When Lakeshia Ford decided she was going to pack up her life and her budding career and move from New Jersey to Ghana, her family could not understand why she wanted to make the trek to a country thousands of miles from home. Even more surprising, to some, was Ford’s reason: the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident, which set off protests across the United States, was a tipping point for the 30-year-old Ford and her relationship with the country of her birth.
“Mike Brown got shot and it just put this huge distaste in my mouth for, like, the country and the flag and what it means to be American and representing the American flag,” Ford says. “I felt very detached from that identity. I felt very excluded.” While that feeling was certainly shared by many across the country, Ford is part of a small but growing group of black Americans who have become so fed up with racism in the United States that they have decided to move to Africa.
“I remember a moment. I remember sitting on my bed and visualizing like … a transition,” Ford recalls. “You know that image of Mike Brown with the blood, and he was just [lying] there [in the street]? The animation in my mind was like he rose with that blood and turned into water, and I floated back. Well, I didn’t float back, but basically, I use that blood in the water to get back to Africa.”
Four years later, Ford sits in a trendy hotel bar in Accra, the capital of Ghana, a small coastal nation in West Africa. As dusk settles, she sips water after a long day of work while other patrons laugh and catch up with friends. A communications professional with a background in finance and international relations, Ford once dreamed of serving as a foreign diplomat, but she soured on the idea of representing the United States abroad. Instead, she came here and set up her own business, Ford Communications, a strategic communications and public relations boutique. Ford found a niche servicing Ghana’s booming tech industry.
The daughter of Jamaican immigrants who moved to the United States in the 1980s, Ford spent her formative years in East Orange, New Jersey. Those years were tough but grounded in the American dream. “I never knew we were poor,” she says. “I had everything that I needed.” She excelled at academics, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and a master’s from American University. Internships took her to places like China, South Africa and Ghana, which she first visited in 2008.
“I had the time of my life, and I felt more [at] home here than I ever did in the States and Jamaica,” she recalls. “It was just this really weird internal experience that was just like … peace.” She returned in the summer of 2013, during graduate school, to work for the United Nations information centre in Accra, and again in 2014, as a Boren Fellow.
The next year, after her vision following the Michael Brown incident, she decided to try moving to Ghana, despite having no job or prospects lined up — a decision that did not sit well with her family.
“Americans, you know how people think about Africa,” she says. “They think it’s all jungles, people living in trees. It’s so crazy how that narrative has survived.”
Now, Ford works with firms like the financial tech companyMazzuma, which launched a cryptocurrency to make mobile payments easier, and the data mining companyViotech. She works out of a suburban coworking space, and after waking up at 5 a.m. to pray and meditate, she gets her emails done before driving off to meetings. Sometimes she jumps on a motorbike to avoid the snarl of cars that choke the city.
Ford’s move is part of a larger trend of African-Americans and Ghanaian-Americans moving back to the continent and Ghana specifically. Members of the African-American Association of Ghana estimate that about 5,000 African-Americans are currently living in Accra, a sharp increase from about 1,000 a decade ago. The influx of skilled workers is helping to grow several industries in the country, particularly technology.
Nestled between the Ivory Coast and Togo, Ghana has long been a refuge for African-Americans seeking to escape America’s ugly side. In 1962, poet, novelist and civil rights activist Maya Angelou moved here with her son, Guy. She lived in Accra and worked at the University of Ghana for three years. She found a tight-knit community of other African-Americans who had fled the United States to evade Jim Crow and racism and were drawn to the new nation headed by president Kwame Nkrumah, who was educated in America.
Today, Ghana’s capital is bubbling with energy. It is laid-back yet bursting at the seams. Congestion that would test the most patient person is ever-present, yet the people are friendly and peaceful. The city is a mix of cosmopolitan, with impressive architectural offerings like the National Theater, and developing city, with the hustle and bustle of haphazard urban planning. Above all, as one would expect in Ghana, it is a place where black faces are everywhere. The daredevil weaving in and out of traffic on a motorbike: black. The manager in the bank: black. The celebrity on a billboard, trying to persuade you to try her jollof rice: black.
