A group of students from the United States of America have arrived in Ghana to partake in this year’s Pan African Student Summit as part of the Year of Return – Ghana 2019 programme line up.
Numbering up to 17 from different universities across the US, the all African American students will take part in the 2-day summit scheduled to take place at the International House of the University of Ghana which would also involve students from the host university and their counterparts from University of Cape Coast.
The March 8 and 9 summit will engage these students to participate in critical discourse and think tanks on essential topics toward the liberation of all African people around the world. The summit will feature a keynote speaker, panel discussions think tanks, networking sessions, entertainment and many others.
The Pan African Student Summit will also lay the foundation to foster network and partnership development between the student changemakers and budding Pan-Africanist in both the diaspora and the continent.
Speaking to journalists on arrival at the Kotoka International Airport, some of the students who said they were in Africa for the first time after several years abroad expressed their excitement that they could be part of the trip which does not just present them an opportunity to learn from other students in the country, but also is a great chance to explore Ghana for the next 13 days they will be spending in the country.
The summit is being spearheaded by 3GC Inc, True Culture University in partnership with CA Study Abroad, Antique Lemonade and the African American Association of Ghana.
Participants at this year’s Pan-African Student Summit have been told to be cognizant of their ancestral root no matter how long it takes for them to discover their African identity.
The call was made by various speakers at the event who shared their individual stories about how they eventually became interested and identified with Pan-Africanism.
They included Diallo Sumbry, President & CEO of The Adinkra Group, Akwasi Agyeman, CEO, Ghana Tourism Authority, Prof.Esi Sutherland-Addy, Chairperson, PANAFEST Foundation, Paul Kwaw, Executive Director, W. E. B Du Bois Centre for Pan African Culture among others.
The two-day Pan African Student Summit which came off at the African House of the University of Ghana engaged university students of African descent from the Diaspora with Ghanaian university students to participate in critical discourse and think tanks on essential topics toward the liberation of all African people around the world: identity and social issues, economics and entrepreneurial possibilities, education, and global health and wellness.
Mr. Agyemang who is also Coordinator for the Year of Return speaking to the press at the Summit said for the visiting students it was such a great delight for him that they could be in the country to experience things for themselves and further be part of such an important discourse.
He added that the Year of Return Steering Committee and Secretariat will continue to support any individual, group, institutions and initiatives that will help bring more people from the diaspora into the country.
The March 8 and 9 Summit also included a collaborative service learning day at Echoing Hills School where summit participants had a lot of activities with kids and teachers at the school, including painting, games, planting of water melon seeds at the school’s garden and lot of fun-filled educational activities.
The Pan-African Student Summit is an initiative of 3GC Inc., True Culture University in partnership with CA Study Abroad, Antique Lemonade and the African American Association of Ghana with support from Year of Return – Ghana 2019.
Participants helping to paint Echoing Hills School
Landtours, Ltd. is a tour company operating out of West Africa at a really bustling time for tourism in the area. 2019 marks what has been deemed the ‘Year of Return’ for people of African descent in the diaspora, a call to action that marks 400 years since the first slaves were kidnapped and sold into the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The ‘Year of Return’ calls for people in the African Diaspora to make a birthright trip “home” to West Africa.
With that in mind, Landtours is uniquely positioned to provide travelers with the immersive experiences they’re seeking on these journeys. Here, we talk to Landtours CEO Mona Boyd about what makes the company’s tours special and why the ‘Year of Return’ is so important for travelers and the countries that they’re exploring.
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Travel Noire: What was the impetus to start Landtours?
Mona Boyd: My Ghanaian Husband and I, with our 18-month-old son moved to Ghana in 1993 and started an independent car rental company (now Avis Rent a Car). During the first year of providing car rental services, we noticed our customers frequently asked us to provide tour and destination management services for them. We would often be asked to make a hotel reservation in a tourist destination outside Accra, or to recommend a restaurant for a special occasion. The most common question was “my family is coming to visit me; what can I do with them?” After one year of giving free advice, we set up a tour and travel company called Landtours Ghana Ltd.
TN: You could’ve easily curated tours that highlight markets, safaris, and luxurious beaches. What made you choose immersive experiences?
