President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on Friday launched the “Beyond the Return, The Diaspora Initiative” with a call on all to engage Africans in the diaspora and persons of African descent more positively in areas such as trade and investment co-operation, and skills and knowledge and development.
He explained that the ‘Beyond the Return’ was to ensure that Ghana derived maximum dividends from its relations with the diaspora in mutually beneficial co-operation, and as partners for shared growth and development.
About 15 months ago at the Washington Press Club, in Washington D.C., in front of the Black Caucus, President Akufo-Addo proclaimed 2019 as the "Year of Return”.
The Year of Return commemorated the 400th anniversary of the time when the first 20 West African slaves arrived in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which subsequently became part of the United States of America, thereby initiating one of the most unfortunate and barbaric episodes of human history – the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
As part of the move, President Akufo-Addo paid state visits to a lot of countries in the Caribbean and the Americas to drum home the Year of Return which culminated in over two hundred thousand more visitors taking up the offer to visit Ghana during the year.
President Akufo-Addo said the Ghana Tourism Authority would be at the forefront of bringing all stakeholders together, in what would be a focus to drive the empowerment of black people, using Ghana as the hub.
He called on diasporans to help change the African narrative, which had concentrated on diseases, hunger, poverty and illegal mass migration.
“Let us all remember that the destiny of all black people, no matter where they are in the world, is bound up with Africa. We must help make Africa the place for investment, progress and prosperity, and not from where our youth flee in the hope of accessing the mirage of a better life in Europe or the Americas,” he said.
Giving details about the reason for the Year of Return, the President said with 75 per cent of the slave dungeons built in Ghana, the country believed that it had a responsibility to extend a hand of welcome home to Africans in the diaspora.
“It was our hope that the ‘Year of Return’ would be a joyful and learning experience all round for all of us on the continent and our kith and kin from the diaspora, especially in affirming our determination that never again should African people permit themselves to be subjected to such dehumanising conditions, sold into slavery, and have their freedoms curtailed,” he said.
Using the Chinese experience as an example, President Akufo-Addo said when foreign companies, in the late 1970s reduced their investments in China, it was the Chinese in the diaspora that shored up the economy.
He said according to the Washington D.C. based Migration Policy Institute (MPI), half of the foreign direct investment, $26 billion, that transformed China into a manufacturing powerhouse in the 1990s, originated from the Chinese in the diaspora.
“That is why I am excited and keen on this new initiative of “Beyond the Return”, and the renewed enthusiasm around building Africa together. Let us imbibe in ourselves a deep consciousness and understanding of the goals and history of the African peoples,” he said.
The Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs Barbara Oteng-Gyasi urged the diasporan community to look beyond the 'year of return' and make permanent commitments in the country to help propel growth.
She said Africans in the diaspora must see these commitments as a duty in honour of their ancestors who faced the hardships of slavery.
Ghana on the map
The Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Tourism Authority, Mr Akwasi Agyeman who has been neck-deep in the Year of Return celebrations said the impact of the initiative has not just been about the number of visitors but also the spotlight on Ghana as a tourism destination.
Beyond that, he said the social impact of the initiative has also been very remarkable.
"The social impact which has translated into schools like one built by Fuse ODG at Akosombo and another by the Adinkra group"