Every year, since 1998, Ghana celebrates Emancipation Day with a series of activities that honour leaders of the Pan African movement and celebrate the day when slavery was abolished in most British Colonies on August 1, 1834. This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and restrictions on crowds and the number of attendees at events, adjustments were made to accommodate and still have significant conversations to learn and grow from our past.
This year, a Virtual Panel Discussion was held on 28th July via the Zoom Webinar platform. Moderated by Aisha Addo, founder of the Power to Girls Foundation, the panel’s theme was Leveraging Our Resilience; Black Lives Matter. The panelists included African American Actor and Activist, Lou Gosset Jr., Pan Africanist, Professor Kojo Yankah, Leader of Diaspora Coalition of Ghana, Rabbi Kohain Halevi, and Author, Lala London.
The conversation’ theme was in response to the ongoing racial protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minnesota Police Officer in May. Since then, the Black Lives Matter movement has become a global phenomenon working to topple racist institutions in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Europe. Black people are standing up and speaking out against the institutionalized racism that exists in law enforcement and other systems.
The notion of Africa as home, is becoming a renewed conversation and the pan African movement has been re-awakened. Professor Kojo Yankah, was the former Chairman of the PANAFEST Foundation for over a decade and has been a part of the pan African movement for most of his career. He said that black lives have mattered from early history when the royal African civilization was destroyed by the Greeks. He said that everything about the black person, the African, was destroyed and it continued through the period of slavery. “The culture of the African was further destroyed, not only by getting the Europeans to put their needs on the head of Africans, but they destroyed the humanity of the African….they were successful in getting the African to feel inferior,” he said.
Lou Gosset Jr. is an award-winning African American Actor and Activist. He is he great-grandson of a slave and took a DNA test that revealed he is of Liberian and Sierra Leonean descent. His role in the 1977 miniseries ‘Roots’ catapulted him to stardom. On the panel discussion he shared his sentiments on the first time he traveled to the continent of Africa. “What I heard about Africa, is nothing in comparison to what I saw,” he said. “I could not wait to go back home and be proud to talk about what I found out.” The way Africa is often portrayed, many first-time visitors are surprised by what they see. He suggested therefore it is important for people in the diaspora to make their own journey and see Africa for themselves to break and dispel the myths.
As someone working in the creative industry of film, he also spoke about the roles he has played and how it is part of the narrative. Yankah added that our history did not start with slavery and it is important for our filmmakers and writers to get to work creating our stories, so we are not so narrow-minded.
Author, Lala London, came to Ghana on a visit from St. Vincent and the Grenadines before the pandemic. Like many travelers, she is in the country until borders open. During the discussion, she said, “My own grandfather was the son of a slave….so these issues are really dear to me.” She spoke of how the Black Lives Matter movement affects her directly, having a son who is an African American. “We see what happens every day in a country that is supposed to be the bastion of democracy…where black lives somehow just don’t matter,” she added.
Moderator Aisha Addo asked the panel what actionable steps can we use to drive the concept of unity and moving forward across the diaspora and in Africa? Rabbi Kohain Halevi answered her saying, “I think we need to set a new paradigm for what a model society should be today….we have to surpass the model in current existence…include respect for human rights.” He continued by explaining that slavery was a mental construct that set a mental state in our people and we need to work towards dismantling that before we can think of reconstructing it.
Mr. Gosset said that we need to work on our communication. Being an elder, he said he sees the importance in that now. Unity is perhaps the most important part of progress in the black community both in Africa and the diaspora. Sometimes we see a division between the African Americans and the continental Africans, and we need to bridge the gap. He added that, “We cannot make it unless we add our Africans to the fight.”
Ms. Addo asked for one power statement from the panelists before wrapping up the Virtual Discussion and Professor Yankah give a meaningful response. “Since we are also commemorating Emancipation, I would like to hammer the point made that we need to get all our creative people to now focus on what we have lost,” Professor Yankah said, “…we need themes that unite and revive the consciousness of our people…in terms of being proud of who we are and raising the consciousness of blackness.”
Rabbi Kohian said that during the season of Emancipation we should remember to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. “If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?”
Emancipation Day is celebrated around the world to commemorate the liberation of black people from the system of chattel slavery. It was on August 1st, 1834 that slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Many countries celebrate the day around the world including Ghana, the first African country to celebrate it in 1998. This year’s theme for Emancipation Day was ‘Our Heritage Our Strength’ with the sub-theme of ‘Leveraging Our Resilience: Black Lives Matter’. Events were organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture in collaboration with the Ghana Tourism Authority, and the traditional leaders in the community.
The night before Emancipation Day is known as Reverential Night and it is the night to pay homage the ancestors and light candles in their honour. In past years, a walk through the streets of Cape Coast, while wearing white, and singing songs of freedom occurs. Last year during the Year of Return over a thousand people gathered, but this year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the crowds were limited in number and the walk was shorted significantly.
