Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Fihankra: An African-American Settlement in Ghana - Godfrey Mwakikagile
Godfrey Mwakikagile, Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities (Grand Rapids, Michigan: National Academic Press, 2005). Softcover edition, 302 pages. $12.95.
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MANY AFRICANS in the diaspora have always had a strong interest in Africa as their ancestral homeland from which they were forcibly uprooted and removed during the slave trade and transplanted in the New World.
Through the years, a significant number of them have taken a step further and returned to Africa not only to reclaim their roots and heritage but to live permanently. They include some members of the Pan-African Congress, an organization founded and based in Detroit, Michigan, which sponsored a number of African students, including me, to study at colleges in the United States in the early and mid-seventies.
In the early nineties, a group of African Americans formed a community called Fihankra in eastern Ghana. One of the leaders was Kwadwo Akpan who was also a leading member and a leader of the Pan-African Congress-USA in Detroit. He moved to Ghana with his family in 1991.
On December 9, 1994, coincidentally Tanzania's (specifically Tanganyika's) independence day, several Ghanaian and Nigerian chiefs met in Accra, Ghana's capital, to perform traditional rituals to atone for the misdeeds of some of the African ancestors who participated in the slave trade; although the initiators and conductors of this diabolical traffic in human beings were Europeans who went to Africa to capture Africans and take them into slavery in the New World. They were also the biggest beneficiaries of this trade, in Africa and in America. Africans did not ask them to come and enslave them; nor did they ask them to build the slave castles along the coast to facilitate the transportation of Africans in chains to America. However, whatever role Africans played in this transaction was the subject of atonement on that historic day in Accra presided over by traditional chiefs from different parts of Ghana and Nigeria.
During the ceremony, attended by more than 3,000 people including a number of government officials, Nana Kwadwo Oluwale Akpan, whom we simply called Kwadwo Akpan in Detroit when he was one of the leaders of the Pan-African Congress-USA, was appointed paramount chief of the Fihankra community of Africans from the diaspora. In 1995, the community was given more than 30,000 acres of land by the people of the Akwamu traditional area in eastern Ghana to establish the Fihankra community.
The community is located near the banks of the River Volta, between Accra, the capital, and Tema, the nation's main seaport, and is surrounded my rolling hills and lush tropical vegetation. The houses built in the Fihankra community cost from $20,000 to $40,000, at this writing, and can be bought by Africans from the diaspora who want to move there. There are many African Americans who want to go to Africa for different reasons. There are those who want to "go back" to live there permanently. Others want to retire there, start a business, help build Africa, or simply visit.
The land was given to African Americans and other diasporans not only because they are entitled to it because of their African roots, but also to encourage others to move to Africa, live with their people from whom they were forcibly separated for centuries, and help develop the motherland. The land is free to any diasporans who want to live or invest in Ghana. Once fully developed, it is going to be a full-fledged self-sustaining community with all the basic necessities and services needed to lead a complete life. Many plots are available not only for houses but also for schools, clinics, shopping malls, offices and other facilities.
Although modern conveniences such as shopping malls, once completed, may give the Fihankra community the appearance of an urban setting, transplanted from the metropolitan West, the settlement for all intents and purposes is intended to fit in its African environment, with the establishment of farms and traditional institutions to reflect the African way of life.
The community is intended to be an integral part of Ghana. Fihankra members were further encouraged in pursuit of this goal when in March 2000, Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings signed a new immigration law which was passed by parliament in November 1999, giving Africans from the diaspora resident in Ghana rights previously accorded only to Ghanaians. The rights, collectively known as Right of Abode under the new law, include entering Ghana without a visa; remaining indefinitely in Ghana; and working in Ghana either as a self-employed or as an employee without a work permit. As Alban S.K Bagbin, chairman of the parliamentary committee which submitted the bill to parliament, stated: "This bill reflects the sentiment of both the parliament and the office of the president. We look forward to the increased investment and cultural exchange that is likely to evolve between ourselves and our brothers and sisters from the diaspora."
But there was some disappointment among many diasporans. When President Rawlings visited the United States in 1998, he announced at a press conference with US President Bill Clinton in Washington that Ghana would grant dual citizenship to African Americans and other Africans from the diaspora who wanted to move to Ghana. He said during the televised press conference that if he as a black man could be a citizen of Ghana, he did not see why other blacks, descendants of African slaves, could not be. The announcement was received with a lot of excitement among many Africans and other Africans in the diaspora. However, the Ghanaian parliament did not go that far and, instead, gave diasporans limited rights short of full citizenship under the 2000 immigration law.
In spite of the disappointment, some members of the Fihankra community were optimistic. As Kwadwo Akpan stated: "While the immigration law may not represent all that Diasporans had hoped for, Fihankra International believes that each step forward moves us closer to our goal of re-integrating Africa with its Diaspora. Toward that objective, this law is a most significant step ahead while there will be continued dialogue to further improve relations between Diasporans and the government of Ghana."
Although the establishment of the Fihankra community was a major achievement, one of the challenges that lie ahead is the full integration of its members into the Ghanaian society. But it requires mutual involvement and commitment by the indigenes and the diasporans.
The indigenous people of Ghana should fully embrace their brethren from the diaspora, instead of rejecting them, ignoring them or maintaining distance from them as some of them have done. And the diasporans who live in Ghana must also avoid isolating themselves or giving the impression that the community they have established is some kind of island of western material civilization in the midst of poverty-stricken rural Africa, exclusively for them, and different in lifestyle.
The community is not "little America" or "little Europe" in Africa. It is, and must always strive to be, an African community in Africa. Otherwise prophets of doom will be vindicated in their belief that attempts by diasporans to forge geniune links with their brothers and sisters in Africa, and integrate themselves into the traditional African society, are no more than empty rhetoric. As one African American who visited Ghana said in his comments on G. Pascal Zachary's article, "For Black Americans in Ghana, the Grass Isn't Always Greener" in The Wall Street Journal, posted on Christine's Genealogy web site, April 5, 2001:
"I just recently returned from my first (and hopefully not my last) trip to Africa (Ghana to be exact) and I would say that I agree with the overall premise of the posted article. However, I did not go to Africa with the expectations of being accepted by the locals as a 'Brother.' Rather, my goal was to bring the captured genes of my ancestors back to their native land. I am sure that many generations of my family tree, ached to return to their home land and I felt obligated and pleased to be able to bring them home.
No White American or Native African can deny me the affinity that I have with Africa. My DNA contradicts such nonsense. So, the fact that Ghanaians saw me as an American and not as a 'Brother,' did not disappoint me one bit. In fact, many Africans have problems accepting Africans of different ethnic groups. For example, many Fanti members have resentment for the Asante, in Ghana. Also, attempted acts of genocide committed by one tribe against another in some parts of Africa are well known. Furthermore, I grew up in an all Black inner-city neighborhood and when a Black kid from the suburbs came in the hood, I would see him as basically being "White" (notwithstanding blue-blackness). Therefore, African Americans visiting or living in Ghana should stop being so naive.
I also believe that Americans can be a corruptive influence on African culture and society. We have basically been reared as Europeans (although very poorly) and not as Africans. And if they (Ghanaians) are not careful, we (African Americans) can have the same effect as "White Colonizers" of the past. I believe that it is the African Americans who should humble themselves to Africa and its culture and not try to make it like Detroit.
In regards to the grass not being greener for Black Americans in Africa, the same can be said for Ghanaians in America. Many find that the streets of America are not paved with gold and that life, as an 'individual,' can be very complicated here in America. I know many Ghanaians who are contemplating repatriation.
