Travel

Ghana’s ‘Year of Return’

400 years after the first slave ship reaches the US, African-Americans return to learn about their history

CAPE COAST, GHANA: US preacher Roxanne Caleb blinked away the tears as she emerged from a pitch-dark dungeon where African slaves were once held before being shipped across the Atlantic to America.

"I wasn't prepared for this. I'm heartbroken," she said as she toured the Cape Coast slave fort on Ghana's ocean shore.

Ms Caleb is among the African-American visitors flocking to Ghana as it marks the "Year of Return" - the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in Virginia.

The West African nation is banking on the commemorations to boost tourist arrivals as it encourages the descendants of slaves to "come home".

Cape Coast Castle, 150km from the capital Accra, is a major magnet for those visiting the white-washed fort lined with cannons, which was one of dozens of prisons studding the Atlantic coast where slaves were held before their journey to the New World.

A string of prominent African-Americans have headed to the site this year to mark the anniversary since the first slave landing in 1619.

Among them was a delegation of the Congressional Black Caucus led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that toured last month.

Mr Sampson Nii Addy, a corrections officer with the Montgomery police department in Alabama, said he and his family had found the tour an "education".

"I think every black person needs to come around to learn history; how people were treated," the 52-year-old said.

"We can't forget history but we can always learn something from it."

Ghana has long pitched itself as a destination for African-Americans to explore their heritage and settle permanently.

In 2009, President Barack Obama visited Cape Coast Castle with his family.

The "Year of Return" has added fresh impetus and the country is hoping it will increase visitor numbers from 350,000 in 2018 to 500,000 this year, including 45,000 African-Americans.

Mr Kojo Keelson has spent nine years guiding tour groups around the Cape Coast Castle and says this year has seen a surge in interest as Ghana looks to rake in tourism revenue of US$925 million (S$1.28 billion).

"It's like a pilgrimage. This year we've a lot more African-Americans coming through than the previous year," he said.

Mr Akwasi Awua Ababio, the official coordinating "Year of Return" events and director for diaspora affairs at the presidency, said "enthusiasm is very high and we've got huge numbers coming from the US and Caribbean".

He insisted that beyond the economic boost, Ghana was also looking to use the new connections to convince the descendants of slaves to resettle and help the country develop. - AFP

TOURISM & TRAVEL