A Note On The Year Of Return

Founder’s Note / Feb. 5th, 2020 Posted by: Okhiogbe Omonblanks Omonhinmin

Tourists visit the Elmina Castle to learn about the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Ghana established the ‘Year-of-Return’ campaign in 2019 to urge people who trace their roots to the continent to return home. Elmina, Ghana. 2019. Photo: Francis Kokoroko

As we try to understand what has been marked the year of return, let me introduce you to an Esan proverb that goes O’ne uwa bhagbe, olele sabo’ gbe translation “One that is not betrayed by an insider, can’t b hurt by an outsider.”

In 1920, the late Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. presented his famous “Back to Africa” program in New York City. “I know no national boundary where the Negro is concerned. The whole world is my province until Africa is free.” – Marcus Garvey

In this four hundred years of return celebrated by the black diaspora, largely by the black American community due to their history, I can’t help but to begin to view how we as Africans, Nigerians, Ghanaians and whatever you identify as, see this. Do you view this from a negative or positive place? Are we welcoming our sisters and brothers visiting? Are we comfortable with a short visit and would we be quick to say our goodbyes?

I see a lot of excitement but also a lot of judgement and anxiety pre and post the visit of a large group to Ghana especially in December, our sensitivity levels as a collective has grown high, there are those seeing this as a money grabbing situation, those seeing this as a not so genuine process, we begin to scrutinise everything said, every mistake made, every step taken by our returning relatives and lose sight of what truly is happening. We overly judge when someone says Africa, a “mistake” made a lot of time, but as I sit here and ponder, what are the facts? The facts are, we as a continent have had some exceptional figures who happen to have led the continent in some shape or form and these people have built the foundation for interaction, reconciliation, returning and they have done that largely with the word Africa.

Kwame Nkrumah who’s the leading figure when it comes to African leadership in the 20th and 21st century said in his 1958 speech at the all African people congress speech “the mid 20century is Africa’s, this decade is the decade of Africa’s independence, forward then to independence, to independence now, tomorrow the United state of Africa” in context this makes a lot of sense, Ghana just got it’s independence through the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, the energy in the continent was high, within the next ten years a lot of countries in the continent like he said got their independence, but the question here is this, this Africa he speaks of, was it in a political term? Did he say this just to boost the fight for independence in the continent at that time? Why are some people born in this continent happy to identify as Ewe, Ghanaian and African but get angry/triggered the moment a “foreigner” says I am going to Africa, when they make this reference, isn’t something about that speech coming to pass?

Musicians and artists from the continent have reinforced the ideas of one Africa, Fela who is arguably the most influential artist from the continent, placed a lot of emphasis on the singular African identity, in one of his songs he goes

I no be gentleman at all o
I be Africa man original
I no be gentleman at all o
I be Africa man original
I no be gentleman at all o
I be Africa man original

In the last 10 years there have been a steady globalisation of the entertainment industry from the continent and in the spirit of togetherness artists have done the same thing, aligning under one musical identity “Afrobeats” which directly connects to Fela and Burna Boy who carries himself as a reincarnation of Fela and one of the leaders of the new school has said repeatedly that he truly believes in the African identity proposed by Fela and hopes to see us one day using a singular passport, because he believes only then would we truly actualise our strength.

Meaning there is truly a single African identity or at least a case has been made by powerful voices from the continent or lovers of the continent, so when they say I am going to Africa, what is your case when you rebuke them and to what point? This question is first to me before it is passed over to you, In my journey of trying to reconcile a lot of the disruptiveness given to me (us) on this journey of being born on the continent, I am reminded again of a line by Kwame Nkrumah “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.” So who am I to tell a black person how they begin their journey of returning, all I can say is Akwaaba.

A resident of Elmina, gropes his way through the dimly lit passageway of the Elmina Castle where captured natives were kept in dungeons before they were shipped off as slaves to the New World. Elmina, Ghana. 2019. Photo: Francis Kokoroko

10 comment

  1. Hilda Avwenagha says:

    This is a very insightful and thought provoking piece of writing. In an attempt to answer your question, I think Africans who were born and raised in Africa post slavery era or post colonial era feel an unconscious sense of entitlement to ‘Africaness’ perhaps because they do not believe our black compatriots who weren’t born or raised in Africa have the prerequisite experience of what it means to be African in a holistic context. That is to say, they haven’t truly experienced the hardship, sufferings, political imbalance, colonisation etc that native Africans can lay claim to. I may be wrong but these are my thoughts.

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