Executive Director of PANAFEST Foundation, Rabbi Kohain started the candlelight vigil speaking to the small group gathered to remind us the significance of the night and that we were sharing each other’s light. The Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Barbara Oteng-Gyasi, CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority, Akwasi Agyeman, Chairman of Diaspora Affairs, Akwasi Ababio, CEO of Ghana Tourist Development Company, Kojo Antwi, and Manager of Year of Return, Annabelle McKenzie were among the people leading the walk. The group was met by Paramount Chief of Cape Coast, Osabarima Kwesi Atta II and elders in the community who spoke briefly on the significance of calling on the ancestors to be with us in spirit as we celebrated the evening before Emancipation Day.
Limited numbers of people walked into the dungeons where a vigil held in honour of the ancestors. Prayers were said, a moment of silence was observed, and libations were poured to remember those who suffered. Seven candles were lit, and wreaths laid in memoriam, after which, everyone was led to the grounds where a celebration took place through theatre and dance that captured the theme of this year’s event. The National Theatre of Ghana’s actors did a moving performance that expressed the emotions surrounding the killings of innocent blacks in America as they called out the names of those who have lost their lives.
The Assin Manso community hosted the Emancipation Day events on August 1st on the historic grounds of the Slave Market and Memorial Park. A mini durbar of chiefs and the elders of the community took place while adhering to social distancing protocols. In memory of those who died during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, wreaths were laid in the Reverential Garden in front of the tombs of three enslaved Africans whose remains were repatriated to be buried on African soil; Samuel Carson from the United States, Crystal from Jamaica and the unknown enslaved African from Barbados.
CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority, Akwasi Agyeman, said it was important for us to celebrate the resilience of the Africans who lost their lives during the slave trade. Hon. Barbara Oteng-Gyasi said, Emancipation Day reminds us that the African family was separated causing our people to suffer from the dramatic separation. She expressed the importance of our people coming together, “We must all reunite as one family and strive to build a more humane society…to achieve this we need our brothers and sisters of the diaspora to forge that closed bond between Africans and Africans in the diaspora to make Africa rise and shine.”
The day’s events ended at the site of the Ancestral Slave River known as the place where captured Africans were given their last bath before being taken into the dungeons where they were transported to the Americas into slavery. It was a moment of healing, reflection and prayers. The Chiefs and elders of the community observed a sacred moment as they gathered to pour libations and pray for the ancestors. Rabbi Kohain spoke to close out the day urging everyone to come together as one people and to free our minds from the shackles of what slavery and colonialism did. He urged everyone to tear down what separates us. “Let us be one people, let us be one African people no matter where we are and let us return the love, the virtue and respect to each other.”
As part of Emancipation Day celebrations and the Give Back Ghana program for Beyond the Return, a team from Ghana Tourism Authority and the Beyond the Return Secretariat participated in a tree planting activity in Assin Praso in Ghana’s Central Region. Over 100 trees were planted along the path that leads to a historical site where captured enslaved Africans were taken hundreds of years ago in the height of the slave trade era. The contestants from Ghana’s Most Beautiful Pageant also joined in the day’s activities each planting a tree of her own.
This important exercise is being done across the country with trees being planted in all of Ghana’s 16 regions. This is a way to give back to our environment and to also to build a better Ghana. It also serves as a symbolic gesture for future generations to see the trees we planted today. Manager of Beyond the Return, Annabelle McKenzie and Marketing Manager for Ghana Tourism Authority, Roberta Dawson-Amoah both participated in planting their own trees to help give back to and preserve Ghana’s environment.
CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority, Akwasi Agyeman, welcomed everyone to the site. He said that every year Ghana celebrates the resilience of the African and the end to chattel slavery through its celebrations of Emancipation Day. He said that this year because of the circumstances we are in, due to the pandemic we are unable to do what normally takes place, which is the re-enactment of captured Africans crossing of the river during the time of slavery. “Beyond that story of what happened here during the slave trade, there are also two significant incidents,” Mr. Agyeman said. “The Yaa Asantewaa War against British colonialism and the Anglo – Asante War. Today we are going to plant trees as our way of celebrating emancipation so that future generations will come and see these trees planted as a symbol of what happened in 2020 when we couldn’t celebrate the way we normally do.”
Over 100 trees were planted in Assin Praso along the path that leads to the historical site where the captured enslaved Africans were buried in mass graves. The contestants from Ghana’s Most Beautiful pageant listened attentively as they learned the history of the grounds that they were planting trees on. Like some Ghanaians, they were learning this history for the first time.
Divisional Chief of Assin Jakai-Assin Praso, Nana Owodo Aseku X, spoke to everyone and recounted the history of Assin Praso along with the significance of the site which is now a popular tourist attraction. He was also joined by other elders in the community including Nana Baffour Adjei X, and Nana Yaw Owusu Aduemi, as they shared stories of history in their community.
