In 2018, the Government of Ghana launched the Year of Return 2019 campaign at the Washington Press Club, in Washington D.C to encourage Africans in the diaspora to return to the country in commemoration of 400 years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
It has since seen a high rate of Diasporan visits to the country, with some on a journey to trace their roots. The yearlong celebrations welcomed well known figures such as Steve Harvey, Samuel L Jackson, Nancy Pelosi, Ilhan Omar, Mia Mottley, Barbara Lee, Roland Martin, Lupita Nyong’o, Conan O’ Brien, Hisham Tawfiq, Anthony Anderson, Tina Knowles, Michael Jai White, Idris Elba, Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker, T.I, Diggy Simmons, Ludacris, Cardi B, Rick Ross and many more; whom mostly spoke highly of their visit. The question on people’s minds when the campaign came to an end in December 2019 was “what next?”
Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo at a ceremony in Accra’s Kempinski Hotel on Friday 27th December 2019 launched a new initiative: “Beyond the Return, the Diaspora Initiative”.
In a speech at the event, he said that aim of the initiative is to “engage Africans in the diaspora and all persons of African descent more positively in areas such as trade and investment co-operation, and skills and knowledge development”.
He continued saying “It was our hope that the ‘Year of Return’ would be a joyful and learning experience all round for all of us on the continent and our kith and kin from the diaspora, especially in affirming our determination that never again should the African peoples permit themselves to be subjected to such dehumanizing conditions, sold into slavery, and have their freedoms curtailed. It has proven, so far, to be just that, with some two hundred thousand more visitors taking up the offer to visit Ghana during the year. Let us all remember that the destiny of all black people, no matter where they are in the world, is bound up with Africa. We must help make Africa the place for investment, progress and prosperity, and not from where our youth flee in the hope of accessing the mirage of a better life in Europe or the Americas”.
President Akufo-Addo also stated that the “Beyond the Return seeks to derive maximum dividends from our relations with the diaspora in mutually beneficial co-operation, and as partners for shared growth and development”.
He confirmed that the Ghana Tourism Authority will spearhead the process of bringing stakeholders together in what would be a focus to drive the empowerment of black people, using Ghana as the hub.
In line with that, the Ministry for Tourism, Arts and Culture also announced the launch of a ten-year plan of the campaign which falls under the theme: “A Decade of Renaissance – 2020 – 2030” to continuously carry out activities in sustaining the Diaspora relationship and building on the positive impact of the initiative.
The Year of Return 2019, was a huge success which saw several visitors troop in to Ghana all year round from different parts of the globe. The country’s government made sure proper arrangements were in place to facilitate arrival, departure and stay period of all visitors.
In December 2019, Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration announced that it was providing visitors travelling to Ghana during the Year of Return with visa on arrival facility till the end of January 2020. This helped manage pressure on its Embassies abroad, especially in the US outfit due to high demands for visa issuance and also encouraged more tourists to visit the country by making travelling smooth.
They also reduced visa on arrival fees from $150 to $75 to allow more Diasporans to participate in the Year of Return 2019 activities.
As part of the celebrations, the government of Ghana earlier on conferred citizenship to 126 foreign nationals from the diaspora who had stayed in the country for a very long time and consider Ghana their ancestral home.
Speaking at the Jubilee House in Accra where the conferment ceremony was held, the President of the Republic of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo in his speech said “I am glad you have decided to make Ghana your home, and thereby, join several generations of Diasporans who committed their lives to us.” He also declared the recipients worthy of Ghanaian citizenship, many of whom had adopted Ghana as their home for many years. Among those honoured was Rita Marley, Singer, entrepreneur and wife of reggae legend Bob Marley.
In 2016, the country’s former President, John Dramani Mahama also granted citizenship to 34 Caribbean nationals of African descent who had lived in Ghana for a long time. Other prominent Diasporans having Ghanaian citizenship conferred on them in the past include U.S civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois, Trinidad and Tobago journalist George Padmore, and American poet Maya Angelou who all lived in the country.
A Ghanaian Immigration Act of 2000, the Right of Abode law grants people of African descent an option to apply and stay in the country indefinitely. Many Diasporans have since taken advantage of the initiative to resettle.
During Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary celebrations in 2007, the Joseph Project was inaugurated to bring Ghanaians and Africans in the diaspora together using the West African nation as a gateway.
The Year of Return was launched in 2018 to mark 400 years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the occasion was used to encourage Diasporans of African descent to return home. Ghana’s port area houses an estimated 75% of the dungeons where African ‘slaves’ were kept before being shipped to North America.