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OUR YEAR OF RETURN- PANAFEST 2019
Published on 2019-02-14

OUR YEAR OF RETURN

Kofi Akpabli

It is not every day that one gets a year-long celebration dedicated to an issue. And when that issue happens to be at the very core of our identity as well as our blood links with the global African family, one can’t help but sense what an auspicious occasion it is!

Since President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo declared in Washington last September that 2019 was going to be the ‘Year of Return’ it had struck a positive vibe across many countries. The event is a landmark campaign targeting all peoples of African descent who have been dispersed around the world mainly by the actions of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

But why now and what is the significance of 400 years? The year 2019 marks exactly 400 years of the historical documentation of enslaved people of African descent. In 1619 the very first ship with enslaved Africans landed on the shores of the United States, specifically in Virginia. It is sad to relate but since that landing until much later in the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of our relatives had been captured and transported from Africa to, especially, the Americas. Even when the British and US government abolished it the slave trade persisted clandestinely.

Some have argued that under a different guise the enslavement of Africans by Weste powers still goes on today. That is another conversation.  Indeed, that is part of the several debates that this Year Of Retu envisions to generate.

Spear-headed by the Ghana Tourism Authority under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture the event features, talks, discussions and colloquia to stir up and confront pertinent issues related to the Global African experience. Other project collaborators are the Office of Diaspora Affairs at the Office of the President, the PANAFEST Foundation and the Adinkra Group of USA.

 

Now to the relevance of 400 years. The first time I heard 400 years in an artistic narrative was from Muta Baruka in his poem titled ‘’I Am De Man.’’ I was fascinated. That year mark is symbolic and metaphorical. Others opine that it is actually prophetic. According to Rabbi Kohain Halevi, of the Panafest Foundation, 400 signifies a renaissance and an opportunity to recreate a new awareness for African people.  During the local launch of the Year of Return at the Accra Visitor Centre a couple of weeks ago, Rabbi Halevi alluded to the Old Testament scripture (Exodus 12:40) where nearly 400 years of bondage ended for the people of Egypt.

The Year of Return is taking place midpoint of the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent. Declared to be marked from 2015–2024 it aims to “promote respect, protection and fulfillment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.”

The theme for this ten-year celebration is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.” So you see, things are falling in pleasant places, no?

According to the objectives of the yearlong celebration, Ghana becomes the focus of activities and entrenches her leadership role in the global Pan-African community. If you ask me, Ghana more than qualifies to be the epicenter of this movement.

First of all, a large number of slaves were taken from the shores of the Gold Coast, through exit points such as Elmina Castle, Cape Coast Castle and Fort Prinzestein. Secondly, since 1961 when Kwame Nkrumah invited  W. E. B. Du Bois, a great African-American civil rights leader, to Ghana, this place eaed the title as the Pan African capital of the world. Like Dubois, George Padmore, another great Africanist is buried in Ghanaian soil. This helped to trigger an unprecedented pilgrimage of high profile people of African descent to the country from then till date.

The “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” also coincides with the biennial Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (PANAFEST), which is held in Cape Coast and neighbouring Elmina Castle which both have two slave monuments recognized by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as World Heritage Sites.

Additionally, Emancipation Day to be held in August this year will mark 400 years of the abolition of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the history of the black man.

As a travel writer and tourism watcher, this is a significant event with rippling effects for several sectors. It is not just economic. It is an opportunity to move forward as a people. An opportunity to ask ourselves hard question.

That is why I couched the above heading as ‘’Our Year of Return’’. Many of my compatriots may be of the mindset that it is about the return of other people to our space. True. However, the Year of Return is much more than that. It also asks of us certain shifts in mentality. Yes, we are home but we must return to higher and better ideals. As Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey said ‘’Only the best is good for Africa.’’