Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora

LYDIA POLGREEN – The New York Times

December 27, 2005 – Copyright The New York Times
CAPE COAST, Ghana – For centuries, Africans walked through the infamous “door of no return” at Cape Coast castle directly into slave ships, never to set foot in their homelands again. These days, the portal of this massive fort so central to one of history’s greatest crimes has a new name, hung on a sign leading back in from the roaring Atlantic Ocean: “The door of return.”
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
Michael Kamber for The New York Times
A former slave-trade fort in Cape Coast, Ghana, is a popular destination for African-American tourists.gift to return after Christmas; this
Readers
Forum: African Politics
Enlarge This Image
Michael Kamber for The New York Times
A tour guide describing the conditions once faced by captives before they were shipped as slaves from the Elmina Castle fort in Ghana.
Ghana, through whose ports millions of Africans passed on their way to plantations in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, wants its descendants to come back.
Taking Israel as its model, Ghana hopes to persuade the descendants of enslaved Africans to think of Africa as their homeland – to visit, invest, send their children to be educated and even retire here.
“We want Africans everywhere, no matter where they live or how they got there, to see Ghana as their gateway home,” J. Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, the tourism minister, said on a recent day. “We hope we can help bring the African family back together again.”
In many ways it is a quixotic goal. Ghana is doing well by West African standards – with steady economic growth, a stable, democratic government and broad support from the West, making it a favored place for wealthy countries to give aid.
But it remains a very poor, struggling country where a third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, life expectancy tops out at 59 and basic services like electricity and water are sometimes scarce.
Nevertheless, thousands of African-Americans already live here at least part of the year, said Valerie Papaya Mann, president of the African American Association of Ghana.
To encourage still more to come, or at least visit, Ghana plans to offer a special lifetime visa for members of the diaspora and will relax citizenship requirements so that descendants of slaves can receive Ghanaian passports. The government is also starting an advertising campaign to persuade Ghanaians to treat African-Americans more like long-lost relatives than as rich tourists. That is harder than it sounds.
Many African-Americans who visit Africa are unsettled to find that Africans treat them – even refer to them – the same way as white tourists. The term “obruni,” or “white foreigner,” is applied regardless of skin color.
To African-Americans who come here seeking their roots, the term is a sign of the chasm between Africans and African-Americans. Though they share a legacy, they experience it entirely differently.
“It is a shock for any black person to be called white,” said Ms. Mann, who moved here two years ago. “But it is really tough to hear it when you come with your heart to seek your roots in Africa.”
The advertising campaign urges Ghanaians to drop “obruni” in favor of “akwaaba anyemi,” a slightly awkward phrase fashioned from two tribal languages meaning “welcome, sister or brother.” As part of the effort to reconnect with the diaspora, Ghana plans to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., W. E. B. DuBois and others it calls modern-day Josephs, after the biblical figure who rose from slavery to save his people.
The government plans to hold a huge event in 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the end of the trans-Atlantic trade by Britain and the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence. The ceremonies will include traditional African burial rituals for the millions who died as a result of slavery.
Estimates of the trade vary widely. The most reliable suggest that between 12 million and 25 million people living in the vast lands between present-day Senegal and Angola were caught up, and as many as half died en route to the Americas.
Some perished on the long march from the inland villages where they were captured to seaports. Others died in the dungeons of slave castles and forts, where they were sometimes kept for months, until enough were gathered to pack the hold of a ship. Still others died in the middle passage, the longest leg of the triangular journey between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Of the estimated 11 million who crossed the sea, most went to South America and the Caribbean. About 500,000 are believed to have ended up in the United States.
The mass deportations and the divisions the slave trade wrought are wounds from which Africa still struggles to recover.
Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to shake off its colonial rulers, winning its independence from Britain in 1957. Its founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, attended Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania, and saw in African-Americans a key to developing the new nation.
For the complete article, please see the link below.


http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/27/international/africa/27ghana.html?ex=1136437200&en=1e3ea2f808781010&ei=5070

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *