The anticipation when you land at Kotoka International Airport is like no other. The feeling that you’ve arrived home is one way many have described it. Undoubtedly when you walk out of the plane and feel that warm tropical West African sun on your face, you know that ‘you’ve arrived’.
As you make your way through the airport you’re already thinking about everything you plan on doing while you’re in Ghana. Remember that being in another country, there are a number of things you have to consider. It’s not going to be similar to being back home. Be patient and willing to adapt to the environment. It will make your visit much more pleasant.
There are a few key things to note during your stay in Ghana. When it comes to currency, in Ghana it’s the Cedi (pronounced ‘see-dee’). There are 100 pesewas to one Cedi (Just as there are 100 pennies to one dollar). The value of Ghana’s currently fluctuates quite frequently, as a result there are some businesses that will operate in U.S. currency. It’s best to check with the bank and forex bureau for the latest exchange rates.
First, Ghana is primarily a cash and mobile money society. If you’re travelling from countries like Canada, the United States., Britain, and parts of Europe, this isn’t something you’ll be used to. Cashless systems are commonplace in other countries, but in Ghana cash still dominates. The other form of payment that is quite common is the use of Mobile Money payment systems. If you’re not familiar with Mobile Money, that’s the service provided by all the telecom companies for users to be able to send money to others using a virtual wallet attached to their phone number. It can also be used to make payments at some vendors. You can inquire about registering once you get a local SIM.
When it comes to the use of Credit and Debit Cards, most hotels and restaurants in areas where tourists frequent usually accept this form of payment. Some retailers in the shopping malls and plazas will accept card payments also. Visa is most common, with some accepting Mastercard. American Express (AMEX) is rarely accepted in Ghana.
Getting around as a tourist is one of the biggest concerns for travellers when they are in a new country. You have a few options to move around while you are in Ghana.
In Ghana Taxis are stationed and driving around nearly everywhere you go. They typically honk their horns in the hopes of getting a passenger. Taxis in Ghana don’t have a formal Meter calculating the fare. Rather it’s negotiated. Before you board a taxi, it’s important that you negotiate and agree to a fare before the ride begins.
If you want air conditioning they will often charge you a higher fare because they will say it consumes their fuel, but most don’t have the A/C working anyway.
Since Uber came to Ghana in 2016, they offer a good alternative to taking the regular taxis. Currently they are only available in Greater Accra and Kumasi. You don’t need to think about giving directions, like you would in a taxi, because of the mapping system used for the app. However, drivers often call passengers immediately after making a request to ask for directions. This practice should be avoided. As a tourist, you’re not likely to know where you are going and it’s best to let the driver know you’re not familiar and to please follow the map system.
In African countries, Uber has a Cash option for payment. Because Ghana and other African countries are largely cash-based societies, many drivers prefer cash payments. If you look at the app upon opening while you’re in Ghana, you will see the option to change your payment to Cash. This will facilitate your travel with Uber.
Bolt (formerly Taxify)
In 2017, Taxify (now Bolt), entered the market. As one of Europe’s popular rideshare services it grew rapidly as a competitor to Uber.
If you don’t have this app already, it’s a good idea to download it to use while you’re in Ghana. When Uber is extremely busy, this is a good option. They offer promotional discounts to new accounts and are often less expensive than Uber. The downside is that they are only available in Accra and slow to respond to customer concerns and reports of issues with the ride or driver.
This is the latest ride sharing service to enter the Ghanaian market. Newly launched in 2019, the app is so new that there are not as many drivers available as with the other rideshare services. This could potentially cause a delay when requesting vehicles. They are also only in Greater Accra.
Everywhere you look in the streets of Ghana you’ll see those 16-passenger vans loading people. These are called ‘trotros’. The most widely used form of public transportation in the country, they are also the least expensive and least comfortable option. They fill the vehicles to capacity and sometimes over capacity with children sitting on the laps of adults.
