How Trump’s tweets — and Cardi B — are making more Americans move to Ghana

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By Danielle Paquette 

ACCRA, Ghana — The man from Boston stared at the ocean and thought: Maybe I’ll never go back.

He’d come to coastal Ghana for an adventure, he told friends, but his motivation ran deeper. Pierre Delva, 32, craved a fresh start without the question that had bothered him since childhood.

“Is it because I’m black?” the used-car salesman said, reclining at a seaside bar in the nation’s capital, Accra. “You don’t have to wonder here.”

What started as an anniversary promotion called the Year of Return — a government-funded call for the African diaspora to explore Ghana four centuries after the first slave ship reached Virginian soil — has enticed some Americans to stay for good.

Pierre Delva, 32, moved to Accra in August to explore business opportunities. (Danielle Paquette/The Washington Post)
Pierre Delva, 32, moved to Accra in August to explore business opportunities. (Danielle Paquette/The Washington Post)

 

Officials in this West African nation of roughly 29 million people say interest has overwhelmed the tourism office as the annual flood of visitors has more than doubled and A-list celebrities spark frenzies around the capital.

By December, border agents were running out of visa stickers. Applications to enter Ghana shot up from about 1,000 per week to a staggering 10,000, said Akwasi Agyeman, chief executive of the Ghana Tourism Authority. Most visitors are American, he said.

More surprising, he said, was the number of people who have decided to stay: 126 were granted citizenship this fall, including 46 Americans, in the country’s biggest naturalization ceremony since 2016.

“We could not have imagined this,” Agyeman said.

The rush to Ghana, where millions of Africans were forced into servitude before the slave trade ended in 1870, intensified after tweets from President Trump.

In July, Trump told four congresswomen — including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Somali refugee — to “go back” to “the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came,” sparking outrage around the world. (All four are U.S. citizens.)

Omar responded Aug. 1 from the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, where she posted photos with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on an official visit this summer.

“So grateful for the honour to return to Mother Africa,” Omar tweeted.

The high-profile sparring amplified attention on Ghana, Agyeman said. Calls and emails surged. Hotel costs climbed.

People spoke of booking a trip, he said, as a way to strike back at Trump’s words.

Ghana’s quest to attract tourists began as a strategy to bolster the economy. It’s a mission countries across the continent share as leaders aim to harness historical sites, national parks and glittering shorelines.

A view from the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. (Natalija Gormalova/AFP/Getty Images)
A view from the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. (Natalija Gormalova/AFP/Getty Images)

Consumer spending on tourism, hospitality and leisure in Africa is projected to hit $262 billion in the next decade, up from $124 billion in 2015, according to the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Business leaders laud it as a path to shrink reliance on raw-material exports to foreign superpowers that tend to exploit workers and hog the benefits.

The climate in Ghana is ripe for entrepreneurs to fill potholes, add traffic lights and digitize tax returns, among other business moves, said Kojo Terry Oppong, founder of BlackBand, a concierge service for tourists and business travellers.

“This is a market where you can solve a lot of basic problems and make a lot of money,” said Oppong, 30, who was born in Accra and raised primarily in New Jersey.

It’s also part of the youngest region on Earth, with an exploding middle class of customers.

The problem: Some foreigners associate Africa with disease, war and famine. Celebrities with gigantic social media followings are helping to spread another view.

Steve Harvey and the rapper T.I. visited the country in recent weeks, for instance, along with Conan O’Brien, who filmed a special in Accra. (“It’s very important to me that I am very popular in Ghana,” O’Brien said in the November bit.)

The buzz is reaching phone screens worldwide.

“People can look up and say, ‘Cardi B’s in Africa?’ ” Oppong said. “What does that even look like?”

It looks like an artist with 56 million Instagram followers strutting into Accra’s posh Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City one December night as fans sporting Versace and wax prints shrieked.

A reporter asked Cardi B about her impression of Ghana hours before she played her first show in the country.

“They don’t know it’s lit,” the rapper said of her fellow Americans. “They don’t know it’s beautiful. They don’t know the food is delicious.”

Cardi B takes questions from fans in December at the posh Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City in Accra. (Danielle Paquette/The Washington Post)
Cardi B takes questions from fans in December at the posh Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City in Accra. (Danielle Paquette/The Washington Post)
Fans watch Cardi B talk at the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City. (Danielle Paquette/The Washington Post)
Fans watch Cardi B talk at the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City. (Danielle Paquette/The Washington Post)

Cardi B had ordered spicy prawns from the poolside grill that afternoon and checked into a suite that costs up to $12,000 a night. (She later performed in a Ghanaian red, yellow and green bodysuit.)