For people like Ford, that blackness, combined with the energy of a booming economy, makes it an attractive place. The country’s gross domestic product grew by 7.4 percent in the third quarter of 2018, and the World Bank projected that the nation would be one of the fastest growing economies that year.
On the tech side, the information technology sector in Ghana grew by double-digits in 2016, outperforming the economy as a whole, according to theOxford Business Group. The highest rate of mobile penetration in sub-Saharan Africa, and widely available WiFi, contribute to Accra’s appeal as a destination for tech start-ups, luring both African-Americans and Ghanaian-born people who had previously settled in the United States.
Yaa Cuguano, 36, first arrived in the United States at the age of 14. She recalls landing at Kennedy Airport in frigid December weather, wearing a T-shirt and jeans: “My mom’s uncle met us and gave us these windbreaker jackets. It was snowing, and I went right back inside.”
In 2014, after more than 20 years in America, Cuguano moved back to Ghana. Her parents and siblings still live in the United States, but she had tired of the rat race, the explosion of racial issues and the weather. Though Cuguano is a U.S. citizen, her country of birth would provide the consanguinity she needed.
Cugano works at MPharma, an e-health company co-founded by another returned Ghanaian-American, Gregory Rockson, and backed by Silicon Valley venture capital firms. A 2017 report found that African companies received more than $500 million in venture capital, a 53 percent increase from the previous year.
At MPharma’s bungalow-like offices in a suburb of Accra, a hammock sits in the corner of the front yard, and a Maltese-poodle nips at visitors’ heels. Cuguano, who had lived in Washington, Illinois, California and New York, is serene but pointed when she explains the move. Her long, slender hands gesticulate to emphasize.
“So the moment I decided to move to Ghana, it had to do with the Trayvon Martin verdict. I was very affected by that. I was like, ‘What the hell?’ I just saw that things were happening differently than in the America that I had known.”
She says life here is less materialistic. “I feel at peace here,” she says. In the United States, she laments, people “just keep chasing and keep chasing, chasing, chasing.” In Ghana, “I have a lot of work, but I have a lot of time to just think and just be, you know? The way I live here is just very minimal.”
Another major plus is not being judged by her skin colour, as she says she often was in America. She had been a team leader at an educational product firm in New York and has degrees from three universities, but she always felt undermined.
“In America, all the places I worked at, I was always the only black woman in my team,” she says. “In New York, one of the places I worked at, it was a very — I would call it a hostile environment. … It was just very hard to work with them because there always was an objection to everything I said or suggested.”
At MPharma, she is spearheading a product that uses mobile technology to enable patients to access medicine more efficiently. And she doesn’t have to worry about people judging her by her skin colour, because most people look like her.
Paul Miller Owusu, 38, is a tech entrepreneur who moved to Ghana in 2017 after living in the United States since he was a child and working at Silicon Valley companies Yammer, GBox and Chime. Like Cuguano, he says that incidents like the Trayvon Martin case were a catalyst for his move — as was a much more personal interaction with police.
“I think it was three weeks after the Trayvon dismissal,” he recalls. “I was coming home from work in Mountain View, and I was literally around the corner from where Facebook headquarters is, and I was pulled over by a cop. They were looking for a stolen car. The car that I was driving was whiter than the skin colour” — and not at all the colour of the car police were looking for. “I thought it was very bogus.”
He continues: “And at that moment I felt very angry, to put it lightly.” Owusu made the move alone, leaving his young family behind. He still travels back to see them and has not made a decision about whether they will join him in Ghana yet.
Owusu acknowledges that the United States provided him with the building blocks of his success, but he says Ghana has a magnetic pull that allows him to be centred.
“I can unplug from work and not worry about anything,” he says. “In the States, you’re constantly plugged in, so work-life balance is just nonexistent. People will say it, but I think it’s like complete B.S. … Work-life balance in Ghana is really good; there is a lot of freedom in the way I move around.”
Since moving back to Ghana, Owusu has launched multiple companies, including a peer-to-peer and remittance company called SIKA, and raised $4.8 million from a Ghanaian investor for LOGIQUE, a tech accelerator and incubator.