These vehicles have no air conditioning and stop everywhere, even non-designated places, resulting in longer durations of trips. If you join one of these vehicles at a station, remember that they will not depart until the vehicle is full. This could also cause you delays in travel if it takes a long time to load.
The mate, is the person who collects the fare and is often seen shouting out the window trying to get passengers for the vehicle. If you’re not familiar with Ghana, this can be the most confusing form of transportation.
Metro Mass Transit
The Metro Mass transit buses only depart from certain stations and operate Monday – Friday during business hours. Some stations have Saturday operations too. To board this bus you need to have a Metro Card. It can be purchased and then loaded with money for your fare. You would tap the card upon boarding the bus and your far is automatically deducted. Visit their website for more info at www.metromasstransit.com.gh
Although Ghana has gone through some great developments, there are still challenges in its health care system, especially in public hospitals which are overburdened. Foreigners often prefer to be treated at private hospitals. There will be a cost associated with it and there tends to be better care than in the public hospitals. Most require a registration fee on your first visit. There are fees to see the doctor and for every test that may be giving to you. It’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance or to check if your existing policy covers you while in Ghana.
Malaria is common in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most travellers decide to take anti-malaria medications before arrival aimed at protecting your from contracting the illness. However, if you find yourself feeling sick, pay attention to your symptoms. Often times when an individual has flu-like symptoms it’s assumed you have Malaria. There are over-the-counter treatments available at every pharmacy, but it’s advisable that you get tested before starting a dosage of medication. All pharmacies have tests for Malaria, however note that they are not as accurate as getting tested at the hospital.
Image courtesy 197travelstamps.com
Because of mainstream media’s portrayal of African countries, sometimes safety is a concern for travellers when they come to Ghana. You’ll be pleased to know that Ghana is one of the safest countries in Africa. It’s been listed on many tour sites as being within the top 10 safest countries in Africa.
Ghana experiences the same types of crimes that many high travelled nations do. Pick-pockets and petty theft can occur, so it’s important to keep an eye on your valuables; especially electronic devices like mobile phones, laptops and cameras.
Due to some reported incidents with ride-share services, take precautions by confirming that the driver of your car matches the profile in the app. The same goes for the make, model and plate number of the vehicle. Should you experience things not matching, don’t board the car and report it immediately to Uber/Bolt/Yango.
These tips should help you while you’re enjoying your time in Ghana. It’s a beautiful country with so much to explore and wonderful people who are willing to guide you as you navigate your way around.
A monument has being unveiled at a site in Tema, Ghana, where the Greenwich Meridian runs southwards through the ocean to meet the equator at the centre of the earth making the country the closest to the centre.
The Greenwich meridian (longitude zero degrees) meets with latitude zero degrees at the south of Ghana. That point of intersection is the geographic centre which is 611km from Ghana. According to Lieutenant Commander Stephen Manu of the Ghana Navy who was onsite to explain the phenomenon, although the figure might seem big in real terms, it places Ghana as the most proximate country to the centre of the earth.
“You may think 611km is too high, but however, that’s the smallest distance from any country with reference to the centre of the earth, he stressed”
The site is located at Hole Seven of the Tema Country Golf Club where the unveiling was done last Saturday as part of the Year of Return edition of the annual Ghana-Centre of the World Golf Tournament organised by the Ghana Tourism Development Company (GTDC) who are spearheading Ghana as the Centre of the Earth project.
Speaking to the Press on the sidelines of the event, the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Barbara Oteng-Gyasi said government is desirous of developing a project around it to sell Ghana as the centre of the earth.
“This project comprises supporting the Tema Golf Club to develop the golf course into an international standard one which can host international golf tournaments here in Ghana. We are also going to develop a religious aspect to the project which is the Presbyterian Church, located in Community One which will be a religious pilgrimage site for tourists coming to Ghana.
“We are also going to build an iconic tower just like any tower that you can identify in other countries; for instance, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We are also going to develop a Port for passenger cruise ships to dock in Ghana to come and see the positioning of Ghana as the Centre of the Earth”, the Minister said.