As humans, we all long for what we don’t have and the grass of others often seems greener. However, the end should not always be moving to where the grass is greener; rather, we should cultivate our own lawns so that we no longer have to envy others."
It is obvious that not every African American who has been to Ghana disagreed with the main thrust of Zachary's article in The Wall Street Journal. Yet, in spite of whatever problems black Americans face in Ghana, and whatever other problems lie ahead for both Ghanaians and their brethren from the diaspora, there is no question that the establishment of the Fihankra community of African diasporans in Ghana is of major symbolic and practical significance in the quest for Pan-African solidarity overflowing continental boundaries, and in terms of encouraging others to move to Africa to live permanently and contribute to the development of Africa. And it has taken place in a country that has always attracted signficant numbers of African Americans and other diasporans through the decades, although mainly as visitors and not as immigrants.
When viewed in a larger context, for example, in terms of total population of African Americans in the United States, the numbers of this reverse, voluntary migration - as opposed to the enslavement of millions of Africans who were taken to the Americas during the slave trade - don't seem to be impressive. There are almost 40 million African Americans in the United States today. Yet, African Americans who live in Ghana at this writing are only a few hundreds, about 1,000 or so, and not all of them immigrants who have decided to live there permanently. More Africans emigrate to the United States every year, at least thousands of them, than African Americans do to Africa.
However, the impact of this migratory trend, "back to Africa," should not be viewed in terms of numbers alone but also in terms of commitment to the well-being and development of the continent among many African Americans even if the majority of them don't move "back" to the motherland but, instead, stay in the United States while making a contribution to Africa's development through investment, educational projects and in many other ways.
Still, however small, and it's not that small, there is no question that there is a steady pattern of migration of African Americans to Africa, especially to Ghana and a few other West African African countries such as Liberia. In East Africa, Tanzania, especially in the seventies, had the largest number of African Americans, about 800, living there; roughly equal to the total number of those who live in Ghana today, in a country that traditionally has attracted probably the largest number of African diasporans than any other on the continent, especially since the days of Kwame Nkrumah whose influence among African Americans as an African leader was unmatched, except may be by Nyerere's among black political activists and academic intellectuals.
Ghana has always been a black star in the constellation of nations because of Nkrumah's stature and influence. Although he is gone, people still invoke his name and memory, bringing attention to Ghana even when the country has had poor leadership as was the case in the late sixties and early and mid-seventies during inept military and civilian rule until Jerry Rawlings, a strong admirer of Nkrumah and with a strong and charismatic personality of his own, emerged on the political scene in 1979 as a military ruler and became one of the most dynamic African leaders in post-colonial Africa.
It was also during Rawlings' tenure that Ghana went a step further than any other African country and gave African Americans rights that had been exclusively reserved for Ghanaian citizens in terms of residence and employment. And as far back as 1992, when Rawlings won his first term as president, after leading Ghana as a military head of state, a significant number of African Americans were already living in the country; many of them drawn to this part of Africa for historical reasons as their ancestral homeland. At least 25 percent of all the African slaves taken to America are believed to have come from what is Ghana today, formerly the Gold Coast. Others have moved to Ghana for personal, economic and political reasons. As Elsie B. Washington stated in an article, "Cousins: African Americans in Ghana," in Essence, October 1992:
"If you asked each of the approximately 300 African-Americans who reside in Ghana why they choose to live in this small West African nation, you'd hear some common reasons emerge. Some of them are intensely personal--such as the search for a better environment m which to raise children. Others are political--dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the United States. Talk with them, and you'll note a certain serenity. African-Americans who call Ghana home have wound down, cooled out--are less on guard. Visit one of their homes, and you'll experience their joy at being in a history-making Black nation, surrounded by people who are pulling together to build a strong society and a secure future.
Some of the 300 are 'lifers,' among them Dr. Robert 'Uncle Bobby' E. Lee, a dentist who settled in Ghana in 1957 with his wife, Sarah, who was also a dentist, and their two sons. Lee still remembers the jubilation he, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Black visitors shared on Ghana's Independence Day. Benjamin Harrison Robinson, Jr., and his wife, Imahkus Vienna, who arrived last year, are also in Ghana for good. They are working on several development projects in their village near Cape Coast and are happy for the chance to give their "time, energy and resources" to help the people of Ghana. A close friend who, like Robinson, has been made a regional chief (women chiefs are called Queen Mother) is Malkia Brantuo. She also manages a seaside hotel and runs a school in Cape Coast.
Often the love affair with Ghana begins with the encouragement of a friend who is familiar with the country from her own travels. That was the case with Bryan O. Lowe, whose first trip was in 1987. Now he and his sister, Dorothy Lowe-Wilbekin, spend half of each year in Ghana; they return to Brooklyn for the other half to raise funds for the physically challenged.
Business and employment opportunities bring other African-Americans to Ghana. Daniel McGaffie serves as a public-affairs officer for the United States Information Service, while his wife, Nell, earns her baccalaureate at the University of Ghana. McGaffie sums it up for the African-American community when he says, 'I feel at home in Ghana, as if I belong here.' "
Although only about 1,000 African Americans live and work in Ghana, mainly in the capital Accra, about ten times that number, at least 10,000 black Americans, visit the country every year. That is more than any of those who go to any other African country. Despite some negative experiences - such as rejection by some of the indigenous people who call African Americans obruni, meaning white; denial of jobs; higher taxi fares, and higher costs for hospital visits and treatment - a large number of African Americans are still attracted to Ghana, with the tropical climate and the beaches being another attraction as much as it is for many other African countries; so is the low cost of living contrasted with that of the United States.
However, just like in any other black African country, conflicting perceptions and profound cultural differences between Africans and black Americans in Ghana complicate relations between the two groups. They have different perceptions and expectations of each other. Many of them also see each other as different, with more differences than similarities between them. And a large number of Africans don't have memories of slavery as much as African Americans do. It's all in the past, the distant past, while the legacy of slavery is very much an integral part of daily life for black Americans in the United States, and even when some of them move to Africa.
And many Africans feel they had nothing to do with slavery. Their ancestors did. They don't feel guilty about it, and they are not sorry about it, as many African Americans expect them to. As Kofi Glover, a Ghanaian professor of political science at the University of South Florida states, slavery is a divisive issue between Ghanaians - and other Africans as well, of course - and African Americans. He goes on to say the differences Africans and African Americans have over slavery could even strongly discourage or prohibit African Americans from ever making Ghana their permanent home, regardless of whether or not they have been given the right to settle there, as they indeed were, when President Rawlings signed the new immigration law which included a provision of Right of Abode for African Americans.
Yet, the new law giving them permanent residence and other rights previously reserved exclusively for Ghanaians is not going to bridge the gap between Africans and African Americans. That is something the people themselves have to work on. And the differences are real and profound. They cannot be glossed over. As Professor Kofi Glover states: "Whether we like it or not, Africans and African Americans have two very different cultures." On the differences over slavery, he has this to say: "[Ghanaians] did not experience white domination like the Africans in Kenya, Zimbabwe, or South Africa. We do not understand the whole concept of slavery, or its effect on the attitude of a lot of African Americans, mainly because we were not exposed to it."
When African Americans hear this, many of them automatically conclude that Africans don't care about them and "don't want us over there." Yet, the context in which such sentiments are articulated, as Kofi Glover did, should be fully understood; why he said what he did, and exactly what he meant by that. It's not enough to take it at face value, superficially, without probing the essence of what he articulated.