While the gravity of race relations and the pull of a friendlier place have attracted people like Ford, Cuguano and Owusu, Ghana has embarked on a mission to siphon talented individuals.
Akwasi Akua Ababio, director of diaspora relations for the office of the president, believes the political situation in the West could be a boon for countries like Ghana.
“While it is unfortunate that geopolitics in the West has taken an uncomfortably insular turn, personally I consider it an opportunity to attract the energy, skills, and knowledge of people of African descent to the continent,” he says. “It is time for African nations to put measures in place to attract and sustain people of African descent here on the continent.”
At the beginning of 2019, the Ghanaian government rolled out the red carpet for African-Americans and the diaspora under the banner Year of Return.Throughout the year, there’ll be events marking the abolition of 400 years of the slave trade and encouraging people of African descent from all over the world to come to Ghana to network and invest.
David Hutchful, a software designer and an expert in the Ghanaian tech space, says the industry has grown in the past three decades, attracting highly skilled people and investors. He thinks this development has led to more individuals from the United States moving back.
“When I think about technology in Ghana, when I first came it was very different, but I feel like it is now growing, and we are beginning to carve out an identity for ourselves,” he says.
Hutchful, who has worked in tech in the United States and India, says Ghana’s tech space has grown from one that developed mostly software for government systems to one where a start-up and entrepreneurial ecosystem is thriving. Hutchful was born in Ghana and went to school in Zimbabwe and the United States. He thinks the movement of African-Americans and Ghanaian-Americans back to the country bodes well for the continued growth of the tech industry.
“What Africa really needs now are people called links — people who have legs in both places — because there’s a lot of transfer of skills and knowledge and understanding. If I were to think about African-Americans beginning to redefine kind of a new adventure for themselves, I think them serving [as] that link then would be great,” he says.
Ford says she hopes more Africans in the diaspora move back to the continent, or at least travel there.
“Black people need to come to Africa, even if they are visiting,” she says. “I won’t say everybody needs to move back — I don’t think that is a good solution — but it’s a pilgrimage that every black person needs to have.”
France24 has in a report looked at how Ghana is increasingly becoming home to hundreds of African-Americans especially in light of the on-going ‘Year of Return, Ghana 2019’ campaign. The report looks at the lives of some African-Americans who have settled in Ghans over the years. Read and watch the report below.
Ghana was one of the main West African departure points for the transatlantic slave trade. Today, the government has launched a campaign to reach out to the descendants of those Africans who were forcibly removed from their homelands. It has dubbed 2019 the “year of return“. Several hundred people have already put down roots in Ghana, many of them African-Americans. Our colleagues from France 2 report, with FRANCE 24‘s James Vasina.
This article comes on the heels of other reviews published earlier in the year.
Watch the programme/video report prepared by Patrick Lovett and James Vasina below.
The “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” is a major landmark spiritual and birth-right journey inviting the Global African family, home and abroad, to mark 400 years of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia. The arrival of enslaved Africans marked a sordid and sad period, when our kith and kin were forcefully taken away from Africa into years of deprivation, humiliation and torture. While August 2019 marks 400 years since enslaved Africans arrived in the United States, “The Year of Return, Ghana 2019” celebrates the cumulative resilience of all the victims of the Trans Atlantic slave Trade who were scattered and displaced through the world in North America, South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.
The Ghana Tourism Authority(GTA) under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture is leading the project in collaboration with the Office of Diaspora Affairs at the Office of the President the PANAFEST Foundation and The Adinkra Group of the USA.
One of the main goals of the Year of Return campaign is to position Ghana as a key travel destination for African Americans and the African Diaspora. In 2019, the events planned throughout the year will serve as a launch pad for a consistent boost in tourism for Ghana in the near and distant years. Beyond tourism, this initiative supports one of the President’s key developmental agendas in Ghana Beyond Aid. We know that tourism can be a leading indicator to business and investment.
We are focused on ensuring that our brothers and sisters have a safe, pleasant and wonderful journey home so they will want to come back, get involved, see the opportunity that exists in Ghana for us to work together and begin to rebuild what has been stolen and lost over the past 400 years.