Stressing the importance of the passenger terminal for instance, CEO, GTDC, Kwadwo Antwi said it will be a great way of boosting the country’s tourism receipts.
“We are working with the authorities at Ghana Ports to be able to develop a passenger terminal for cruise ships. We have been told from their manifest that there are cruise ships passing upwards of 15,000 and 30,000 people. So we’ve asked ourselves what it would look like if we are able to discharge all these people for the purposes of holiday and for reveling.
“If they came here to our country it means our hotels are full, our restaurants are full, it means transportation services will be patronized, it means there will be people buying our arts and craft. So that is what is driving us to be able to create this ecosystem that not just create opportunity for people to have pleasure but to do business and to develop the country’s GDP as well,” averred Antwi
Mrs. Oteng-Gyasi said with consultants at the final stages of designs and estimates, the project will take off soon.
“Currently we have engaged consultants who are working very hard to finalise the designs and estimates for the projects. Once that is done, GTDC who is the agency in the forefront of the project will seek investors to collaborate with in order to realize the project.
We hope that by the end of next year we will have something on the ground to show for the Centre of the World project,” the Minister assured.
The Miss Heritage Global pageant is not like any other beauty pageant. According to Mudzithe Phiri, Business Development Manager of Miss Heritage Global, it’s an international event that is bringing together culture ambassadors from around the world. This pageant is an opportunity for the contestants to share the culture of their home country while learning about others and to experience the culture of other beauty queens through interacting with them.
Miss Heritage Global was previously held in Zimbabwe and South Africa. When asked why the move to Ghana Phiri said, “Because Ghana is one of the countries on the continent that has managed to keep its culture intact. When you come to Ghana you immediately see that the local culture has been brought into the new century with all the modern cultures that have been brought from the rest of the world, but Ghana’s culture still stands through. You see the pride in the people,” she said. “We wanted a country that would really give the contestants an African experience…and with this year being the ‘Year of Return’ in Ghana, it was a great time to make the move.
The official launch took place at the Ghana Tourism Authority Headquarters on 10thJuly 2019, and the MC for the event was Nana Amperibea Boadu, from the Year of Return Secretariat, which is located at the Accra Tourist Information Centre. Present for the media launch were key partners in supporting the upcoming event in Ghana. Mr. Akwasi Agyeman, CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority and Coordinator for Year of Return, Mr. Akwasi Ababio, Director of Diaspora Affairs, Office of the President and Chairman for Year of Return, Mr. Kwadwo Antwi, CEO of Ghana Tourist Development Company, and Diallo Sumbry, Founder The Adinkra Group and Member of the Year of Return Steering Committee were all at the high table to lend their voices to the exciting event and what it means for Ghana and Year of Return.
There will be 55 contestants representing different countries from around the world. They arrive in Ghana on 10thof August and the main event takes place on 20thAugust at the Accra International Conference Centre. This gives the ladies a 10-day experience in Ghana and puts pressure on our own Eugenia Abotsi, Miss Heritage Global Ghana 2019, to be the perfect host of her home country. “I’m excited because I get to share the culture of Ghana with the entire world,” she said. “I’m excited because if I’m able to sell Ghana well to the other contestants it means that when they go back to their various countries, they can continue to sell Ghana to others.”
When Agyeman gave his closing remarks he spoke of how having the pageant in Ghana during this year of return was the perfect time. “Our arms are wide open to everybody to return to Ghana,” he said. “Ghana is the centre of the world and so the centre represents the coming together of different people of different races and different tribes as one people. That is what we are about.” He thanked the media and bloggers for being there to share the event with the masses. JoyPrime will be airing the competition on its channel. Nana Yaa Sarpong, Channel Manager was there and pledged the commitment they will make to promote the pageant on their TV station along with some of their partner radio stations with Multimedia.