However, no matter how well-intentioned or innocent some comments and remarks by Africans may be when they talked about African Americans or about slavery, there are always people who will pounce on that to further their own agenda or objectives; whether it is to keep African Americans and Africans divided, discourage African Americans from moving to Africa, or simply to articulate a position from an African perspective on slavery which African Americans don't share, yet which can be twisted for ulterior motives by anybody who wants to do so. This reminds me of what Gregg Pascal Zachary said in his article in The Wall Street Journal in March 2001 about African Americans in Ghana where he said they felt they were not welcome because of the hostility towards by them by Ghanaians.
No matter which side you are on about what he said, and regardless of the merits or demerits of the essence of his article, there is no question that it sparked an important debate on the contentious subject of relations between Africans and African Americans. Many people responded to the article in different forums, as we saw earlier. And there were others from different perspectives, including "Unbiased Article?: For African Americans in Ghana, the Grass Isn't Always Greener - Seeking the 'Motherland,' They Find Echoes of History and A Chilly Welcome - Mr. Thompson's Yam Special," in The African Independent:
"By G. Pascal Zachary
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
14 March 2001
The Wall Street Journal
ACCRA, Ghana -- Kwaku Sintim-Misa, a popular comedian here, likes to tell a joke about the African-American who emigrates to Ghana.
'Brother, I've found my roots!' the African-American crows. A local shakes his head, wondering why anyone with a coveted United States passport would choose to move to Ghana. 'Move to the Motherland?' the Ghanaian cries, 'I want to escape the Motherland.'
Mr. Sintim-Misa's story gets laughs because it rings true. Last year, the number of Ghanaians applying to legally enter the U.S. tripled. In the same year, Ghana's currency lost nearly two-thirds of its value against the dollar. So many skilled and educated Ghanaians have fled that Mr. Sintim-Misa has the impression that 'nobody wants to live in Ghana anymore.'
Nobody, that is, except African-Americans.
U.S. officials estimate that 1,000 African-Americans live in Ghana, mostly in its capital, Accra, and that an additional 10,000 visit as tourists each year. By many accounts the country attracts more black Americans than any other in Africa, and by a wide margin. In recent years, hundreds have decided to relocate, drawn by beautiful beaches, a tropical climate, low living costs and, most of all, a sense that this historic heart of the slave trade is an ancestral homeland.
The country's appeal is not always obvious. Electricity and water supplies are often interrupted. Malaria is rampant. Wages are meager by U.S. standards. Given the number of people leaving, the arrival of enthusiastic African-Americans might be expected to delight Ghanaians.
It doesn't. Far from seeing African-Americans as kin, most Ghanaians lump them together with other Americans, calling the whole lot obruni, which in the local Twi language means 'white' or foreigner. With better education and deeper pockets, African-Americans strike many Ghanaians as arrogant. 'When they get into any situation they want to take over, and we are not like that,' says R. William Hrisir-Quaye, an official with Ghana's commission on culture.
Indeed, many black Americans living in Ghana find they aren't particularly welcome -- and wonder whether they need a new civil rights movement to secure a place in their adopted home. Ghana forbids American residents from taking most government jobs. Hospitals charge them higher fees. Americans can't vote in elections or participate in local politics. It is virtually impossible for them to obtain citizenship, or permanent 'right of abode,' even after marrying a Ghanaian. The infamous slave castles along Ghana's coastline impose entrance fees on Americans that are 30 times as high as those paid by locals. . . .
Shooting "Back to Africa" Bullets
March 24, 2001
Last week, on March 14th to be exact, I got shot. I glanced at the cover of The Wall Street Journal and got shelled, hit hard with well-crafted propaganda. I know that's a heavy word and as soon as you use it, people immediately box you into a safe, neat corner. They are less threatened that way. But paper (or digital) bullets are no joke. And they don't take you out gangsta-style. They heat sink your brain and expand into unattributable hearsay, innuendo and subtle opinion-altering pieces of mind shrapnel.
The article, entitled: 'For African-Americans in Ghana, The Grass Isn't Always Greener' and written by Journal Staff Reporter G. Pascal Zachary, is built on one notion: that African Americans living in Ghana, as well as those who visit, are not welcome by Ghanaians. 'Far from seeing African-Americans as kin, most Ghanaians lump them together with other Americans, calling the whole lot obruni, which in the local Twi language means 'white' or 'foreigner,' reports Zachary. 'With better education and deeper pockets, African-Americans strike many Ghanaians as arrogant.' 'When they get into any situation they want to take over, and we are not like that,' says R. William Hrisir-Quaye, an official with Ghana's commission on culture.'
As a journalist and university lecturer who has visited and written extensively about Ghana, I am very familiar with Ghana's complexities, both positive and negative. I also know unfair, inaccurate journalism when I see it. I personally know several of the people Zachary interviewed in his piece and like most journalists, know the formula for spinning stories. It mysteriously lies between the sly use of quotes, text and context, maligning by omission and, of course, corporate editorial and advertising mandates. The deadline driven, newsstand-rocking copy is then processed with assembly-line expediency. Just call it shake n' bake journalism. Ready to eat anytime.
Although there are truths in his story, it fails miserably to provide a balanced, objective view of the relationship between African Americans and Ghanaians or for that matter, shed any light on the many accomplishments of Ghana itself. Take for instance, the fact that the country recently held peaceful democratic elections and successfully handed over power to a democratically elected government after a nearly twenty-year regime. But is that newsworthy? Will that sell like controversy?
The article has already created an outcry among progressive black folk everywhere. Take for example Zachary's quoting of Audrey Gadzekpo, a Ghanaian newspaper columnist in Accra and women's rights advocate. After setting a hostile tone in the beginning of his piece through assorted one-sided vignettes and quotes, Zachary drops in a quote by Gadzekpo to fortify his ill intentions.
Here's the quote: 'The African role in the slave trade is not an issue in Ghana. People here are totally detached from any guilt or responsibility for their ancestors selling other Africans into slavery. It's like there's some collective amnesia.'
The thing is, Gadzekpo is making an objective analysis of the legacy of slavery and how Ghanaians have come to interpret or misinterpret it. Her quote, which was stated in the historical context of slavery itself, is innocuous, matter-of-fact. But when slyly inserted into a conversation about reconnecting to Africa, it is interpreted as injurious and uncaring. In fact, it is possible that the Zachary did not even interview Gadzekpo -- who received some of her schooling in the US and returned to Ghana -- for this piece but simply cut and paste this quote to suit his aims. If so, that's lazy, unethical journalism to say the least.
'I question the credibility of any reporter who quotes people out of context,' says Richard Osei, a Ghanaian living in San Francisco. 'It is extremely disturbing to read the 'negative' spin one reporter can put on a country, or for that matter, the entire continent. As usual, the reporter specifically chose to write this 'riveting' article at the expense of fueling animosity among Africans and African Americans and despite the fact that Ghana continues to make a historic democratic turn.
Even the tone of the article potentially could fuel a downtown in Ghana tourism," says Osei, an entrepreneur with his business sights on Africa. The WSJ piece also reports that Ghanaians see African Americans not as brothers and sisters but only as 'dollar signs.' To highlight this view is one thing but to ignore the fact that all Americans, regardless of race, who visit marginalized nations are seen as 'dollar signs' is to reveal an insidious agenda. Think about it. Who wins and who loses by this 'divide and rule' strategy?
