The smiles associated with a homecoming

What the return of diasporan Africans means for the continent

Ghana declared the year 2019 as “the Year of Return”, opening its doors for African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and other diasporan Africans to return to the continent and obtain citizenship if they so desired. In the past couple of months, that move has not only impacted the nation once referred to as “the Gold Coast” from a socio-cultural and economic perspective, it has also signalled a renewed wave of African consciousness that is slowly but gradually reverberating across other countries.

In terms of cultural dynamics, Ghana is currently experiencing a moment similar to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, a movement in the United States characterised by an increased interest in African art and culture at a time when racism and segregation – aided by legislation – still thrived in many parts of America. The major difference now is that this new wave is beyond a mere display of interest in “the motherland”, it has more to do with fully experiencing and getting immersed in African culture. According to observers, the dichotomy between Africans and those in the diaspora is slowly fading away, to the extent that diasporan Africans are gradually beginning to see that, in the words of the late reggae music legend Peter Tosh, “as long as you’re a black man, you are an African”.

In the final weeks of 2019, Ghana played host to more than a few high-profile celebrities, including comedian Steve Harvey, supermodel Naomi Campbell, actors Boris Kodjoe and Danny Glover, as well as musicians T.I, Cardi B and Ludacris. In a bold statement of endearment to African roots, Ludacris would go on to obtain citizenship of Gabon, a French-speaking West African nation.

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Diasporan Africans trooped into Ghana in their numbers in 2019, leading to a 6.7% increase in the country’s GDP growth rate in the first quarter of last year. There was also a noticeable growth in the country’s private sector amidst the expansion of local businesses, and the influence of this socio-cultural shift on Ghana’s tourism industry is impossible to ignore.

Beyond economic figures, the influx of returnees from the diaspora also illustrates the power in numbers. Ghana’s Year of Return has proven to be a successful experiment, and it is hoped that more African countries follow in its footsteps.

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