The Ghana Tourism Authority together with the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Council has inaugurated a five-member management board to see to the affairs of the Bunso Arboretum tourism site located at Bunso in the Eastern Region.
They are expected to elevate the tourist site to a world-class eco-tourism destination.
The members are Mr Ekow Sampson, Deputy CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority, Mr Daniel Ofori Attah, a representative of the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Council, Dr Seth Appiah Kubi, Executive Director of A-Rocha Ghana, Kwame Boateng, a board member of Ghana Tourism Authority, Mr Albert Mensah of DCCL, the current managers of Bunso Arboretum.
The rest are Frederick Adjei-Rudolph the Eastern Regional Manager of GTA, Nana Twumasi a representative of Okyeman Environmental Foundation and a member each from the Forestry Commission and CSIR.
Okyehene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, the chief of the Akyem Abuakwa who inaugurated the board tasked them to make the tourist site one of the best in Africa.
“This new role is very difficult because you will be working to make Ghana a better country, people go onto boards and become very rich suddenly but this board is exceptional. This is an eco-friendly investment enterprise and if we manage it well it will become a treasure for Ghana which will end us great forex exchange.”
” Many well-to-do nations do not have natural resources and minerals but they have managed their tourist sites very well which has then become a major revenue generating point for them and I believe Bunso Arboretum has all the medicinal trees, plants and species and a calm environment to also become one of the best tourist attractions in the country and beyond so i urge you all to work very hard for us to achieve this dream”.
Speaking to Journalists after the inauguration, the Chief Executive Officer for the Ghana Tourism Authority Mr Akwasi Agyemang indicated the authority’s commitment to making Ghana a tourist destination.
“Ghana Tourism Authority is committed to making the country a tourist hub by harnessing every potential site so we have put together one of the finest architects and engineers to join the team which will be managing the affairs at Bunso Arboretum for us to get the best out of the place. This year we launched the Eat Ghana, Wear Ghana, See Ghana campaign all in the name of promoting Ghana, our President recently stated when he visited Tamale that we should not wait for foreigners to come to our country to tell us to visit our sites before we do so”.
“We have put plans in place to ensure the Bunso Arboretum provides Job for the youth in the area and improve economic activities in the area. We will add a playing ground to the site, hotels and resting places to facelift the site and work to ensure Bunso Arboretum becomes one of the best tourist destinations in the country.”
The much-awaited Ghana Tourism Awards to honour deserving facilities in the tourism industry in Ghana for the year 2018 was held at The Event Haven, La on Friday, March 22, 2019. In all 29 awards were presented to organisations and individual in Accommodation, Food and beverage and Entertainment, Travel Trade and Media. In addition, honorary awards were given to six (6) personalities who have contributed to the growth and the development of the Tourism Industry over the years.
The National Tourism Awards was instituted by the Ghana Tourism Authority in 1997 to reward excellent performance in the tourism sector.
It is one of the flagship events of the GTA held annually and it sets the tone for high standards in service delivery among practitioners in the tourism sector.
Awards, including honorary awards, are presented to practitioners and organisations who have made maintained high standards and individuals who have made immense contributions to the growth and development of Ghana’s tourism industry.
The award usually attracts high profile personalities in government, business, politics, academia and practitioners within the tourism industry.
Activities celebrating the Full Circle Festival is drawing to a close as the Country ushers in the Year of Return, Ghana 2019. Officials of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture , Ghana Tourism Authority and office of Diaspora Affairs joined the Chiefs and people of Akwamu to celebrate several Hollywood stars of African descent at a colourful ceremony.
Drawing parallels between the resilience and fighting spirit of the Akwamu people, the Paramount Chief, Odeneho Kwafo Akoto III, congratulated the star studded entourage for their exploits in the USA which has now made them global icons. Actor Michael Jai White and Marketing icon, Bozoma Saint John were both enstooled as warriors. Hollywood Actor, Boris Kodjoe, who coordinated the trip also came up for special recognition for his untiring efforts in promoting Ghana to the rest of the World.
