How Ghana became the spiritual home for diasporan blacks

Nii Ntreh October 10, 2019
Boris Kodjoe in Ghana

Ghana is the place to be in December 2019, according to the tweets from some of America’s most famous names in hip-hop culture. Everyone, from DJ Ebro to Meek Mill and Chance The Rapper have either hinted or explicitly said they will be in Ghana in 2019.

And that’s coming on the back of visits by some black showbiz heavyweights, including Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Harvey and Danny Glover who have already been seen this year.

We may even want to overlook that time in 2018 when over 40 black actors, musicians and producers, as well as, fashion icons, spent Christmas in Ghana.

They will return again in 2019 to mark 400 years of the inception of slavery into the New World. Ghana is calling this “homecoming”, The Year of Return.

So why Ghana? One answer is that Ghana is successfully making itself the “pan-African home” for diasporic blacks. For this success, CNN calls Ghana the next biggest tourist destination.

But it is still quite inadequate to say that all of the interest is because authorities in charge of tourism are doing a good job. What is it about Ghana that makes it so successful marketing itself as the “gateway to Africa”?

How does this West African country smaller than California get black people in the diaspora to believe it is their point of spiritual and philosophical connection to their roots?

To answer this, we would have to go back to 1482.

The first European safehouse or fort in Sub-Saharan Africa was built by the Portuguese in 1482 in a coastal town called Edina in West Africa.

The Portuguese referred to their fort as Sao Jorge de Mina, or The Mine of Saint George. Alternatively, these Portuguese called their fort Elmina, and it is what the locals have called the whole area to date.

After Elmina, and over the course of 300 years or so, more than 40 forts, that for some reason have been called castles, were built along the coast of present-day Ghana.

The Swedes, Danes, British and Germans were all involved in this fort-building venture to house themselves and the goods they battered with the locals for. The most important of these goods would be slaves for a couple of centuries.

Conventionally, one would assume that the country that has the most slave forts, gets to tell the longest, truest and most harrowing story. Ghana has the most slave forts in Africa.

The knowledge of slavery has been the most enduring connection between black Africans and their lookalikes over the Atlantic Ocean. For the thousands, if not millions, who wanted to retrace their steps, Ghana became a logical point of call.

But one may say all this is just an accident of history. The Europeans were, after all, simply looking for a place conducive to their interests.

It is not as if the Europeans planned on going to the place the British would, in 1867, colonise and call the Gold Coast.

Fast forward to 1957 when Ghana gained independence. Ghana’s first president was Kwame Nkrumah, a social scientist and philosopher.

How Ghana became the spiritual home for diasporan blacks
Kwame Nkrumah. Photo Credit:

Nkrumah, on the eve of Ghana’s independence, declared to a teeming crowd that “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa.”

Nkrumah, long before he would become a politician of prominence and significance, was describing himself as a “Pan-African”.

A man learned in academic philosophy and sociology, Nkrumah took the time to theorise a vision that could be in store for the black race in the 20th Century and beyond.

Long before it became a buzzword and synonym for imperialism, Kwame Nkrumah was using the term, “neocolonialism.” Political essayist Arnold Guy credits Nkrumah with coining the term.

Nkrumah felt that plundering and domination were too essential to what Europeans powers have become and that “independence” of African states was not enough. Europeans were going to find ways to remain even after they were supposedly gone, Nkrumah predicted.

Nkrumah’s solution? All African states must first be self-determining or independent of European rule.

Second, Africans must commit to extinguishing the psychological holdover of European rule. Europeans did not only come to rule lands but minds as well, Nkrumah argued in the mid-20th century. It is, therefore, our job to exorcise the mental demons through Consciencism.

Lastly, Nkrumah wanted African states to commit to marshaling resources for the benefits of their economies, above anything. He was a pioneer in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963.

And with all these prescriptions, Nkrumah walked the talk, giving money and other kinds of help to pre-independent countries like Mali and Guinea that were struggling.

If slave forts were an accident, Kwame Nkrumah’s ambitions were not. He was voted by the audience of the BBC as Africa’s Man of the Millenium in 1999.

And one of the most important things to learn is that Nkrumah never quite saw Ghana as a country with manifest destiny to lead Africa. For Nkrumah, Ghana was not special, at least, not in the sense that he would be accused of.

Any semblance of political marketing on the basis of manifest destiny of Ghana came after Nkrumah. Subsequent governments, especially that of Jerry John Rawlings, capably merged the slave history and Nkrumah’s dreams to create a story.

Through events such as the Pan-African Festival or Panafest, Ghana began selling the manifest destiny narrative. From the look of things, the country has not done badly.

Private individuals and corporations in Ghana have all bought into this specialness of the country. It is more than national pride; it is some transcendentalism.

So this is how one country became the source and roots for Pan-Africanism and black identity.

Over the years, the visits and long stays of legendary black names like Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King Jr have only lent credence to this beautiful myth.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 10, 2019


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