Miss Heritage Global was founded in 2013 for the purpose of promoting the preservation of our global heritage and to create an environment of culture sharing to inspire tolerance as more communities are becoming diverse around the world. This year’s event is in partnership with Ghana Tourism Authority and The Ministry of Tourism Art & Culture. The main event takes place on 20thAugust and will also feature performances from some of Africa’s biggest entertainers. For more information and the full list of participants visit www.missheritage.organd follow all their social media platforms @missheritageglobal.
The government of Ghana has reduced visa fees on arrival for “The Year of Return, Ghana 2019”. The fee is reduced to $75 from the initial $150. The move is to allow for many people living in the Diaspora to participate in the various activities for the programme.
The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Charles Owiredu, made the revelation while speaking to the Diplomatic Corps on the programme in Accra.
He said, “Our Missions’ abroad are liaising with Ghanaians associations, airlines, etc to work and make it relatively easy and convenient for those travelling to Ghana to participate in the programmes of “The Year of Return, Ghana 2019.”
“The Government of Ghana is also in the process of working to have visa agreements with some countries such as those in the Caribbean where the Diaspora total number is quite significant. This year, for instance, the government of Ghana and Jamaica established a visa-free agreement where nationals of each of the two countries do not need a visa to travel to the countries,” he stressed.
The deputy minister further noted that in line with President Akufo-Addo’s vision of a “Ghana Beyond Aid”, the engagement of the Diaspora remained a major development programme of the government.
“With its democratic credentials, rule of law and the stability of the country, Ghana intended to serve as a pacesetter for welcoming their own back to their roots and to provide for assimilating them into the Ghanaian society in particular and African societies in general,” he said.
The year-long event which commenced at the beginning of this year 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 program also aims at celebrating 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 Ulla F. Muller Elementary School Bamboula Dancers accompanied by drummers danced in the Senate Chamber and brought comments on Facebook about how beautiful the performance was. So did the dance performance by Earth Mamas Pan African Dance Company. The third dance performance was by Empresses Addaliah and Atiyah Potter.
The program was tied together with a sober theme. It commemorated the men, the women and the children who were yanked from their West African homes and sold into slavery so a profit-crazed minority could make larger profits. A PBS video was played, “Why Did Europeans Enslave Africans?”
The video illustrated how slavery was about making a profit for slave owners and how slavery evolved into racism.
Jackson told some of the story of Virgin Islander’s ancestors.
“They fought, they were thrown overboard, they were eaten by sharks, they gave birth, they died,” he said. Most Virgin Islanders have the blood of the survivors “running in our veins,” he said.
The connection between Ghana and the Virgin Islands’ past and present families was emphasized
From Ghana, Alex Quaison-Sackey spoke about the connection. He is related to the first black African to serve as president of the United Nations General Assembly. Virgin Islander Myron Allick, representing the Sackey Family, spoke of that family’s connection to Ghana. He proposed an exchange program between Ghana and the Virgin Islands – 25 Virgin Islanders going to Ghana and 25 students from Ghana coming to the Virgin Islands. He suggested Carlsberg Brewery, which brews Elephant, a popular beer for Virgin Islanders, as a sponsor for the exchange.
Assata Afua, director of Black Power Theater, recounted her visit to Ghana and said when she returned, “I came back to St. Thomas my shoulders back a little further and my head a little higher.”
The first slave ship arrived in Jamestown in 1619. Jackson said that the settlers of Jamestown had stopped in the Virgin Islands on their way to settle Jamestown in 1607. He said. “The Virgin Islands are linked to this story, a world story.”
A Dutch ship named Desire delivered the 20 enslaved Africans to Jamestown. Some historians estimated that more than 7 million slaves were taken from Africa in the following century.
Jahwed David read a poem recalling the words of Maya Angelo “I am the hope and dream of slaves.”
Behind the speakers in the Senate Chambers was a large portrait of Edward Wilmot Blyden, widely known as the father of Pan-Africanism. He was born on Saint Thomas in 1832. He migrated back to Africa where he became a political figure.
