One Year After My Year of Return
An invite from my friend #Jidenna, and becoming part of his entourage for one week, was the backdrop for experiencing West Africa for the first time last year, when I traveled to #Accra after Christmas and to ring in 2019.
2019 marked 400 years since the landing of the Dutch Lion ship arriving in America. The Dutch Lion was the first ship carrying enslaved people and its landing in North America is a fact most people don’t know. Travel to West Africa is also something that most people aren’t aware of. In a seemingly historic, yet strong urging of cross-continental unity for African-Americans and Africans, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and government officials summoned us all to come home. This whirlwind experience with celebrities, influencers, artists, and other entourages was flooding social media and used to launch Ghana’s tourism initiative: the #YearofReturn.
The argument is plausible enough: we are a stolen people living under continued systemic racism, unparalleled hyper-visual police brutality, and injustice. Whereas we are considered “minorities” in America despite having built the damned place, we are still foreign to the whites (who STILL act surprised at natural hair in 2020 LAWD), and so it was high time to come home. Given these realities, the urging to ‘return’ or come home was compelling, as I had the privilege of attending the formal breakfast hosted by celebrity ambassadors Boris Kudjoe and Nicole Ari Parker, dignitaries, and other influencers.
However, as an educator, and after partying all night - the true call from the President: to economically invest in #Ghana, move back to the West African motherland, start business enterprises, and simultaneously learn about our roots seemed like a tall order for a tourism initiative.
I was not, and am still not pessimistic about the impact of the trip to Ghana with all of these people last year. I personally spread the word and was able to shed light on travel to West Africa in my own personal network. I was inspired to write this reflection after reading about the ability of the Year of Return to amass over 1 million visitors from the African Diaspora, learning that African mogul Akon is promoting property ownership for us in Ghana, reading how tweets and Cardi B are ‘making’ more Americans move to Ghana, seeing countless posts on my feed of people literally flooding the streets of Accra, and knowing many in my own network who rang in 2020 at home (meaning the continent).
Yet, when I read narratives from those IN Ghana, my personal concerns are given some weight. Bright Simons (@BBSimons) wrote about the Ghanian government missing opportunities to harness real data (suggesting that 1 million may be an exaggeration, and the use of the numbers should influence future policy). While Kwabena Agyare Yeboah (@AfroKwabena) laments that the Year of Return excluded critical elements of slavery’s history in the country and out. Amongst the exclusions Yeboah notes are that of Northern Ghana, the role of the trans-Saharan slave trade, members of the Caribbean diaspora, and important revolutionary Afro-Caribbean narratives.
I felt even last year that the touting of returning home as partially educational would fall by the wayside of the turn-up that is currently happening right now. I could definitely see Yeboah’s opinion that the Year of Return missed the educational mandate it promoted being true—even if it’s complicated to meet all these demands. Even in the Washington Post, while the good brother Terry Opong, of Black Band Co points out that Ghana is a place where entrepreneurs can make a lot of money; without having the right motivations ad visibility this message gets lost in the shuffle of IG’s look at me flexing culture.
For me, as African nations try to increase their GDP based on tourism, and having myself been a tourist to 6 out of the 7 continents, my own opinions about the results of the Year of Return are mixed from a macro level, and cynically proud on a micro level.
1) one has to wonder: is all this tourism money being put to good use? While there are many of us traveling to the continent, how and IS this being turned into something tangible that can sustain a STEADY wave of tourism in the future?
Countries that have tourism on lock, invested in what they realized made their nations profitable with visitors - and I just don’t know how much of that has happened or wi ll happen…
2) What happens after 2020? Will Ghana face the same fate as Dubai’s Emirates Glitch Gate (when everyone and their momma’s cousins and aunties were going to Dubai— myself included, on a ticket for under $300). After all the hype Dubai has gotten real quiet on the travel streets and that may (or may not be) important to think about.
3) What are people actually getting out of the culture if really it’s just partying non-stop? Now #3 may sound judg-y, and I LOVE a great party overseas, but is the WEB DuBois Center in Accra getting as much play and attention (or a major overhaul so when I head back to Ghana in the future? Or nah?
I’ll shift to the Micro and see if that helps illuminate my point...
I think it was great marketing to tie in history with the call to come home, and I am forever grateful to the experience organized by Ghana’s own Bozoma St. John, to visit Elmina Castle as a tour for the group. Being where my ancestors were literally took the breath out of me, and is one of the top experiences I’ve had abroad or in my life. I also was excited to learn about the many people who gained their Ghanain citizenship this year—despite them having lived there for some time.
I taught the history and impact of slavery to my students as much as I could in my days as a high school and middle school teacher—so it hit different to be in this place, learning, and walking with people who were famous, not famous, but all looked like me. We were home indeed. I wonder how much of that all these million (or at least thousands) have experienced that as it was part of the original point?
I also think in general, having been to the Motherland 5 times and to different countries, simply going to a predominantly Black nation as a Black American is ESSENTIAL to your soul. Yet, two things that really struck me and still does, is
1. Ghana is NOT reflective of all of AFRICA (and I’m not sure if people KNOW this) and
2. is this notion of influence...and why we NEED it so much to decide what and
when to do things.
Jidenna and I spoke about the trip while we were there, and we agreed it was historic. Once famous people up and do something in droves, it’s the thing to do. Nevermind, when famous Black people come together like super friends! Seeing that wasn’t anything too special—but seeing the direct impact of that wave was truly jaw-dropping. I am pretty sure articles were dropping from CNN to other news outlets for an entire month straight and after we got back. If anything, that is a positive impact of true influence, which I thought was definitely great for Ghana (and that was the point). That’s why everyone is there now.
Yet I keep asking myself: why does it take famous people, or those with a lot of followers to dictate where we go, and what we do? We spend so much money within America, and now going to Ghana but I just want what we do to mean more than dropping coin, posing for the gram, and literally being at a party NOT dancing. I also worry that the real benefits of cross-continental connection are lost, amongst the trap and afro-beats soundtrack that simply transplanted itself overseas for the holidays.
I had an absolutely amazing time in Ghana last year. For me, it was educational in more ways than one. I learned I am probably not about the entourage life! Hats off to my boy, because I was itching to be a street wanderess in between those parties! It was great to return home again, and do so with my friend, who because of his career, I don’t get to see. I also got to experience some authentic party vibes on New Year’s Eve at Tea Baa which felt like I was dancing on Flatbush Avenue and was one of the highlights of my trip.
I also learned that travel to Africa means missing vegetables something serious, having to skip all water-washed items to keep my stomach safe. Ghana is definitely more than Accra, and more than just parties and the scene, which I also was able to experience heading out to a cigar bar, and resort in the Volta region (yes Ghana has resorts!). So it was still epic for me. I hope it was as well-rounded and epic for all the Shaku Shaku droppers turning up there right now. I also hope all this #IGflex turns into a higher GDP for Ghana, development, legit money moves for us out there, and seeing the value in our Africanness and oneness across the Atlantic Ocean and attitudes that continue to divide us.