MB: From my past experiences traveling throughout West Africa, I knew the region had so much more to offer than just museums, beaches and markets. I wanted to show the magnificent countries in which we operated to the world and in the very best light. I also wanted to debunk everything negative Americans, Europeans and others had learned about Africa. My team and I felt the only way to do this was to showcase the people and their culture, and to ensure that the traveler(s) had an up close, people-to-people cultural exchange experience. I felt that descendants of African slaves particularly needed to be welcomed back to Africa in the most sensitive manner.
I wanted African Americans to leave West Africa changed forever; with a deeper understanding of their heritage, identity, and of what happened to their Ancestors 400 years ago.
Tourists arriving for Pan-African Students Summit
TN: What are some challenges Landtours faced in its first years of operation? How did you adjust?
MB: I not only had all the challenges of getting two start-ups up and running in a country with almost no business infrastructure or service culture, I was also adjusting to a brutal culture shock. To be honest it was an overwhelming experience for the first three years. At the time we started our businesses, Ghana did not have a service industry, and there was very little knowledge about what service should look like.
How did I adjust? I was unrelenting about our standards, hired the smartest people I could find, and trained them to deliver the service our clients expected. My biggest breakthrough came when I realized I needed to stop expecting everyone to be like me and work like me. I leaned in more to better understand what was most important to Ghanaians. Through the change I made in my management style, I was slowly able to win employees trust.
TN: Which destination is currently most popular among Landtours travelers? Why do you think that is?
MB: Landtours’ Ghana, Togo and Benin Cultural Package are the most popular. Travelers have an opportunity to experience the people and culture of three different countries. Furthermore, they also experience the difference between an Anglophone Ghana and two Francophone countries; Togo and Benin. It is interesting to see how the British and French cultures have influenced the people and their institutions in all three countries.
TN: Which destination do you feel doesn’t get the shine it deserves? What should travelers know about it?
MB: About seven years ago we discovered Sao Tome and Principe, an off the beaten track group of Islands located off the Atlantic shore of Gabon. Sao Tome and Principe offer the closest experience I have had to be in the Garden of Eden. Everywhere you look are blossoming flowers, deep green foliage and everything about the Islands exude pure relaxation. The Islands have no high rise buildings, are not over-crowded, and there are very few cars on the road.
In addition to the stunning beauty of the islands, the people of Sao Tome and Principe have a very interesting story to tell. These beautiful, laid back and warm people are descendants of the captured Africans who were on the way to the Americas when they became shipwrecked and ended up on the Island of Sao Tome and Principe. The islands were colonized by the Portuguese, and the Africans on the ship ended up in slavery in Sao Tome. Like all slaves who were sent to the Americas, the people of Sao Tome and Principe have no tribal/ethnic identity. Although they descended from tribes of many places in West Africa, they identify themselves as people from Sao Tome and Principe.
TN: We know that the ‘Year of Return’ is of special significance for African Americans and others in the African diaspora, but what does it mean for the people of West Africa?
MB: There has been a lot of buzz in Ghana about the Year of Return, and I posed the question to ten Ghanaians of “What does the Year of Return mean to you?” The answers I received fell into three categories:
20 percent said that the Year of Return meant an opportunity to showcase Ghana’s culture and learn more about Ghana’s history. 20 percent said it meant Ghanaians will have an opportunity to learn more about their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. 60 percent said that the Year of Return means a very good business opportunity for Ghanaians.
This is what I expected most Ghanaians would say about the “Year of Return.” Unlike African Americans, most Ghanaians do not articulate any emotions about the transatlantic slave trade. They know the slave trade took place, but do not feel it is about them.
TN: What do you hope travelers gain from being part of a Landtours experience?
MB: I hope travelers will have an experience that will ensure they learn, grow and be changed forever. I also hope that they will come to understand we are all connected and are far more similar than we are different. The colour of our skin, the shape of our body, or the texture of our hair is only about environmental adaptation. What makes us the same is our humanity, and we should celebrate our differences in its full glory.
TN: What’s the most fulfilling part of being at the helm at Landtours?