Some 35 years after Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, published his landmark book,Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, his words still ring true: '...the financial preponderance of the United States is felt more and more through its influence over international capitalist journalism. Under this guise, a flood of the West, directed against China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Algeria, Ghana and all countries which hack out their own independent path to freedom.'
The article also completely ignores issues of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism. But I'll flip it to you another way. This divisive line of thinking is tantamount to a camera zooming-in on two people bickering over a fender bender at a busy intersection. But if we pull the camera back for that all-telling longshot, we see the real deal: the damn traffic light is broke. Who else, but America, is directing the world's traffic?
They say the first basic rule of propaganda is to deliver deceptive information through a generally accepted, 'reliable' source. But this one-sided, divisive, racist, anti-black, anti-Africa article ties a more efficient lynch knot than the Klan could have ever dreamed of. It's so transparent it ain't even funny.
'Unfortunately we still don't have a lot of sophistication in how we respond to the media,' says Nehanda Imara, a college administrator. Imara, an African American, who lives in Oakland and is building a home in Ghana, says the mainstream media wields the same power as the police in black communities. 'The white media ain't gonna give us nothing but a headache.'
In the sixties, the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) used misinformation and espionage to weaken black political resolve. Today, it seems most corporate newsrooms, largely still devoid of representative percentages of people of color and beholden to dollar deadlines, are creating more havoc in the black community than J. Edgar Hoover could've ever concocted himself.
The writer crafted the following lead for his article: 'Kwaku Sintim-Misa, a popular comedian here, likes to tell a joke about the African-American who emigrates to Ghana. 'Brother, I've found my roots!' the African-American crows. A local shakes his head, wondering why anyone with a coveted United States passport would choose to move to Ghana. 'Move to the Motherland?"'the Ghanaian cries, 'I want to escape the Motherland.'' And of course nowhere in the piece is there any mention of the sobering hows and whys out of which such a joke could be created in the first place. But hey, I love a good, politically incorrect joke anytime but come with something stronger. Make me wince. Perhaps this is all the writer could cull from the brother's act to suit his needs.
'These African Americans who have made this move should be applauded and encouraged not ridiculed,' says Michel Bowman-Amuah, a Ghanaian in Denver. 'Just because some educated Ghanaian's seek a different lifestyle in the USA does not in anyway indicate that living in Ghana is intolerable or that Ghanaians are any less satisfied or patriotic about their country. Let us celebrate the diversity of ideas and encourage this movement of people to Ghana, because it is only through such efforts that we can truly exchange information and breakdown myths and cultural barriers that inhibit dialog between Americans in general and Native Africans.'
Don't get it twisted. A romantic view of Africa (or America, for that matter) just won't cut it. We owe it ourselves to be as constructively critical toward Africa as we would with our family members. I truly believe the blood of the universe is on the side justice in Africa and joining in the struggle to understand our (all people of African descent) relationship to the continent is what time it is. Has been. White Supremacy, capitalism, neo-colonialism and other assorted schisms aside, it really ain't that complex. Either you feel connected to and love black people everywhere or you don't -- straight up and down.
Surly Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave a speech of brotherhood at Kwame Nkrumah's inauguration in Ghana in 1957, and W.E.B. Du Bois, who spent the last years of his life in Ghana and is buried there, would charge us to think higher, broader about Africa.
By learning to approach the media with more sophistication -- whether when reading a cover story, being interviewed, or forwarding that hot, 'unbiased' and accurate email to others -- we can always choose to be the players instead of the ones gettin' played.
Cheo Taylor Tyehimba
Gateway to West Africa ?
Stacey Barney, Blackelectorare.com
Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Early in 2001 Ghana's government was poised to pass new legislation that would grant Ghanaian's living abroad dual citizenship that included the right to vote. This was a move designed to woo the skill, talent, education, and money of many of Ghana's expatriates back to the country in efforts to help aid the waning economy. Now, with the help of bi-partisan support, Ghana's Parliament moved a step closer to passing the new Citizenship Bill with an additional provision that would allow Africans within the Diaspora 'the right to abode' - the very same right to abode promised to African Americans by former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings in 1999 during a visit to the United States.
For Ghana the right to abode clearly represents a hoped for boost to the economy with American dollars, but for African Americans, and other members of the African Diaspora, this "right to abode" would undoubtedly mean the ability to live and work in Ghana without having to renew costly and inconvenient visas and work permits; although the right to participate in politics and the right to vote seem to be altogether another matter. But certainly for the thousand or so African Americans already living in Ghana this 'right to abode' or 'right to return,' as Ghana's Minority House Leader, Mr. J.H. Mensah, calls it, is a welcome step in the direction of full-fledged citizenship, and a de facto dual citizenship status for those who may not be verifiably Ghanaian, but are certainly visibly of African descent.
If passed, Ghana would be the first and only African nation to provide the right to return to Africans in the Diaspora. Furthermore, if passed this could also be a significant first step in fulfilling W.E.B. Dubois's dream of true Pan-Africanism, with Ghana, the very country in which Dubois spent the last years of his life, leading the way. It could mean this if Ghanaians and African Americans could find a way to accept one another as brother and sister related first and foremost by the shared color of skin, and it could mean this if, and only if, African Americans are truly ready to reconnect with their point of origin.
In addition to approximately 1,000 African Americans currently living and working in Ghana's capitol city of Accra, the number of African American visitors to Ghana is close to 10,000 each year. Furthermore, in comparison to other African nations, Ghana attracts far more African Americans than any other nation on the continent. This is due primarily to mild weather, beaches, a low cost of living, and the sense that Ghana could be a spiritual homeland for many African Americans.
However, Ghana also has at least one very big detracting attribute - an apparent intolerance for African Americans. While it is true that many African Americans have had much success in making a home of Ghana via fulfilling employment or entrepreneurship opportunities, and especially marriage to Ghanaian citizens (as is the case in the U.S. for many Africans living and working here), and many more describe their visits to Ghana as a reconnection to the mother land, there are others who have been deterred by a Ghanaian regard for African Americans as obruni, the Twi word for White or foreigner, as well as societal treatment that includes such norms as the denial of government jobs, the right to vote, and higher costs for hospital visits.
These conditions make some African Americans, who go to Ghana seeking the spiritual home that cannot be attained in the United States, feel as little more than an American dollar sign.
This is a depiction of Ghanaian attitudes towards African Americans that the Ghanaian government and the African American Association of Ghana (AAAG) vehemently reject.
Wall Street Journal reporter G. Pascal Zachary experienced this first-hand in regards to his 2001 article titled, 'Tangled Roots, for African-Americans in Ghana, the Grass Isn't Always Greener.' In this article Zachary spoke of the mistreatment African Americans living in Ghana receive at the hands of Ghanaian citizens. The AAAG condemned the article as derogatory, and accused Zachary of threatening, not only a 42-year relationship between Ghana and African Americans, but also tourist revenue (hmm.), and at the worst possible time - a time when many African American tourists were preparing to attend the Pan-African Festival.
'Americans are terrified by anything that takes their comfort away,' said Mr. Akbar Muhammed, spokesperson for the AAAG. Muhammed, according to the Ghanaian News Agency (GNA), also asserted, 'the...reason for the article was to discourage...40 million African Americans...[from shifting] a large chunk of their over 500 billion dollar annual investments in the U.S. to Africa.'
But, despite the AAAG's denial of the claims Zachary made in his 2001 article or the supposed motivations behind Zachary writing his account of African American experiences in Ghana, it isn't hard to imagine African-Americans feeling unwelcome in an African nation.
