Ghana being the first sub-Saharan African country to have gained independence has been the centre of attraction from many liberation fighters across the world most especially from the Africans in diaspora. Incidentally the founder of the nation and the first president of the Republic of Ghana had been in league with many Pan Africanist movements largely based in United Kingdom and the US prior to Ghana’s independence. Certainly Ghana’s independence was a massive psychological event that meant a lot to people not only of African descent but also all freedom lovers across the globe.
Within 10 years of its independence Ghana had supported 31 other African countries to attain independence in very diverse ways being financial, political and setting up training camps in Ghana for African freedom fighters. Even before he became president of the Republic of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah during his commencement speech at the Lincoln University where he was to receive an honorary degree as Doctor of Law (LLD) extended a warm invitation to African American to return to Ghana and help develop the country. He was then the Leader of Government Business ( Prime Minister) prior to declaration of independence.
The first high profile diasporan visit to Ghana from its independence began in March 1957 with the late civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scot King. After their visit both of them projected Ghana in a positive light as evidenced in Luther King’s sermon at his famous Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama entitled “ The Birth of a New Nation” and many other speeches he delivered.
Kwame Nkrumah’s personal relationship with Franklin H Williams an African American and school mate at Lincoln University led to the later coming to Ghana as an American Ambassador to Ghana during which Ghana became the first to accept and receive American Peace Corps who worked on numerous projects in Ghana. Williams and the Peace Corps were however later accused of their complicity in the alleged CIA involvement in the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah regime.
On the list of diasporan visits and encounters with Ghana several world famous novelists, poets, musician and activists some of whom were the famous Jamaican novelist Neville Dawes, Frantz Fanon the Martinique scholar known for his books such as Dying Colonialism, Black Skin White Mask etc. and Sir W. Arthur Lewis the world renowne economist known for his In-put Output economic theory who later became an economic adviser to Kwame Nkrumah.
The list though endless cannot pass without the mention of The world’s greatest boxer to date Muhammad Ali then Cassius Clay, the civil rights leader James Farmer, other civil rights activist like Malcom X and Dr. WEB DuBois who later settled in Ghana and buried in Ghana after his death. DuBois was working on Encyclopedia Africana project. He also used Ghana citizenship to protest against the Vietnam War. It recorded in the book American Africans in Ghana written by Dr. Kevin K. Gaines and published in 2006 Malcom X was told during his visit in May 1964 that there about 300 African Americans living and working in Ghana in various fields to support the economy.
Ghana’s interaction with African diaspora has produced mutual benefits to both Ghana and Africans in diaspora in any ways. Infact it was during Ghana’s independence that the former American President Richard Nixon the Vice President in America first met Martin Luther Jr. Even though Richard Nixon heard about Luther King, he did not actually know him so he congratulated Luther on his country’s attainment of freedom for which Luther responded, “ I am free yet, I am from Alabama, My name is Martin Luther King Jr. These and similar Ghana-Diaporan encounters inspired and sparked further civil rights agitations around the world and in America in particular for the abolishing of segregation.
The former president Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings also extended similar gestures to African in diaspora which has led to a number of Jamaicans living in America moved to settle in Ghana some, on permanent basis. Some of his diasporan initiatives led to the institutionalization of Panafest and Emancipation Day celebrations in Ghana.
The Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (Panafest) is bi-annual event started in 1992 to fulfil the idea mooted by Efu Sutherland in a paper which suggested a festival as a cultural vehicle for bringing Africans on the continent and in the diaspora together around issues of slavery and confronting its effects, purging the pain of dispora and re-uniting the diaspora with the continent and forge a positive future in the contemporary global community. It event is also used to celebrate African achievers and achievements in spite of limitations posed by the infamous Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. The festival is meant to help inspire Africans in general to re-connect with their strengths and fully assume control over their destiny.
Six years after the first Panafest the Rawlings instituted another diaspora related festival, the Emancipation day inspired by a visit to Trinidad and Tobago during their own Emancipation Day celebration. Globally the celebration is used to commemorate the struggle by Africans for self-determination and freedom in the new lands and situations in which they now found themselves. The event was instituted in Ghana in part to provide the opportunity for Africans in diaspora to be able to trace their roots with a history that points to numerous relics of slavery in Ghana more than can be found in any part of the world. The slave markets of salaga, the slave caves of Widnaba, defense walls at Gbelle, rivers in which slaves took their last bath in the northern part of the country before their onward transportation to the coast are all evident. Infact the graves of some well known slave raiders such as Babatu and Samori can still be located. It is also observed that more than 60 percent of slave forts and castles in Africa are located in Ghana.
One of the cardinal reasons for instituting the celebration is Ghana is to attract Africans in diaspora back to the African soil and make Ghana serve as home for all who would love to come and settle. It is to ignite a new emotional feeling about their African identity and the joy of rediscovering their root. Rita Marley the wife of the famous reggae musician Bob Marley now has a home in Ghana through her visits to the country in the nineties.
Stevie Wonder in 1994 expressed interest of moving soon to Ghana from Los Angeles. He told a Washington gathering of the International Association of African American Music that he fell in love with the African nation during visits. He added: ”There’s more of a sense of community there.”
Another initiative named the Joseph Project was forged by the government of former President Agyekum Kufour under the management of the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations but that did not translate into any festival. It took its inspiration from the Biblical Joseph who was sold into slavery by his own brothers but who became the savior of his community that sold him out. The project was funded by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, United Nations Education Cultural and Scientific Organization and the Ghana government of Ghana. What we need to do as a nation is to provide a conducive environment to ease travel processes and possibility of settling in Ghana if any diaspora so wishes and to facilitate their resettlement. We should offer assistance by presenting facts and guidance that will reconnect them to their ancestral home. Even though some of their ancestors may not come from Ghana, it is more likely that they might have at least passed through the shores of Gold Coast, now Ghana owing to the relatively high number of forts and castles and other historical relics that point to the infamous slave trade.