Down in the lobby, Maurice Cheetham, a Ghanaian American from Detroit who launched a tour company here two years ago, lounged in a leather booth.

“When I was growing up, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be African,” he said as lanky models nearby snapped selfies. “I put it deep inside me.”

That changed after his father died. Cheetham, 45, felt called to discover his roots and fell in love with Accra.

“Now everyone wants to come,” he said. His clients have quadrupled.

The swelling crowds of Americans are putting more cash into local pockets. Artists at the biggest craft market in town estimate their monthly earnings have risen from about $450 to $750.

But some see the visitors as rich people in a fancy adult version of a study-abroad program.

“They already have a lot of money,” said Kojo Osei, 37, who hawks soccer jerseys at an Accra stall.

Osei notices mostly families or tourists in their late 20s and 30s — not a lot of high school graduates seeking greener pastures in a nation where the average yearly earnings amount to $2,130.

“If they really want to see Ghana, they should go to the villages,” he said. “See the reality.”

Ghana’s government hopes the spotlight will create more jobs for everyone. Next year brings “Beyond the Return,” a public campaign to help new arrivals get settled for the long haul.

Delva, the former Bostonian, landed in August with his life savings and a YouTube education on Ghana.

“I watched every video out there,” he said.

The Year of Return chatter had sparked his interest. His parents are from Haiti with roots in West Africa. He felt stuck in America. He was sick of the racism.

The foreign land across the Atlantic seemed more accessible.

“You can’t just walk into the Bank of America and ask for a meeting with the CEO,” Delva said. “You’ve got a shot to do things like that here.”

Now he has a full calendar, a spacious apartment and a mix of friends with big plans.

“When I think about going home to the States,” Delva said, “it almost makes me want to cry.”

Of course, he’ll visit his family. But this place, he said, holds his future.

Delva recently found a scrawny dog on the beach, fed him back to health and named him Billion — a nod, he said, to his potential in Ghana.

A tourist takes a photo of the dungeons at the Cape Coast Castle. (Natalija Gormalova/AFP/Getty Images)
A tourist takes a photo of the dungeons at the Cape Coast Castle. (Natalija Gormalova/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Osei Owusu Amankwaah contributed to this report.

Source: Washington Post

Photos: American Rapper Cardi B. Performs in Ghana

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Cardi B. is one of hip-hop’s most commercially successful female artists and she has a legion of fans around the world, including in Ghana.  The artist performed on Sunday 8th December at the Accra Sports Stadium to an eager crowd of fans. When she burst onto stage giving a packed performance of dancing and fireworks the crowd went wild with some rapping along to all the lyrics.

She was dressed in a costume that paid homage to the Ghana flag in red, gold and green with the black star. Even her wig, which she took off and threw into the crowd at the end of her show, was streaked with the colours of the Ghana flag.

Ahead of her performance, she had a meet and greet at the Kempinski Hotel which included celebrities, creatives, business people, media and some of her die-hard fans. Cardi arrived to cheers as everyone had waited to see her most of the day.  Originally scheduled to happen earlier that afternoon, many invited guests had waited for many hours.  Some of the invitees took to social media to express their feelings of anger and disappointment when she didn’t make an appearance in the afternoon.  Cardi explained to the audience that she wasn’t aware that a meeting with her fans and local celebrities was scheduled and assured everyone that she loves her fans and never intended to disrespect anyone.

Ghanaian Singer/Songwriter Becca moderated the Q&A session and also gave women in the audience an opportunity to ask questions directly to Cardi.

The interactive session also gave some local talents an opportunity to gift Cardi with some of their products.  Kwaku Bediako, CEO of Chocolate Clothing GH, gave her two items.  Bediako explained that he normally designs for men, but has created a new concept of unisex designs.  Cardi loved it and even asked him for a belt to wear the style he gave her. Other designers including Kua Designs took the opportunity to share their made in Ghana brands with Cardi. An artist even revealed a portrait he made of the rapper and she gave him a hug to thank him for the gift.

Nadia Adongo Musah, Deputy Director for Diaspora Affairs in the Office of the President, presented Cardi B with a Year of Return woven sash. It was also an opportunity for the Deputy Director to tell everyone more about how the Year of Return was launched by the President.