Assin Praso was one of the busiest tourist sites last year during the Year of Return. Many people from the diaspora came to see the grounds where Africans were buried in mass graves and the river that was crossed during that time.
Rep. John Robert Lewis, was a civil rights icon who worked alongside some of the greatest black leaders in history. He spent a lifetime in the fight for equality for black people in America having worked alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others. In 2011, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama. Sadly, he died on July 17, 2020 due to complications with pancreatic cancer.
As part of a wreath-laying ceremony that honoured Pan African leaders in on July 27th, the Diaspora African Forum unveiled the name of Rep. John Robert Lewis on the Sankofa Wall located at their headquarters behind the W.E.B. Dubois Centre in Accra. The Diaspora African Forum is supported by the African Union and its Head of Mission is H.E. Ambassador Erieka Bennett. Their vision is to bridge the gap between the African diaspora and Africa. They are consistently dedicated to recognizing people who have made significant contributions to the advancement of people of African descent around the world.
The addition of John Robert Lewis’ name to the wall, is important because it reminds us of how united we are in the fight for our freedoms as people of African descent. Those in attendance of the ceremony included, the Minister of Tourism Arts & Culture, Barbara Oteng-Gyasi, CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority, Akwasi Agyeman, Director of Diaspora Affairs, Akwasi Ababio, Executive Director of PANAFEST, Rabbi Kohain, and Director of the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, Alhaji Abubakari Issah Osman.
Last year, Lewis visited Ghana with the Congressional Black Caucus and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was a historical trip as they participated in the Year of Return by commemorating the 400-year anniversary of the first documented ship of enslaved Africans who arrived in the English colony that is now the United States. In commemorating the year, it was also an opportunity to celebrate the resilience of the African spirit. He paid a visit to the dungeons at both the Cape Coast and Elmina Castle which was significant because that is where millions of captured Africans were transported through during the slave trade era.
The name, John Robert Lewis, will live forever on the Sankofa Wall in Ghana. A symbolic return to the motherland and a testament and representative of the ancestors who never imagined one of their descendants would ever return home.
Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) in collaboration with the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL) have launched the Emancipation Day celebrations and “Do Ghana” Travel Festival at the Accra Tourism Information Centre (ATIC) in Accra to kick-start activities lined up for this year’s programme.
The celebration, on the theme: “Our Heritage, Our Strength, with a sub-theme: ‘Leveraging Our Resilience; Black Lives Matter” is aimed at rekindling the frame of unity among black people everywhere and highlighting the interconnected nature of their struggles here on the mother continent and in Europe and America.
Hon. Dr. Ziblim Iddi Barri, Deputy Minister of Tourism Culture and Creative Arts said the event is designed to help Africans to reconnect their strengths and rededicate themselves to fully assume their own destiny in recognition of the lessons of history.
He said, “Emancipation Day should remind us once again that, the African family has been separated and that the different factions of the family both on the mother continent and in the Diaspora have suffered from this brutal and traumatic separation.”
“The persistent police brutalities and the criminalization of the judicial system against African American males and the recent killing of George Floyd, an African American, all point to an enduring, pervasive and bigoted world view fuelled by feelings of racial superiority among sections of the Caucasian population,” he added.
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer of GTA, Mr. Akwasi Agyeman, said “the celebration would open to see domestic arrivals performing insight from various industries and interact with each other in a meaningful way.”
Emancipation Day Celebration is a national and annual event observed to commemorate the resistance and liberation of African people in the Diaspora against enslavement and violation of their human rights.
All Regions and Assin Manso
Emancipation Day Ceremony / Healing Prayers
The Emancipation Day Celebration which originated in the Caribbean has been celebrated since 1834 when chattel slavery was finally abolished in the Caribbean.
The event has been on Ghana’s tourism calendar of events since 1998. Ghana became the first African Country to re-affirm its status as the gateway to the homeland of Africans in the Diaspora.
Emancipation Day more consciously serves to create and develop a unique sense of unity, cooperation, and understanding amongst Africans the world over as well as all people of conscience. Emancipation is not only freedom to the enslaved, but also the enslaver.
On her second day in Ghana, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, visited the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum. Her delegation, along with Samia Nkrumah, Chairperson of the CPP political party and daughter of Kwame Nkrumah, Hon. Barbara Oteng-Gyasi, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture and Mr. Akwasi Agyeman, CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority and Coordinator for Year of Return, took an early morning tour to pay respect to one of the greatest Pan-African leaders.
Mottley expressed how truly honoured she was that Samia Nkrumah had chosen to join them this morning on their tour. “All of my adult life, I know of the name and work of Kwame Nkrumah and he has been an inspiration for all who have believed that justice is possible,” she said after the tour. Together with her team, they toured the grounds and visited the museum and burial site of Kwame Nkrumah and his wife Fathia Nkrumah, who was buried near him.
