GHANA’S YEAR OF RETURN: Quite possibly the most meaningful tourism marketing initiative ever by Olivia F. Scott
My Year Of Return Journey
In August 1619, the first ship of enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in the United States.
The coast of West Africa, where the country of Ghana lies, was closest to Europe and Central America, so traders frequented this area for human capital. The President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo stated, “we recognize our unique position as the location for 75% of the slave dungeons built on the west coast of Africa through which the slaves were transported. That is why we had a responsibility to extend the hand of welcome, back home to Africans in the diaspora.”
Because slavery was a business, European slave traders selected to enslave the most able-bodied African men, and women of child-bearing age. Those considered unfit for harsh conditions of slave labor — the elderly, sick, disabled or otherwise — were left behind to die. Of those captured, thousands more died in the slave dungeons and many elected suicide from the ship after enduring the dungeons and imagining what was ahead for them. It is alleged that depopulating West Africa of its people crippled Ghana, and other West African countries, of reaching their full potential.
Per the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. Only 388k Africans were “shipped” to North America.
So, to mark the 400-year anniversary of the depopulation of Ghana, the country heralded 2019 as “The Year of Return.” In this acknowledgement, the President Akufo-Addo invited all displaced Africans back to his country for a “spiritual and birth-right” journey. Akufo-Addo also publicly apologized to all African descendants, owning the fact that Africans tribal leaders were involved in the slave trade. And, as a reparation for being sold into slavery, he invited African slave descendants to return home to the motherland to engage with our ancestral culture, and to reinvest in the country, the soil from which our ancestors came.
One Ghanaian tribe chief offered 5000 acres of land to Black people living in the Diaspora as an incentive to return to the motherland. Watch below video for more info.
The return of displaced African descendants to actually live and work in Ghana will benefit the country with increased resources and economic prosperity. President Akufo-Addo stated that he wanted to invite those back whose “freedoms were curtailed in order to build up forcibly countries other their own, and create wealth for the peoples of unknown lands to which they were sent, wealth from whose enjoyment they were largely excluded.” Powerful.
I must add that this experience of returning home and experiencing the land, intrigued a record-high number of tourists. Apprx 2MM visas were granted into the country relative to 70K normally at this time (allegedly).
As a marketer, I am always cautious of what is being sold to me. So, in part, wanted first-hand knowledge of The Year of Return. And in other part, I needed to reset from all the material trappings and media distractions in America and reconnect spiritually with something deeper that could both ground and inspire me.
Yet, back to the marketing initiative, hats off to Ghanaian leadership, for they expertly:
1) Identified an occasion — the year 2019 as 400 years after the start of Transatlantic Slave Trade;
2) Created a theme “The Year of Return”;
3) Identified a specific target audience, “displaced African descendants living in the Diaspora globally,” and specifically African Americans. Pretty savvy to me.
4) Created an entire year of events. Aligned with powerful celebrities and recognized media companies like Steve Harvey, Bozoma St. John and ESSENCE Magazine.
Annually, I visit an international destination as a mini-sabbatical. This year, I thought it was fitting to choose Ghana. I’ve always wanted to visit the continent, but with so many countries (54 recognized, 2 whose independence is disputed), I didn’t know which country should be my entry point. Cape Town, Johannesburg, Accra, Lagos…where do you begin? So thanks to The Year of Return campaign, I chose Accra, Ghana. I also must acknowledge that I have been in love with and connected to the Ghanaian “Adinkra” Symbol System (pictures below) for the last decade, bearing 6 tattoos on my body, so it feels like this trip was necessary for my own spiritual reconciliation.
Afrochella, modeled after Coachella, was being heavily promoted and socialized to African Americans via social media. So, I bought tickets, and was eager to see what it was all about. The execution of the actual event could be enhanced, but I respect the efforts made to gather all people from the Diaspora to celebrate oneness and Africanness. There were many Americans attending and performing. The highlight of my experience was watching Ghanaian artist @Mohawudu (pictured with us below and in action) transforming a blank canvas into a beautiful mural in my favorite color (orange). Check his IG out for more amazing art.