MB: I love, love, love what I do! But there are three things that I love the most: One, I love providing incredible experiences for travelers and exceeding their expectations. Two, I love working with intelligent young people and motivating, guiding and coaching them to discover their considerable talents, and just how much they are capable of doing. Third, I love being successful and winning every day. It gives me an incredible sense of pride and achievement
TN: What’s next for Landtours? What are your plans for the coming years?
MB: Currently we work in West Africa but our goal is to provide tours and travel services everywhere on the African Continent.
TN: What’s your last piece of advice for travelers new to West Africa?
MB: Come with an open mind and heart, and you will truly be touched by the wonderful people and cultures of Africa.
(Forbes) “In the year 2019, we open our arms even wider to welcome home our brothers and sisters in what will become a birthright journey home for the global African family.” With these words, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana proclaimed 2019 “The Year of Return” for diasporan Africans. This year also marks the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of enslaved Africans to North America. The “Year of Return” has gotten off to a very strong start. Naomi Campbell, Idris Elba, Michael Jai White, and Rosario Dawson are just a few of the global celebrities who spent parts of the Christmas and New Year’s holiday in Ghana. They came to take part in a week-long ‘Full Circle Festival‘ hosted by actor Boris Kodjoe and marketing maven Bozoma Saint John.
Viola Labi, a first generation Canadian-Ghanaian shared, “I am so proud that our President is the first to have such an initiative. I am proud that I’m Ghanaian; proud that we are leading the way.” Labi has been visiting Ghana a few times a year for almost a decade. She would visit with friends and family, connect with her heritage and then return back to Canada to her career in luxury retail with brands such as Burberry and Nordstrom. On one of these trips in 2015, she noticed women weaving textiles on the side of the road in the town of Tamale, Ghana. She immediately pulled over the car and spent the next few hours chatting with the women and learning how to weave Batakari, a textile from the northern region in Ghana. She posted some photos to her Instagram feed.
As Labi continued to share the work of Ghanaian artisans on Instagram, messages started to come in from both friends and strangers. They would ask, “Can I buy that?” With her strong fashion sense and entrepreneurial spirit, Labi began carrying products back to Canada and shipping them from her home to customers across North America. By 2017, she launched Woven. “I was already doing it without realizing it. It was an actual business,” recalls Labi. 10-months ago, she flew to Ghana with a ticket to return to Canada 2-weeks later. She canceled the return flight and does not “plan on leaving any time soon.”
Woven is working to help bring excellence into a fragmented fashion industry in Ghana. Labi pulls from her experience in retail to develop the artisan sector, run primarily by women. “Women are the backbone of Africa,” says Labi. Woven offers retail consultancy, workshops for fashion schools, wholesale export, and custom co-creation of products. Labi strives to create high-quality, innovative products in Ghana to fight the perception that African products are “below par”. When she learned that a European fashion tech brand uses re-engineered fibers like orange peels to create luxury textiles, she thought that with their abundance of fresh produce, “Ghana can do the same.”
Women weaving baskets in Ghana. (Photo by Adepa Foriwaa courtesy of Woven) PHOTO CREDIT: ADEPA FORIWAA
Labi is excited by the Year of Return. The name of her company is not just a nod to the woven products that they sell. “Woven means to unite into a cohesive whole,” says Labi. Labi crafted her definition of self by weaving together her different identities, but it was not always easy. Working in high-end retail, she put up with micro-aggressions of “willfully ignorant” customers. Once, while at a bookstore, she asked the saleswoman for a recommendation of a book about a young black girl. She led Labi to a section of books set in the jungle.
The Year of Return is part of the change that Labi is noticing. There is a company in Ghana making black dolls dressed in traditional Kente fabric. “If I was exposed to symbols of self-representation like that when I was growing up, maybe it wouldn’t have taken 35 years to figure myself out. Since my parents were African immigrants, they didn’t grow up as minorities, so they didn’t talk much about my blackness – it was more about my African-ness. Overseas, the two are different,” said Labi. For Africans of the diaspora, the Year of Return is about accelerating this discovery of identity. Labi explained, “We need a way to connect. We are looking for points of validation; for points of our heritage. Home.”
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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.