Emancipation Day – July 3 – commemorates the day in 1848 when 9,000 enslaved Africans on St. Croix demanded their freedom, forcing Gov. Peter von Scholten to declare, “All unfree in the Danish West Indies are from today emancipated.”
You’ve booked your trip to Accra. Now the countdown begins. As you prepare to travel to Ghana there are a few things you will need to know for your arrival. If this is your first time coming to Ghana or even landing on the continent of Africa, you’re in for quite an experience.
The city of Accra if a vibrant, eclectic mix of people from diverse backgrounds. As the capital city of Ghana, it’s much like many other major metropolitan centres in that people from small towns and communities across the country move there in hopes of greener pastures. The result is the hustle and bustle of a big city that’s crowded and often choked with traffic at peak times of the day.
Because of the diversity in its people, there are various cultural practices people maintain from their communities even though they are in Accra. The city is historically the dwelling place for people of the Ga tribe. Their language, Ga, is spoken by many in Accra, especially in Accra Central and Jamestown. However because of the migration of many people from the Akan tribes (this includes Ashanti, Akuapem, Akwamu, Akyem, Fante) into Greater Accra, the Twi language, has become a dominant one spoken by many people in Greater Accra. In fact, that language has become so commonplace that it’s spoken by some even in regions where it’s not the native language.
Despite the many groups in Greater Accra, because English is the official language of Ghana, nearly everyone speaks it, so as a tourist you will be able to manage. Although you will frequently come across those who speak a local slang often called ‘Pidgeon English’. This is spoken widely in Ghana and you’ll also find it in Nigeria.
Anytime you travel to a new country, there are a few things you need to know. Ghana isn’t much different. So here are some important things to note for your stay in Ghana.
Akwaaba – This means ‘Welcome’ in the Akan language. It’s commonly used across Ghana as a welcome greeting. As a visitor, you will often hear people say this to you when you visit places for the first time.
Thank You – Thank You in the Akan language is ‘Medaase’. This is one of Ghana’s most common words used to show appreciation.
The Use of Left Hand– In Ghanaian Culture, giving and receiving items is done only with the right hand. For example is you are making a purchase, you are expected to hand the money using your right hand to the individual. When using your left, you will hear an apology. “Sorry for left,” is commonly said when someone hands you something with a left hand.
The reason is that culturally it’s believed the left hand is unclean since it’s supposed to be used to clean up after visiting ‘nature’s call’. So using the left is considered disrespectful by many.
Please – The word “please” is used quite often in Ghana. It may come across as over-gratification when you hear it so often, but in Ghana it’s considered respectful to use ‘please’ in many scenarios. It’s often, “Yes, please” or “No, please” when answering questions.
Occasionally it’s used in conversation when addressing someone to show a sign of respect.
These are just a few things you’ll need in preparation for your trip to Accra, Ghana. Pay attention to cultural cues and if you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to ask. Ghanaians are quite friendly and open to conversation with travellers. Enjoy your stay!
According to President Akufo-Addo, Ghana recognises its unique position as the location for 75 per cent of the slave dungeons built on the West coast of Africa, through which the slaves were transported, adding that “we have a responsibility, and we do extend a hand of welcome back home to Africans in the diaspora.”
2019 marks the 400-year anniversary of the first recorded arrival, in 1619, of the first twenty (20) enslaved Africans in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which was to become part of the United States of America, initiating some of the most barbaric episodes in human history – the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery.
The President, therefore, was hopeful that “the year would prove to be a joyful and learning experience all around for all of us, especially in affirming our determination that never again should the African peoples permit themselves to be subjected to such dehumanising conditions, sold into slavery, and have their freedoms curtailed in order to build up forcibly countries other their own.”
President Akufo-Addo made this known on Thursday, 13th June 2019, when he addressed the media after he held bilateral discussions with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency Keith Rowley.
After the launch of the ‘Year of Return’ in Washington D.C.,Ghana continued with the December 2018 Full Circle Festival, involving over 70 African American celebrities visiting Ghana to reconnect with their ancestral heritage.