Think of the perceptions that many African Americans have of Africans. Think of the ignorance many African Americans still have of the African continent. Think of Eddie Murphy's joke that African's 'ride around butt-naked on a zebra.' Think of Will Smith's recent statement that he didn't know Africa had beautiful women until he'd gone there. Think of the treatment many Africans receive from African Americans right here in the United States.
Tracie Reddick reported for The Tampa Tribune on the treatment Anthony Eromosele Oigbokie, a Nigerian business owner in Tampa, Florida received at the historically Black college, Tuskegee University in her article 'African vs. African-American: A Shared Complexion Does Not Guarantee Racial Solidarity': 'Just because African Americans wear Kente cloth does not mean they embrace everything that is African. I caught hell from the frat boys. They were always trying to play with my intelligence. This was [at] a time when folks were shouting, 'Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud.'...If they saw me with a girl, they would yell to her, 'What are you doing with that African?'
Thirty years later, Africans and African Americans still do not form easy bonds or relationships. African American women who marry African men often find they have difficulty contending with strict patriarchal expectations of womanhood, while Africans find themselves in awe of African Americans who have the tendency to blame the White man for everything, and at the same time do not take advantage of the opportunities the United States has to offer.
Kofi Glover, a native of Ghana and a political science professor at the University of South Florida told Reddick, 'Whether we like it or not, Africans and African Americans have two very different and very distinct cultures.'
Glover goes on to describe slavery as a divisive bond between Ghanaians and African Americans that could perhaps prohibit African Americans from ever establishing a permanent homestead in Ghana - right to abode or no right to abode. '[Ghanaians] did not experience White domination like the Africans in Kenya, Zimbabwe, or South Africa. We do not understand the whole concept of slavery, or its effect on the attitude of a lot of African Americans, mainly because we were not exposed to it.'
For many African Americans who are still living with the brutal consequences of slavery, this is a hard truth to face - that one who is also Black does not identify with the pain of slavery. Think of the relationship African Americans have with the term Uncle Tom.
The treatment that Zachary speaks of in his article may be uncomfortable - as uncomfortable as any discussion on the psychological bones hanging in one's closets; nevertheless it has brought to the foreground the question of how Africans and African Americans perceive one another - a question the prospect of dual citizenship exacerbates. In the best circumstances, Africans and African Americans see one another as family, an extension of the other. However, the experiences of Oigbokie and African Americans who have lived in Ghana only to return to the U.S. disillusioned suggest that this is not always the case, nor does everyone agree it should be.
Glover says the perceptions that Africans and African Americans hold of one another stem from 'all the negative things we've been taught about each other. A lot of African Americans were taught that Africa was nothing more than just a primitive, backward jungle from whence they came, [while Ghanaian] perceptions of African Americans is that they are a race of people who carry guns and are very violent.'
What if anything can help Africans and African Americans traverse this rift, making Ghana's right to return more than a token reconciliation? Perhaps remembering that we are, in fact, first and foremost bound by skin color. The differences between Africans and African Americans as observed by Omali Yeshitela, former president of St. Petersburg's National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, are false. She says, 'Most of the friction between African people centers around the class issue. I don't like the artificial separations that won't allow the two of us to get together. It is not in our best interest to always be at each other's throat.'
But what is in our best interest? Unlearning damaging ideas about ourselves, and those who look like us? Yes. Embracing the differences in faith of a larger similarity? Yes. Ghanaian citizenship? Are we even ready for the right to return? Kente cloth and Kwanza is one thing, but moving to another continent is quite another.
Ghanaian citizenship for Americanized Africans is a frightening prospect. To embrace Ghanaian citizenship requires African Americans to embrace the paradox of both what is foreign and what is not. Africans are supposed to be those backwards, Black jungle bunnies-everything that White society has told us that we are, and everything that we have told White society we are not. How do we put aside this fear and ignorance in order to know ourselves?
How do Ghanaians put aside all that they know of us - guns, drugs, violence, and money to burn - to embrace brethren that could well be family?
It seems clear that in order for Ghana's Citizenship Bill to have the effects W.E.B. Dubois might have liked to see, false sensibilities need to be disarmed. Furthermore, along with the realization of citizenship - a right to return, there must be a realization that the problems of Black peoples are the problems of all Black peoples. A realization wherein we refuse to see them as those foreign Africans and they refuse to see us as those foreign Americans. Until then, dual citizenship represents just two words put together to make it easier on visitors to Ghana who have traditionally had to spend too much time filling out paperwork for visas and work permits. Words that for Ghana lend a needed boost to the economy of a country whose people welcome the obruni dollars if not the obruni themselves.
That's a sad reason to return home.
Africa and the World
A. Akbar Muhammad
Web posted, April 17, 2001
We need each other- Pt. 1
While traveling and writing about Africa and what is happening on this great continent, I have encountered many opinions. I try to deal with people on their various levels and I also try never to be a reactionary. However, I could not help but to react to an article, which appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal Wednesday, March 14, titled, "Tangled Roots: For Black Americans in Ghana, the Grass Isn’t Always Greener." Since I have lived in Ghana for 10 years as well as traveled to many parts of Africa, I must respond to such a derogatory article written by Pascal Zachary.
The Wall Street Journal is one of the most conservative newspapers in America, from what I know of it. Its focus is on business issues. However, the only business that was highlighted in this article was the establishment of a vegetarian restaurant in the Cape Coast and Elmina area, and the adventures of the owner. The writer mentioned that the Black American community is drawn to Ghana 'by beautiful beaches, tropical climate, low living costs and most of all a sense that this historical heart of the slave trade is an ancestral homeland.' I thought it odd for a paper like The Wall Street Journal not to have mentioned the Ghanaian stock market, its gold or even it’s tourism. Perhaps, I thought, it would at least mention that many are interested in the opportunities to conduct business in Africa.
Many Black Americans have made a conscious decision to move to Africa to escape the blatant, harsh racism that exists in America. Another incentive is the lack of opportunities in America to use their God-given talents and skills, which were learned while living in America. These same skills and talents are very useful on the African continent. I know that The Wall Street Journal is not a major voice for the plight of the Black community. However, it is interesting that this point was missed altogether.
The writer talked about malaria, knowing that many of the readers of the article have not studied tropical diseases. Some people only know it as a name, some kind of sickness that you get in the tropics. He mentioned how electric and water supplies are often interrupted. His point, I ascertained, was to list all the reasons that one should not have the desire to travel to Africa, Ghana in particular.
The writer mentions that the Black Americans are lumped together with white Americans and are called obruni or white by the Ghanaians. He also mentions that many Ghanaians see the African Americans as arrogant, which is absolutely correct. However, what I would like to add is that many of the Black Americans who are trained, taught and shaped in white America have taken on the arrogant attitude of the Americans that is seen all over the world. Since we have been under the tutelage of white America for over 400 years, we have taken on the same arrogance. This is why we need Africa as much as Africa needs us.
We have the opportunity to learn some valuable cultural lessons. Our first lesson we should learn as Black Americans or Africans from the Diaspora is a lesson in humility and cultural nuances. We must learn something about the continent from which we were snatched. We must critically examine the effects and the horrors of slavery. We need to throw off the shackles of the arrogance taught to us by a very arrogant slave master.
Those of us who may have read this article may have understood the real message was designed to discourage the movement of Black capital investment in Ghana that would create the kind of financial marriage that is direly needed on the African continent."