The Year of Return is a special spiritual and birthright journey being cordinated by the Ghana Tourism Authority to commemorate 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America. The initiative has pushed Ghana into 4th place in the list of 19 must visit places in 2019 put together by CNN.
Source: Tanni Deb, CNN and Segun Akande, for CNN (CNN Africa)
Across Africa, from the north of the Sahara to the West African coast sit many relics of the continent’s early interactions with Europe.
In Ghana, two of the country’s most famous spectacles, Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle are truly imposing.
But their ancient walls were once home to one of the most tragic and brutal periods in the history of humanity — the transatlantic slave trade.
The bigger of the two, Elmina Castle, is a white-washed fortress on the coast of the small town of Elmina in what is now modern-day Ghana. First built in 1482 as a Portuguese trading settlement, the 91,000 sq foot behemoth was one of the principal slave depots in the transatlantic slave trade for more than three centuries.
This slave castle’s inner walls are a haunting reminder of its gruesome past08:59
Some of them, like Ivor Bartels, are looking to reconnect with their lost family’s heritage and unwittingly, a lot more. “My mother is Belizean, and I was born in the UK. I’m Afro-Caribbean, British-Caribbean. My name took me to Ghana because I knew there was Bartels here,” he say in the halls of the old castle. “I thought this was an ideal place for me to start my journey; to search for my roots, for my past, and to find out really what happened here within these walls.”
‘A dark history’
Alex Afful, a tour guide at the castle, says there are two schools of thought on the inspiration behind the castle’s name.
“One believed that the word ‘Elmina’ is an Arabic name, which means ‘harbor.’ One also has it that it’s a Portuguese word meaning, ‘the mine,’ Afful says.
When the Portuguese first arrived, their main commodity was gold, Afful explains. “At the rate they were getting it, this made the Portuguese to think or believe that a gold mine is found here,” he says.
However, when European powers began to invade Africa for slaves, Elmina became an essential stop on the slave route and a prison of sorts for captives.
Today, Afful retraces the brutal journey that most captives faced before being sold into slavery. It often began by determining which prisoners were healthy enough for the long, arduous course ahead. “Normally they want the healthy captives, so first they have to count. They have an instrument that they use to open their teeth, to count the number of teeth that they had,” Afful explains. “In some cases, they have to be whipped for them to jump, for them to see how strong that they are. So, that’s the first phase. Now, when they get in here, day after that has been done, they were then put in the various dungeons.”
Cape Coast Castle – From gold trade to slave trade07:05
After being tested, the captives were confined to Elmina’s dungeons where conditions were shocking, even by the standards of the time. “…There were no toilets. There were no bathrooms. In some cases, they had straws on the floor, which they used as a mattress and so on,” Afful describes. “In all these dungeons, they were given buckets, which they were expected to ease themselves.” “But because of the conditions they were in, the chains they had on their feet made it almost impossible for them to get to this bucket,” he tells CNN.
Captives could spend as long as three months in confinement, awaiting their journey into a dark, and unknown future.
As Afful explains, negotiations were concluded before slave ships would carry their human cargo. But in a market where the seller had little control over how each slave could be distinguished, the buyers often felt the need to label their new property, in the most inhumane of ways. “Now, with the branding, each merchant has its own method of doing it. Some will use alphabet; some will use numbers on the form of a metallic stamp,” Afful describes. “They put it in the fire, already they have some oil on their body (to) prepare them for the journey. So they burn them on the skin,” Branded and subjugated, the captives were led aboard awaiting ships through the Door of No Return. “… when the ship came, they took them in batches through the ‘Door of No Return,’ and they get to the ship, for the journey to proceed from there,” he says.
The ‘Door of No Return’ still swings, centuries after, a menacing reminder of the captives’ descent into a life of terror and relentless servitude.
“Initially, this door was bigger. But when the slave trade began, it was reduced this way. So that one person can come in at a time,” Afful says.The Door, the dungeons where captives were restrained and the walls through which these slaves walked all serve as cues of a story that Africa seems to have confined to the past.