Cardi’s passion to connect with her fans meant she was willing to take pictures with everyone before she dashed off to get ready for the concert.

Cardi B is on her way to perform for the first time in Nigeria and Ghana

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CNN Inside Africa

Grammy award-winning rapper and social media sensation, Cardi B is on her way to Africa to perform for the first time on the continent in Nigeria and Ghana.

The star shared a post on her Instagram page of her dancing in excitement in a private jet as she set off for the concert.
“1:03am drop my KK in NY on my way to Afrriiiiicaaaaaaaaaa baybeeeee!!!!!!,” she wrote in the post.
Last month she announced that she would be performing at the Livespot X Festival in Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana.
“Africa. I’m coming! Nigeria and Ghana,” she wrote at the time.
Cardi B (real name Belcalis Almanzar), broke into the music scene in 2017 with her hit single ‘Bodak Yellow.’
She will be performing at the two-day festival alongside top African artists from both countries.
Organized by Livespot 360, a digital agency based in Lagos, the festival will feature Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Shatta Wale, R2bees among others.

Immense popularity

Darey Art Alade, a Nigerian singer and creative director of Livespot 360 says Cardi B was picked to headline the festival because of her immense popularity.
“She is one of the biggest artists in the world… It’s really about her uniqueness, her star power. She has got great music and she is the girl next door character that everybody loves,” he told CNN.
Cardi B has won multiple awards including a Grammy Award, seven Billboard Music Awards, and four BET Awards.

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Alade, who will also perform at the festival, says bringing Cardi B to Africa has been in the works since 2018.
According to him, his team has been in conversation with her for months to make her trip to the continent smooth. “Getting Cardi B to come is a lot because there are many moving parts. She is specific about everything,” he said.
The festival has organized the lighting, stage, and design of the venues in Accra and Lagos to suit the rapper’s preferences.

Social media excitement

Meanwhile, social media is buzzing as fans share their excitement ahead of Cardi B’s first Africa performance.
Darey Art Alade says he is hoping for a “hitch-free” concert. In the past, Alade has hosted celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kelly Rowland in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center.
“I am hoping people are looking forward to having a good time with Cardi B. We are looking forward to a hitch-free festival, no incidents,” he said.
“We are looking forward to this further cementing us on the world map in terms of our tourism potential.”

Ghana’s ‘Year of Return’

The artist’s visit to the continent comes at a time where Ghana is pushing for a more united Africa.
In 2018, the West African country declared and formally launched the “Year of Return, Ghana 2019,” marking 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America.
The campaign encourages people of African descent, whose ancestors were victims of slave trade, to return to Ghana and invest in the continent.

Ghana is being heralded as the next big tourist destination. Here's why

Alade, says part of extending the Livespot X Festival to Accra, Ghana’s capital city is to spread love across the continent through music.
“We want to spread the love, we have Nigerians performing in Ghana and we have Ghanians performing in Lagos as well. It’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship about love and unity,” he said.
It also creates an environment for international artists like Cardi B to share the stage with some of Africa’s favorite music stars, Alade said.

Africa to the world

Cardi B’s visit to Africa is one of many from A-list music artists. Over the past years, stars like Beyonce, Jay Z, Skepta, Kelly Rowland, and Toni Braxton have performed in different countries on the continent.
There has also been a rise in international collaborations with African artists. Drake and Nigerian musician, Wizkid teamed up on 2016 hit “One Dance” making Wizkid the first Nigerian artist to top the US Billboard Hot 100.
In July, Beyonce teamed up with multiple African acts including Ghana’s Shatta Wale, Cameroon’s Salatiel and South Africa’s Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly on her ‘The Lion King: The Gift’ album.

Beyonce sends 'love letter to Africa' with new Lion King album

Toye Sokunbi, a Nigerian music analyst says the internet and social media are part of why more people are paying attention to the continent’s music scene.
According to him, it is faster to access and share African music compared to many years ago.
“The internet, for example, has made the world smaller. This also means the synergy between African diaspora and Africans in Africa is strengthening,” he told CNN.
“So, the communication between those two arms means there is a more unified African consciousness which expands the possibilities of music,” he added.
Sokunbi, who is also the Editor-at-large for a Nigerian pop culture magazine, says the attention on the music scene can also be associated with an ongoing trend for African creativity and culture.
Over the past years, there have been movies, food, and fashion collaborations from outside the continent.
In August, Swedish retail giant, H&M, partnered with South African brand Mantsho in its first-ever collaboration with an African designer.