Although Akbar Muhammed, a spokesman for the Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan, contends that G. Pascal Zachary did not tell the truth in his article in The Wall Street Journal when he said African Americans feel unwelcome in Ghana, even quoting some of the people who expressed this sentiment, there is no doubt that there are many black Americans who will find it hard to believe that they are welcome in Ghana or anywhere else in Africa when people like Kofi Glover, a Ghanaian professor, and other Africans say they don't feel the same way about slavery like Americans blacks do. And the impression is unmistakable when they read or hear what Glover said: Africans don't understand slavery like black Americans do because they were not exposed to it.
It may be insensitive, and it may even sound cruel, especially to African Americans. And it is, to many people, one way or the other, or both. But it must also be looked at in its proper context. The context is historical and contemporary. Ignore one, you lose perspective.
Therefore, what Glover says must be viewed not only in its proper context but also from the contemporary perspective of Ghanaians - and other Africans - to understand why they articulate such sentiments regarding slavery. As an African myself, born and brought up in Africa, in Tanganyika later Tanzania, I can say this to African Americans who intend to go to Africa or those who have not been there long enough to know what's going on: Expect the unexpected, and be ready for anything. Also, expect to be welcomed, and even to be embraced, by some Africans; and be prepared to meet those who are indifferent.
I use the term "indifferent," instead of "hostile," deliberately. I am not saying there aren't any Africans who are hostile towards Africans, for different reasons, including jealousy, with many of wishing they were born in America or they could go to America to live. There are such people, including those who see black Americans as no more than dollar signs or bags of dollars as some of these returnees from the diaspora have complained in Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and other countries.
We must admit that there are such people who are hostile towards African Americans, although the ones who see them as bags of dollars are not necessarily hostile; they are some of the most friendly human beings you will ever meet, for obvious reasons. But hostile ones are a very small minority, from my experience and the experiences of others. The higher percentage of those who are not friendly are basically indifferent, rather than hostile, towards African Americans - and other foreigners - and simply ignore them. This includes those who reject African Americans as their brethren.
They even talk to them in a friendly way, sometimes very friendly. But they tell African Americans, "You are not Africans. You are Americans." Others say, "You are no longer African. It has been centuries since your ancestors were taken from Africa." And there are even those who call African Americans, "white Africans," for example, in Ghana where some people call them obruni, meaning white in the Twi language, something I never heard in Tanzania, calling them wazungu, which means whites in Kiswahili; mzungu is the singular form, meaning white.
But it does not mean they hate African Americans when they describe them that way, or when they simply say, "you are just Americans." It only means that there are fundamental differences between Africans and African Americans in terms of perception. And whether we like it or not, perception is reality.
I am reminded of a similar incident when I was a student in my home country, Tanzania. That was in 1969 when I was 19 years old in standard 13 (what Americans would call grade 13) at Tambaza High School in Dar es Salaam, the nation's capital. It was formerly H.H. The Aga Khan High School exclusively for students of Asian origin, mostly Indian and Pakistani. It was integrated after independence but the students were still mostly of Indian and Pakistani origin; they were Tanzanians, of course.
One day, some black Indians came to visit our school. The visit was arranged by our headmaster, Mr Lila (pronounced as Leela). In fact, it was he who brought them and introduced them to us. They came to our classroom and Mr. Leela said those were Africans whose ancestors were taken to India centuries ago as slaves and came from what is Tanzania today; other African slaves were, of course, also taken from East Africa, mainly Tanzania and Mozambique, to the United States, Brazil and other parts of the Americas, not just from West Africa as some people may be inclined to believe because of geographical proximity. But it is true that the majority of the African slaves taken to the United States came from West Africa.
Anyway, when we saw these black Indians, or Africans from India, we were excited, bewildered, and even shocked. We had never seen black Indians (with so-called kinky hair) or African Indians before, although we had studied in history that Africans from our region were taken as slaves to India, Indonesia, China, and other parts of Asia, and not just to Arab countries and the Americas, centuries ago. In fact, the East African slave trade preceded the West African trans-atlantic slave trade by centuries. Arabs carried on the slave trade for about 1,000 years, and have been in East Africa for about 1,300 years, just as long as they have been in North Africa which they conquered in the 600s A.D. In fact, there were small Arab and Persian (Iranian) settlements in what is Tanzania today even before the Christian era (B.C.), and some Asian influence from China, India, Indonesia and other parts of Asia around the same time. But Greeks, the ancient marines, were the first to come to the region even before the Asians and the Arabs did.
Therefore, the context had been set for centuries before the full-scale invasion and conquest of East Africa by foreigners which came later, first by the Arabs, then the Portuguese, the Germans, and the British, with significant Asian influence including trade mainly with the coastal regions. The black Indians who came to our school were a product of that, as descendants of African slaves taken to Asia.
And they looked very Indian, in terms of attire, and sounded very Indian. They did not speak Kiswahil like we did but one of the Indian languages. Most of the students in my class saw them as just Indians, although black Indians. They did not say these black Indians had nothing to do with Africa; they just felt that they were Indian in terms of history and culture after all those centuries. We were also sympathetic towards them, knowing the history of slavery, and the fact that they were descendants of African slaves, our people. Therefore, we identified with them, in a way, although we also knew that there were some fundamental differences between us in terms of culture and outlook because of centuries of separation. Yet that did not mean that they had no biological ties to Africa. We knew they were an integral part of us, biologically, and there was no hostility towards them.
When we look at their situation and that of African Americans, or black Americans, the parallels are almost exact. When I was in Tanzania, as a student and as a news reporter, I never met or talked to one person, a black Tanzanian or any other black African including refugees from southern Africa, who was hostile towards African Americans. I never even heard of that from anyone, saying so-and-so said this and that about African Americans in a hostile way or derogatory manner.
We saw them in the streets of Dar es Salaam, our nation's capital, and quite a few people admired them. But I also noticed that there was a communication gap. Neither side tried to reach out, and touch someone, or talk to someone, on the other side. That was the general perception, or observation, although I am sure there are those who did and even formed solid friendships, especially between African Americans living in Tanzania and local Tanzanians. In fact, I know of one such relationship.
One of my friends in Dar es Salaam who also comes from my home district of Rungwe in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, and whom I went to school with, had an uncle, his father's younger brother, who was a high-ranking government official. He held some of the highest posts, including an ambassadorial post, under President Nyerere since independence. His uncle was a very close friend of Charlie Cobb, the African American and former civil rights activist in the United States during the civil rights movement, when Cobb lived and worked in Dar es Salaam. And this was not the only close relationship between Africans and African Americans in Tanzania.
There were hundreds of African Americans living in Tanzania, mostly in the capital Dar es Salaam, during that time. And they were there for a number of years. They would not have stayed there had the local people been hostile towards them. One of them was a member of the Pan-African Congress-USA from Detroit who worked as an engineer in Dar es Salaam for two years before returning to the United States. I talked to him when he returned to Detroit in the mid-seventies and he never said he experienced any hostility from Tanzanians. Another Pan-African Congress member who moved to Tanzania and was given some land also never complained about that when he wrote me from Tanzania. He loved Tanzania and the people. I was still in Detroit then. That was also in the mid-seventies, although I don't know if he stayed in Tanzania or not. It has been 30 years since we last communicated.