It is an approach that Edmund Abaka, Associate Producer of History and International Studies at the University of Miami, believes we must rethink.
“We have to move away from the perception that, ‘oh, history is about the past, history is about people who are dead and gone,'” Abaka says. “It is our story. If we don’t tell our story, somebody will tell their story,” he adds. For Bartels, the accounts of Elmina’s past revive a traumatizing story, yet the necessity of hearing these tales is not lost on him. “I can hear the wailing of my ancestors here. The souls that have been lost. … But it’s good to be home,” he says. Today, the town of Elmina is a lively, bustling hub — but the castle towers above it, an essential, yet painful reminder of its past.
A Ghanaian Band Kwan Pa Band, has released what is turning out to be the 2018 Christmas carol which has already gone viral on various social media platforms. Kwan Pa Band gave viewers the hilarious version of the the popular “12 Days of Christmas” carol at Joy Prime TV Studio. This has been described as typical #feelghana moment.
Watch and enjoy below…
The lyrics to the “Palm Wine Music” version of the popular carol is as follows:
On the FIRST DAY of Christmas my true love gave to me, A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE!
On the SECOND DAY of Christmas my true love gave to me…, PAYA NE ANWAMO … , and a partridge in a pear tree!
On the THIRD DAY of Christmas my true love gave to me…, FANTA NE NKATIE… , Paya ne anwamo, and a partridge in a pear tree!
On the FOURTH DAY of Christmas my true love gave to me…, K)T) NE ABENKWAN, Fanta ne nkatie, Paya ne Anwamo, and a partridge in a pear tree!
On the FIFTH DAY of Christmas my true love gave to me… KONTOMIRE, KYINGOM (chewing gum) NE ALEWA, NKATIE, NE K)K)) A YATOTO, and a partridge in a pear tree!
Below is an extract on unique Ghanaian music by Prof. J.K. Anquandah.
Ghana is par excellence a nation of music. Every sphere of Ghanaian life-style throbs with music.
At the naming ceremony and the puberty rite, at the betrothal and the wedding, at the market and on the farms, at the blacksmith’s and the potter’s factory and at the beach fishing scene, at the village story-telling scene at night, at the chief’s durbar and the annual Yam Festival, at the traditional priest’s shrine or in the Christian church, at the social gathering or in the nightclub, music-making is ubiquitous.
Ghana’s contemporary musical world is characterized by an array of indigenous and foreign music types, employing local and foreign styles, techniques and instruments. There are ancient traditional instruments some dating back to 500-1000 years, such as the Seperewa, Adenkum, Dawuro, Akasa and the Ashiwa, the Nnawa, Odurugya and Atenteben
And there are foreign instruments such as guitars, trumpets, organs, pianos, saxophones and clarinets which have been introduced recently into the country. Today, the very imagination boggles at the fantastic array of music varieties produced by Ghanaian dance bands, choral groups, church musical groups, traditional recreational groups, funeral groups and royal music groups.
During the last half century, Ghana’s creative composers have sought to identify the country’s unique qualities of indigenous music and develop them. One such quality involves the technique known to musicologists as “contrapuntal.”
In such a musical type, each drum plays its own part and yet all the drums combine to form one unit, there is also a voice interplay of solo and chorus, with one calling and the other responding.
Ephraim Amu, Ghana’s celebrated composer, in experimenting on the contrapuntal concept, married Western type of harmony to traditional Ghanaian rhythm and produced at least a dozen musical compositions which world musical critics have adjudged as master pieces.
These include Adawurabome, Meda Preko, Nkradi, Alegbegbe, Yaanom ebibirima, Momma yenkoso nfro, Tete wobikyere, Konakatutuw, Miva miva, and Bonwere Kente.
This article examines some of the rich traditional sources which Ghanaian music-makers have tapped in order to make such an important contribution to the world’s musical heritage.
Ghanaian traditional music can be grouped into two major families, first, music for entertainment or recreation, and second, institutional music performed as part of social, religious, cultural or royal political functions or celebrations. Recreational or entertainment music seems to have the greatest variety of musical types employing varied instruments and also, quite, naturally, has the most popular types of music.