Ghana in 2019 promises to be an exciting time. With the ‘Year of Return’ press conference on Tuesday morning announcing upcoming endorsed events, the country has put itself in a position to tap into its reputation as ‘the gateway to Africa’. The room was filled with a diverse group of invited guests which included the local press, tourist organizations, ambassadors for Ghana, traditional rulers and event organizers.
“We are excited that we have all gathered here wholeheartedly for the press launch of the Year of Return, 2019, to attract our brothers and sisters from the diaspora to come to Ghana,” said Akwasi Ababio, Chair of Year of Return and Director of Diaspora Affairs. He continued by saying, “Ghana’s leadership in Africa’s quest to be free, united and to be politically and economically independent is well recognized. Ghana is unique and poised as the gate of return to our compatriots in the diaspora.”
The Year of Return, is a milestone for the country because it presents an opportunity to bridge the gap between Ghana and those of African descent living in the diaspora. It marks the 400-year anniversary of the first documented enslaved African to arrive in Jamestown, Virginia. Although this was the beginning of a tragic history for people of African descent, honouring that time is an opportunity for Ghana to extend its arm to displaced Africans and welcome them back home to the motherland.
The Year of Return is a partnership with President Nana Akufo-Addo’s office, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Ghana Tourism Authority and the Office of Diaspora Affairs. The official planning committee for Year of Return includes the Director of Diaspora Affairs and Chair Akwasi Ababio, Vice Chair, Reginald Laryea, Coordinator, Akwasi Agyeman, Rabbi Kohain and Professor Esi Sutherland Addy from Panafest Foundation, Ben Anane Nsiah, Roberta Amoah and Annabelle McKenzie from Ghana Tourism Authority and Diallo Sumbry from Adinkra Group.
Ghana’s Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Barfour Adjei-Barwuah, was also in attendance and wanted to stress something important. “I want to establish the fact that the year of return as we are having it, is not supposed to emphasize the fact that Ghana used to be the biggest purveyor of human cargo 400 years ago. What we are doing is to give everybody in the diaspora, especially those whose forebearers left unwillingly, a certain kind of spiritual reason to come back to the home that they left.” He went on to say that Ghanaians should take this opportunity to ‘welcome’ visitors back to the home that they ‘spiritually’ never left because we want them to come and establish relationships and possibly plant roots and even invest in the country.
The official calendar of endorsed activities taking place over the next twelve months in celebration of the year of return, was released at the press conference. Events include the African Culture & Wellness Festival and Black History Month celebrations in February, Independence celebrations and the JaGha Festival encouraging Jamaicans to visit Ghana, during the month of March, the Ghana Diaspora Festival and Panafest celebration in July, Natural Hair Expo, Healing Concert and Investment Forum in August, Ghana Carnival in November and Afrochic Diaspora Festival in December.
The press conference allowed for open dialogue after the committee presented on the information, the mic was given to the crowd to ask relevant questions about the upcoming year and how we should be prepared and mobilize for a busy time. It was said that expectations of 500,000 additional tourists will come to Ghana as a result of Year of Return celebrations. This is in addition to the existing tourism numbers.
One of the concerns expressed after seeing the calendar of events was that most activities seemed to be focused more on Accra and it should be known that Ghana is more than the Greater Accra region. At that time the committee said although this list presents the officially endorsed events, there is still room for more to be added depending on what proposals individuals may have. Although the deadline for submissions has passed, if something of value that aligns with the vision is presented, it could be taken into consideration and added at a later date.
Despite some concerns expressed at the press launch, it’s clear that the Year of Return is poised to make an impact in Ghana’s economy while putting a spotlight on its tourism industry. There is a lot of work to be done still in preparation of the arrival of so many people, but the committee appeared confident that things will be managed and stressed that they are working towards doing the things necessary in preparation.
There were many organizations from the diaspora in attendance that were very concerned about youth participation and providing the best experience for all potential visitors to Ghana this year and beyond. Kent Johnson and Eric Martin are the co-founders of Black and Abroad, an organization that encourages international travel in the African-American community. They were keen on learning as much as they could and to be sure they provided the right messaging for travellers they will be bringing to Ghana later this year.
It’s important to note that Akwasi Agyeman, said that this year is also an opportunity to celebrate 400 years of African resilience. “It [the slave trade] was a sad aspect of humanity and the history of Africa, but we also wanted to showcase that we survived.” Ghanaians will have to work towards making visitors experiences so great that when they return to their respective countries, that they are happy they came. Ababio ended his presentation by saying something key to making this a successful year, “We encourage our brothers and sisters abroad to come home, fraternize and enjoy our rich culture.”
Visit www.yearofreturn.com for updates on events through the year.