Additionally, the Home Coming and Investment Summit, the African-American Investment Forum, the Pan-African and Emancipation Day Celebrations, the durbar from Jamestown to Jamestown, the Film Festival, and the Full Circle Festival are some of the activities that will be held to commemorate the year-long event.
“The commemoration should enable us, in the African Union, to consolidate and strengthen our links with our Sixth Region, i.e. the African Diaspora of the so-called ‘New World’, which have laid somewhat dormant, and make operational and extend the Free Movement Protocol to those in the Diaspora seeking to resettle in Africa,” the President stressed.
The four-time champions are hoping to end a 37-year wait for a fifth title at the June 21 to July 19 championship in Egypt where they have been drawn against Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau in Group F.
The president was speaking at a dinner on Thursday as the team prepared to depart for camping in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.
“Teamwork is at the heart of every success. Without it, you cannot succeed in football, and as it is, in every enterprise,” President Akufo-Addo stated, as published on the Government of Ghana website.
“Teamwork means all of you have to work for each other. Religious, ethnic and other divisions do not advance teamwork.
“You are the Black Stars of Ghana and it doesn’t matter whether you’re from Jamestown or Nalerigu or Walewale, you’re the Black Stars of Ghana.
“Helping each other to win is the sort of teamwork I’m talking about.
“So, your slogan, that is [Ghana’s] slogan of the year – ‘The year of return’. This indeed is the year of return.”
Ghana won the Cup of Nations in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982 after which they finished second in 1992, 2010 and 2015.
“You have to respect unreservedly the authority of the coach and the authority of the captain [Andre Ayew],” Akufo-Addo added.
“That is basic rules, non-negotiable rules; if you don’t do it, everybody will be going their separate ways.
“If you do that, you cement the teamwork and you will become a cohesive forceful force.
“It is my intention to come and watch your first match [against Benin] on the 25th of June and if with God’s grace, which I believe He will give us, you make the final, I would come there as well to come and watch you.”
The ‘Year of Return’ is a national campaign urging all Ghanaians in the diaspora to make a trip to Ghana in 2019 to mark 400 years of the first enslaved African arriving in Jamestown, Virginia in the Americas.
Kofi Kingston arrived in Ghana yesterday to a big celebration at Kotoka International Airport. Fans and students who couldn’t wait to see the WWE Champion celebrated through song and dance. Kingston joined in with the crowd dancing to the beat as the Ghana flag was draped over him with cheers from the crowd. Even Kotoka International Airport staff were following him taking selfies as he made his way through after customs.
His mother, Dr. Elizabeth Sarkodie-Mensah, along with other family members were there to meet him and were equally overwhelmed with the big reception and couldn’t believe the crowd waiting for him outside the airport. This is his first trip back to Ghana since 1993 and he is eager to reconnect with his homeland. He said that one of his biggest regrets was not coming sooner. Kingston recounted the story of his father, who often travelled to Ghana and brought groups of students with him. He said that as a senior in high school, his priority was to find work rather than make a trip to Ghana.
He said once he was ready to come to Ghana, his hectic schedule has made it challenging to find the time. At the media press-conference, he said that sometimes things happen for a reason because he believes the stars were all aligned for him to make this journey to Ghana during the “Year of Return”. It’s an important time for people in the diaspora to come to Ghana.
He will be spending four days in the country, with time divided between Accra and Kumasi. His first day was jam-packed with a press conference, interviews with the media and a visit to the Jubilee House to meet President Nana Akufo-Addo.
He’s had an eleven-year career and has proven that with hard work, success is possible. “It was a matter of staying the course…. I’m here as living breathing proof that anything is possible.” Many who were seeing him for the first time, were surprised at how small he is, relative to the typical athlete in WWE. He often hears those remarks and said, “I’m not the tallest or the biggest person…but I had dreams and I believed in it.” His perseverance and level of commitment to living his childhood dream prove that success can be achieved with hard work. “Not many people on the planet can say they are living their dream, I’m doing that.”
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.”