When I first got to Detroit and was new in the country, I was asked by some African Americans in school and elsewhere in the city if it was true that we did not want them in Africa. I said, "No," it was not true; at least from what I knew. When I was in Tanzania, I never heard Tanzanians or anybody else from other parts of Africa living in Tanzania who said, "We don't want them here"; a common saying I have heard through the years in conversations with African Americans in the United States, saying we, Africans, "don't want them over there." When I first heard this, it bothered me because I knew it wasn't true. I never even heard that from my fellow African students from different countries whom I knew or went to school with in the United States.
But there was an indifferent attitude towards African Americans among some of these African students, mainly because of cultural differences and the way the media portray black Americans as low-class, committing a lot of crime, and lacking values conducive to achievement.
Therefore, in the absence of any evidence of hostility towards African Americans among the majority of Africans in Africa, and even among the majority of Africans in the United States, there is no reason for anyone to say or believe that people of African descent in the diaspora are not welcome in Africa. And individual stories tell a lot because, cumulatively and coming from different parts of the continent through the years, they show what kind of reception African Americans have been accorded upon their arrival or during their stay in Africa. This is one of them, from the Penn African Studies Newsletter, January/February 1997, of the University of Pennsylvania:
"Veniese Wilkinson, a Penn senior African Studies major, and Carla Land, a Penn senior Entrepreneurial Management major, spent the 1996 Spring semester in Ghana on a study abroad program.
Veniese Wilkinson and Carla Land so enjoyed their semester abroad in Ghana that they both say they definitely want to go back. They commented on how gracious and helpful the Ghanaians were. Wilkinson noted, 'When they see a stranger they think, 'this person needs help.'' Land told a story about a time she was lost and asked for directions. When she got lost again, she turned around to find that the woman who had given her directions had followed in her car. She then picked Land up and drove her to where she was going.
Land pointed out that there aren't many stories about crime on the news. Many of the TV shows are produced in Ghana and contain little violence; every story has a good ending with a moral. In addition, CNN is broadcast on national TV; so Ghanaians are often more educated about world news than Americans.
During their semester, Wilkinson and Land spent several weeks living with families in Cape Coast where they studied Fanti and heard lectures. They also lived for a week in a village, spent several weeks traveling, and lived in Accra for four weeks with an older Ghanaian woman while they did their independent study projects.
Land worked with a small women's magazine that had been in existence for about a year. She wrote articles for the paper and conducted a survey at the University of Ghana to learn what the women students' cultural attitudes were. She was intrigued because the magazine seemed to reflect American culture rather than Ghanaian culture, with articles about weight-loss and self-esteem. Land thinks this reflected the interests of university women, but not the interests of Ghanaian women in general.
Wilkinson studied development organizations in Ghana, focusing on women's organizations. There are a lot of organizations trying to better women's lives, but in some ways they are stifled by the government. Without friends in the government organizations, it's difficult to accomplish anything. Wilkinson noted that every other day there seemed to be a meeting so that the women would say, 'Here we go again to another 'talkshop.'' Wilkinson also noticed that everyone referred to the Beijing conference, often saying, 'Well you know, since Beijing....'
As African-Americans in Ghana, both said that many times people thought they were Ghanaian. That meant that they didn't get tourist treatment, but it also meant that people would assume they knew things that they didn't. Wilkinson said that some days she told people that she was an American, because she wanted them to know who she was and that what they said wasn't necessarily going to make sense to her. They found that many Ghanaians didn't know the history of slavery. Some thought that many Africans had gone to America and died. Land noted that sometimes people thought her mother was a Ghanaian who had immigrated to the U.S.
A particularly interesting event during their semester was their attendance at a girl's puberty rite. One of the women in their group wanted to develop a puberty rite for African-American women, and to prepare she underwent a Ghanaian rite herself. Before the event, their friend was bathed, and then dressed in expensive powder, perfume, and clothes. She changed her outfit three times during the event, which displayed the wealth of her 'family.' Her 'mother' also talked with her before the ceremony. During the ceremony there were times for socializing, feasting, and parading around the village. Symbols of fertility such as eggs and chicken organs were important. Her body was painted with open circles representing sugar cane for a sweet life. This ceremony lasted for a day, but it can last as long as a week if there is food to feed the guests.
Visiting a number of historical sites was also a highlight. One place was Cape Coast Castle, where slaves were held before being shipped to the Americas. Funds for restoring the castle came from the U.S., and Wilkinson felt it had been restored into a U.S. park for American tourists, which took away a certain reality. Wilkinson particularly enjoyed their trip to Kumasi, which was the capital of the Asante Kingdom. A museum with wax figures depicted the history of the Asante. Her favorite wax figure was the one of the Asante Queen Mother, a short woman holding an enormous rifle. When the British were coming to invade Kumasi, the men were cowering, but she insisted on fighting. The British eventually exiled her to the Seychelles Islands which showed their fear of her power."
Yet, in spite of such exhilarating experience and exciting stories, we must also acknowledge that there are Africans who have an indifferent attitude towards black Americans, and vice versa. I remember what a couple in Detroit told us in the mid-seventies when they got back from Tanzania after spending some time there. They said the people in Tanzania did not speak to them, they just looked at them or just stared at them, as if they were nothing to them or some strange-looking people.
That is sad, especially if you are a foreigner, but it's nothing new. People in Tanzania and elsewhere in general don't always speak to each other, either, especially if they are strangers. And in the case of African Americans, the problem gets worse if the local people in African countries are able to identify them as black Americans; which they usually do and are pretty good at that, just by looking at them. Some of them don't see black Americans as an integral part of them. This is indifference. And one may argue that indifference is tantamount to rejection, especially for African Americans who expect to be welcomed and embraced by their African brethren when they return to the motherland. They feel that they have been rejected, not just ignored.
But that is not the attitude of even those who are indifferent towards African Americans. They have not rejected them. One may say, by not welcoming them, they still have rejected African Americans, and that's why they are indifferent towards them. And it may be true. But the main reason why they are indifferent is that they don't care, or it doesn't bother them, if black Americans visit or live in Africa, or if they don't. They really don't care either way, and they just go on with their lives, as much as African Americans do when they are in Africa. They just go on with their business.
This can, of course, be discouraging to African Americans more than it is to Europeans or Asians, for example, who are not related to Africans. Black Americans expect to be welcomed and embraced by their African brothers and sisters. They are their kith-and-kin, whether one accepts this or not. Nothing can dissolve genealogical ties.
But the question is this: How many African Americans experience this or feel this way? And why do African Americans keep on going on to Africa, every year, in fact every month, if they are indeed rejected by their African brethren? Even those who have been there before go back. Why? It's not because they forgot their luggage or something else and they are going back to pick it up. They go back for another visit, and another, and another. It goes on, and on. Why?
The answer is obvious, as has been clearly demonstrated in many ways, and by permanent settlements such as Fihankra, an African-American community in eastern Ghana, and by the presence of a significant number of Africans from the diaspora in this West African country and other parts of Africa. They have gone back home. As President Robert Mugabe said in 2000 to a large black audience, estimated to be about 10,000 in Harlem, New York, where he was introduced by the black Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan: "Come back home!" And in the words of Nelson Mandela in the early 1990s soon after he got out of prison and spoke to another large audience, also in Harlem: "We are all children of Africa."
It is a sentiment that was articulated years earlier by the first president of Ghana who blazed the trail for the African independence movement, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, when he said: "All peoples of African descent whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean or in other part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nation."
African Americans are finally going back home. There is no place like home. Yet, even at home, there are problems that must be addressed. Simply because it is home does not mean that it is paradise. And although African Americans know that Africa is not paradise on earth - there's none down here, not even America which many people consider to be mankind's heavenly home - many of them still have unrealistic expectations and get disappointed when they get to the motherland. They should not expect everybody to welcome them or embrace them simply because they have returned to the motherland. They should also remember that Africa is not America in terms of living standards.