Prime Minister Mottley expressed her idea that education and equity go hand in hand when it comes to affecting civilization and allowing us to be the best we can be. It was evident that her experience so far has been impactful on her. “That I have this opportunity not just to visit Ghana, but to come and pay homage and respects on behalf of Barbadian people…to the memory and legacy of Dr. Kwame Nkruman is a matter of great pride for me,” she said.
She is expected to participate in the Dumba Festival in Tamale later.
Ahead of the historic trip to Ghana, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, met with Ghana’s Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Dr. Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah, at her office in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, July 25, 2019.
The speaker extended an invitation to Ghana’s Ambassador to review key matters regarding the upcoming trip.
In his remarks, Ambassador Adjei-Barwuah touched on Ghana’s existing relationship with the United States, and the need to enhance the friendship between the two countries. “Ghana is very excited about this trip, and for us, it’s a call to open a new page to ensure a better relationship.”
On her part, Speaker Pelosi expressed her deepest gratitude to the President and the people of Ghana for commemorating 400 years of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia. “We go on many trips, but nothing compares to this one. We feel a special connection because of our history. The historical nature of commemorating 400 years of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans makes this trip special. Truly, this trip strikes to the heart” the Speaker said.
The visit will include a tour of some of Ghana’s historic slave-trading ports including Elmina and Cape Coast Dungeons, the Slave Heritage site at Assin Manso which houses the remains of slave ancestors brought down from the United States including a former U.S. Naval officer, Samuel Carson among others. A forty-member delegation will accompany the Speaker on this trip including members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Ambassador was accompanied by Joseph Ngminebayihi, Head of Consular Department, Kofi Tonto, Head of Information & Public Affairs and Bernard Acquah, First Secretary/Political Affairs.
PANAFEST & Emancipation officially opened with a wreath-laying ceremony remembering three important pioneers in the Pan African movement; George Padmore, W.E.B. DuBois and Kwame Nkrumah. All three were passionate about uniting the global African family and were responsible for laying a foundation that made a positive change for people of African descent.
PANAFEST & Emancipation are deeply rooted in celebrating the African family and teaching the knowledge and heritage of our people. The events are taking place from 24th July – 2nd August at locations in Accra and Cape Coast. This year’s theme is ‘Beyond 400 Years: Reaching Across Continents into the Future.’ The first day’s events began at the W.E.B DuBois Centre for Pan-African Culture in Cantonments, Accra with a ceremony that included the laying of wreaths on his grave. Everyone then moved to the George Padmore Library where Padmore’s remains have been laid to rest to also perform a ceremony laying wreaths in his honour. At this location, an eternal flame was lit. “May our commitment to the cause of Africa and to the upliftment of its people everywhere on the continent and the Americas wherever the black race should find himself never die by the lighting of this flame,” said Ben Anane-Nsiah, Product Development Manager at Ghana Tourism Authority.
The final part of the program was at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park in Accra Central. Dignitaries and notable people from the diaspora were in attendance including Stephanie S. Sullivan, the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, Akwasi Ababio, Director of Diaspora Affairs, Office of the President, Akwasi Agyeman, CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority, Claudia Turbay Quintero, Ambassador, Embassy of Columbia, and Dr. Thomas Mensah, Chemical Engineer and Inventor, and H.E. Dr. Erieka Bennett, Head of Mission Diaspora African Forum, are just a few of the key attendees at the event.
A.J. Johnson, an Actress and Motivational Coach from the U.S. participated in the events with laying a wreath in honour of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. She said she couldn’t believe that she only came to Ghana for the first time just over 6 months ago and now here she was participating in a significant event. She was honoured to be asked to lay a wreath in memoriam of Nkrumah.
Steven Golding, President of UNIA Jamaica, delivered a compelling speech at Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. He spoke of how Jamaicans positively received President Nana Akufo-Addo on his recent trip to Jamaica, “We look forward to the day when all African nations will welcome home with open arms the sons and daughters of those who were ripped from this continent hundreds of years ago, because as Peter Tosh said no matter where we come from as long as we are black we are Africans.”
Dr. Thomas Mensah, Chemical Engineer, Inventor and holder of 14 U.S. patents gave his keynote address just before the crowd moved towards the wreath-laying at Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. His passion for uplifting Black people globally resonated in all he said. His motto, “The Right Stuff Comes in Black Too” is meant to inspire us to believe in the possibility of success when we believe in ourselves and learn to work together. It’s about breaking the negative stereotypes about Africa and black people worldwide.
This is just the beginning of many events scheduled over the coming week for PANAFEST & Emancipation. For more information on upcoming activities, visit the website www.panafestghana.org.