There were several consumer photo activations staged against royal or Adinkra backdrops. And local favorite brand Tasty Jollof executed its “largest pot of jollof” experience. It was a treat to watch what looked like TONS of rice being stirred. Visa was in the house, as was Twitter, as sponsors.
Slave Dungeon Visit
The slave castle experience was difficult. I visited Elmina Castle and shuddered, like most, at the thought of humans being held captive in these small, dark and damp spaces. We paused appropriately at the door of no return.
Yet, What struck me most was this door in the floor. This door (below) concealed the stairs that the European slave traders would have the African women of their choice be ushered through to get to their bedrooms so they could have his way with them.
This was a moment for me. All of the freedom I experience, and enjoy experiencing, I could not imagine not having the choice of my body, of my time, of my everything. Very humbling.
Life About Town
The economic disparity is intense and very difficult to eye witness and to accept. I attended a Mansion Party while there which was a lot of fun, and also saw people living in very meager homes.
My student Akosua Baah’s family hosted me and my cousin Jepthahlin for a beautiful meal at traditional Ghanaian restaurant Azmera, where I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing native foods, especially okro stew and banku.
The Artists Alliance Gallery was incredible. I bought more beautiful, exquisite waistbeads than one girl has a waist for…for cheap. Buying waistbeads stateside will definitely be a problem from now on. The art was beautiful, especially that of artist Nii Teiko (I know I wasn’t supposed to photograph, but I had to snap just one)…please support him if you like this piece. He’s on Facebook under Nii Teiko (artist).
January 1st was a beautiful beach day. I wanted to experience having my feet in the Atlantic Ocean. I had NO idea that going to the beach on the first day of the year was the local tradition. So, I was pleasantly blessed to be surrounded by many jovial locals at Bojo Beach. The joy was all mine to meet a beautiful baby girl Charity who allowed me to take a photo with her (above). And Olivia almost got her groove back like Stella, when approached by a 29-year old insistent upon going for a stroll along the beach. Ahem, I declined — but it was a boost to my 40+year old ego. Eh!
Lil’ Bit of History
The W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Museum was powerful and informative. DuBois moved with his second wife Shirley to Ghana, advocated Pan Africanism and was a partner to Former Prime Minister & President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah who led the Gold Coast to its independence from Britain’s rule in 1957. Dubois was buried here (see below) The W.E.B. DuBois library was my FAVORITE. I love the look, smell and feel of books, so wanted to just roll around on the floor here, but resisted the temptation.
And the James Barnor exhibit beautifully showcased at the Nubuke Foundation Gallery featured everyday life, sports, music, politics and family for Ghanaian people. Thanks Kakuna!
I do plan to return to Ghana, as there is definitely a warmth and a sense of at-homeness that I could not deny. Business opportunities abounded. For one, beauty products (my passion). I took a few photos at a local beauty supply store in Accra Mall and could NOT stop thinking of the number of hair product companies that could grow presence internationally by being in Ghana (and Africa).
Much love to cousin Jepthahlin for joining me. Much appreciation and love to Akosua, Mama & Papa Baah, Kwame and Worla for their hospitality, newest Ghanaian BFF Thelma for all the love and warmth along with her husband Moses and Uncle Nii. And to Nate, Popsi, Julius and Kakuna for taking good care of me and ensuring I had a delightful time in Ghana. And much gratitude to friends Ed, Maya, Kim Mayhorn, KC, Tricia and influencer Jubril Agoro (see video below) for all the tips in advance on what to do and what to bring (like insect repellant- life saver).
The Year of Return was more than a great marketing and tourism initiative. It did provide reconciliation and closure. I am clearer now that all of the privileges I operate with in the world are just that — Privileges. I am more grateful and humbled than ever to not only have the gifts that I have, but the freedom to use them. I look forward to returning to Ghana and more African countries and wish the continent much success in building and asserting itself as a global dominant economic force, with its descendants help.
If interested in going, Jubril’s video is an excellent one to watch! Enjoy!