhile Full Circle Festival.

The Year of Return started officially in January 2019 with events planned in collaboration with the Ghana Tourism Authority under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture which is leading the project in collaboration with the Office of Diaspora Affairs at the Office of the President, the Panafest Foundation and the Adinkra Group of USA.


  1. First of all, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but the sentence, “Since the first slave ships landed in America some 400 years carrying Africans to work on plantations, and serve their white captives,” is true, if it is being referred solely to the first african slaves that arrived in 1619, in then British America, now the State of Virginia of the United States of America. If it also applies to all african slaves that were forcibly removed from their ancestral land, enchained under duress in those merchant ships, to traverse the vast Atlantic Ocean into the american continent, the author of the article must go back more than a century earlier.
    One cannot ignore the history of those people from the Kingdom of Dahomey, the Kingdom of Kongo, the Kingdom of Guinea, and others, who were the first african slaves, forcibly removed from their ancestral land, under the authorization of a papal Bull known as,”The Dum Diversas,” in the early 1500s. They were taken from their ancestral land, to replace the decimated population of the indigenous people known as, “The Tainos,” on the island of Hispaniola(now the territories of the countries of Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.) The population of the “Tainos” was diminishing in Hispaniola under the arduous tasks, under their perpetual servitude to the Spaniards.
    Christopher Columbus has claimed the island from them, upon his arrival there in December 1492, and named it,” La Isla Española,)later written as, “Hispaniola.” The “Tainos,” a seafaring society that migrated to the Carribean islands from the Orinoco river in South America(now part of the country of Venezuela had named the island by three distinctive names,”Ayiti, Kiskeya, and Bohio.”
    The loss of the ship, “La Santa Maria” caused Christopher Columbus to leave 39 members of his entourage on the island of Hispaniola, while he continued to explore in the Carribean sea. Their presence on the island began the decimation of the population of the “Tainos” there. After decades of sufferings under the perpetual servitude to the Spaniards, who had migrated to the island during Columbus’s following voyages, their plight was heard, and cared for by a Jesuit Priest named, “Bartolomé de Las Casas.” He intervened on their behalf to the spanish monarchy, and the ruler of the Holy Empire. He suggested to the spanish monarchy, to find other people to replace the “Tainos” in the perpetual servitude to the Spaniards.
    He explained to the spanish monarchy of the harsh punishments that the “Tainos” were subjected to on a daily basis, and how being short in stature, it made their works harder. His plan that he presented to the spanish monarchy would become effective, after the ruler of the Holy Empire authorized the King of Spain, under a papal Bull, known as “Dum Diversas” to execute that plan.
    The papal Bull, “Dum Diversas,” translates to “ Until different” was decreed in June 1452 by Pope Nicolas v, and was also reiterated by other Popes. It authorized King Alfonso v of Portugal to capture Saracens, and Pagans, and to commit them to perpetual servitude. It was the catalyst used to replace the indigenous “Tainos,” in the early 1500s, by the first african slaves that arrived on the island of Hispaniola, in the american continent, more than a century, before the arrival of the first african slaves in 1619, in then British America(now the State of Virginia, in the United States)
    The island of Hispaniola was fought over for by other Europeans who wanted to acquire from Spain, but the treaty of Ryswick, in 1697, divided the island between Spain, and France. The nation of France then named their possession, “Saint Domingue,” and Spain named their possession by the name of the capital of Hispaniola, “ Santo Domingo.”
    After gaining possession of their land’s territories, whereas the Spaniards mostly abandoned their part of Hispaniola in search for new discoveries, the French then imported more african slaves in their colony, to work on the plantations there. They even established a re-supply, a reserve system to immediately replace those slaves who perished on those plantations. The french citizens, through the exploitation of their african slaves, lived a life of “bourgeoisie” in “Saint Domingue,”and it lasted there for almost a century.
    In August 1789, the General Assembly in France decreed the, “Rights of the Man, and of the Citizen.” That declaration, in France, would slowly filter down to “Saint Domingue” by those individuals traveling there, and it forever changed the lifestyle of the French in “Saint Domingue.”
    In August 1791, after many groups of rebellious slaves, who were informed of that declaration in France, convened at a place named, “Bois Caiman, they began a 12-year rebellion known as the “Haitian revolution,” in “Saint Domingue.” They fought against against the french plantation owners, destroyed their plantations, and against the french army.
    On November 18, 1803, the african slaves, along with the mulattoes there, and being assisted by some 500 plus Polish soldiers who were sent there, embedded with the french soldiers to squash the slave rebellion, they defeated the french army at the “Battle for Vertieres.”
    After the the “Battle of Vertieres” on that day, and having 10 days later expelled the french General Rochambeau from the land of “Saint Domingue,” now the former slaves led by the Revolutionary Leader, the General Jean Jacques Dessalines, took possession of the land from France. They then sent messages to the leaders of France , of having taken possession of their french colony, and by no means, would they relinquish it. To further infuriate the leaders of France, they reverted to call the land by one of its former Taino-given name,”Ayiti,” now written “Haiti.”
    [More than 50% of the african slaves who participated in the 12-year revolution in “Saint Domingue” were not born there, but were sold into slavery to the French during the slave trade. They were the members of the many african tribes such as, “the Arradas, the Ewes, the Yorubas, the Igbos, the Yorubas, the Nagos, the Kongos, the Hausas, and many other ones. The present population of the nation of Haiti consists more than 90% of the descendants of those tribes.]
    On January 1, 1804, the former slaves then proclaimed the birth of a new nation on the former french colony of “Saint Domingue, and named it, “The Republic of Haiti.” They then declared its Independence(strongly rejected by the leaders of France, other european countries, and the United States.) The US government, an ally of France, saw the victory of the slaves in Haiti as a security threat, and a catalyst that could influence a slave rebellion in the southern colonies.
    The nation of France would later demanded an indemnity from Haiti, for all the losses that their citizens incurred because of the slave revolution on their colony of “Saint Domingue, and the loss of income to the nation of France, because of the abolition of slavery there.
    In their 1805 Constitution, the leaders of Haiti self-identified as descendants of the “Negroid race” of the sub-Saharan region of the african continent, and wrote in their constitution that the citizens of Haiti must therefore be identified as “Negroes.” Centuries later, the words, “Nègre,” and “Nèg,” the french, and creole translations of the word, “Negro,” are used as terms of endearment in Haiti. They are used in greetings, speeches, conversations, music, and in the african based folklore widely observed, and practiced there.
    The island of Hispaniola was the first location that the first african slaves arrived in the american continent, but the european colonists had also populated the other islands in the Caribbean sea, and other countries in Central, and South America, before the arrival of the first african slaves in 1619, in British America(now, State of Virginia,’
    During the “slave revolution”in “Saint Domingue,” the french citizens that were fleeing from there, not only migrated to other adjacent islands, but also to the United States. Many of them brought their african slaves with them, and landed in the cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Savannah, Charleston, Biloxi, Brataria, Pointe Coupee, and many more. Many of the earlier administrators in many municipal governments in the State of Louisiana were individuals who migrated there, from “Saint Domingue” during the revolution, and the nation of Haiti, after the revolution
    The arrival Of the first african slaves in 1719 in the american continent was already preceded by their own ancestors, on the island of Hispaniola, in the early 1500s.


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