But they should also be treated on equal basis with the local people. They should not be charged more, for anything, than Africans are, simply because they are Americans and therefore "rich." In Ghana, for example, where African Americans complain about being overcharged for goods and services, indigenous Ghanaians should answer a few questions to set the record straight: Do you ask Ghanaians who have lived in the United States, when they return to Ghana, to pay more for medical treatment and for taxi service and for other goods and services than other Ghanaians simply because these returnees lived or live in America and are therefore assumed to be rich? What about wealthy Ghanaians who live in Ghana? Why don't you also charge them higher for goods and services than other Ghanaians, as much as you do African Americans?
What about Africans from other countries who live in Ghana and who have more money than some Ghanaians? Do you overcharge them also, the same way you do to black Americans? Why just black Americans? If you do so because they are rich, you should do the same thing to rich Ghanaians and other rich Africans visiting or living in Ghana. It is also a fact that not every black American, in America or in Africa, is rich. And when African Americans face this kind of discrimination, don't blame them when they say they are not welcome in Ghana, or in Africa. Not all of them say that. But there are those who do when they face this kind of discrimination by their African brethren, of all people.
Yet, it's not very surprising. We have discrimination in Africa of the most blatant kind, tribal discrimination, members of one tribe discriminating against members of another tribe or other tribes. And there are Africans who see African Americans as just another tribe, or simply as outsiders, and not as a part of them; therefore a target for discrimination.
Faced with these kinds of problems, some African Americans are bound to be frustrated and feel unwelcome in Africa. Compounding the problem is the underdeveloped nature of African countries. Many black Americans are aware of these problems, of course, even before they go to Africa and do their best to cope with the situation. However, there are those who can't cope with this and return to the United States. I am sure it also happened in my country, Tanzania, where there were about 800 African Americans in the early and mid-seventies, in spite of the economic hardship under socialism. But there's no question that some of them left because of economic hardship even before the Big Bust of 1974 which led to an exodus of black Americans from this East African country, as we learned earlier, a country led by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere whom they admired so much.
When I was writing this book, I asked one African American who had been to Tanzania what he thought or knew about the presence of black Americans in this East African country, my homeland, and if he knew of any of the problems they had with their African brethren and if it was easy to talk to them about the subject.
I also asked him a few other questions on a number of subjects including the role of African Americans at the Sixth Pan-African Congress held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1974 (coincidentally, the same year of the Big Bust that led to the exodus of African Americans from Tanzania) when I was already in the United States, and about the rumor or report that Dr. Walter Rodney, an African diasporan from Guyana who taught at the University of Dar es Salaam during that time where he also wrote his best-selling book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, was barred from the conference. I told him I was highly skeptical about that, knowing Rodney and the close ties he had with Tanzanian officials and leaders of the African liberation movements based in Dar es Salaam.
His name was Seth McGovern Markle, a graduate student at New York University who was working on his PhD. His dissertation was on the same subject, of African Americans in Tanzania, and this is what he said to me in response to my questions in his letter of December 14, 2004:
"I've been dong research on this topic for about 2 years now and I have similar questions as you do that I've yet to find answers for. I've been to Tanzania the past two summers.
Currently, there are quite a few African Americans living there, but only a handful from the days of ujamaa. The Big Bust was one of those reasons. I believe after the "bust" a lot of African Americans got disillusioned and returned to the U.S. But there were other reasons as well. Some just wanted to stay only for a couple of years. Some felt culturally alienated and home sick. The reasons are many.
In regards to the Big Bust, the story is sketchy. I, too, have read that article in The East African and that's all the information I have of the event, so I don't have much to offer there. What I do know, however, is that there were conservative wing in TANU who did not warm up to the African American presence. They thought they were brash, arrogant, aggressive, etc. So it was this contingent which really tried to get African Americans out. Similar to what happened in Nkrumah's Ghana, African Americans were charged with being members of the CIA.
African Americans were never 'barred' from 6PAC, they were just seated on 'observer status' which caused an uproar. And Walter Rodney was not barred, he just did not attend, although he did write a quite provocative paper on Pan-Africanism which was circulated around the conference.
In terms of perceptions. It was a mixed bag. Some were well-received, others were not. Some built very close relationships/friendships with Tanzanians, South Africans, Cubans, etc. As you know, it really all depends on who you talk to or read about and my research has not gone that far as of yet.
If you are interested in talking to African Americans in Tanzania it's actually much more easier if you go there and ask around. Although, I must say they are very difficult to talk to,
very protected, at times distrustful of people who are interested in their experience. So its no exaggeration when I say that its a tough road to travel. I haven't developed a relationship with them to the extent that I would like, but I'm still working on it. I can tell you this though, contacting them by email is pretty useless. The O'Neals live in Arusha and you can go by their community center and try to talk to them. A lot of African Americans are there now, hang out at the U.S. Club and an Ethiopian Restaurant called Addis in Dar.
I think relations between African Americans and Tanzanians is interesting. Constantly shifting and evolving. It's a process of communicating and understanding differences. As you may know, African Americans tend to imagine Africa in a way that oftentimes is romantic, oftentimes not the "real" Africa. Also, African Americans tend to be too focused on race/racism. I found that Tanzanian's tend to look at African Americans as either Americans, or as an ethnic group. The latter is quite interesting and I think needs to be explored more fully.
The major issue for African Americans is defining their role in Africa's struggle. Should it entail bringing their skills over? Should it entail lobbying the US Government on African issues? There is no single right answer. I do believe the dialogue needs to continue.
Julius Nyerere had a profound impact on African Americans in the 60s/70s. African Americans learned how to speak Kiswahili, trying to developed their own tweaked ujamaa
programs in the US, the list goes on and on. And some moved there to participate in the national building projects to the best they knew how."
In Ghana, there was a similar "bust," involving African Americans who were, rightly or wrongly, accused of working for the CIA and trying to undermine Dr. Nkrumah's government, leading to their expulsion from the country, as Markle said in his letter to me. And to make things worse, it was a black American, the United States ambassador to Ghana, Franklin Williams, a schoolmate of Kwame Nkrumah at Lincoln University in the 1930s, who played a major role, together with the CIA, in overthrowing Nkrumah in Ghana in February 1966.
It would, of course, be utterly naive to assume or believe that there are no American government agents or spies among African Americans who go to Africa, or that they are all spies simply because they are American. There are those who are, but most of them are not. In fact, you find African Americans who care about Africa more than some Africans born and brought up on African soil do. There are Africans who work for the CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies and governments against their own countries.
Mobutu was not the only one. There were African Americans including Malcolm X who cared about the Congo and Africa as a whole more than Mobutu did, if he ever did at all. Even before the country won independence, he was already on the CIA payroll. And he played a critical role in the arrest and subsequent assassination of Patrice Lumumba. He was once his private secretary before he became head of the army.
Therefore to assume that every African cares about Africa, simply because he or she is an African, is equally naive and plain stupid. And probably most Africans know that.
Yet African Americans have sometimes been falsely accused of being spies, a blanket charge and condemnation that has led to their expulsion from some African countries including Ghana and Tanzania, ironically from the very same countries that have the strongest appeal among many blacks in the United States and elsewhere in the African diaspora. It happened in the sixties and in the seventies, and it may have happened after that. But expulsion is not the only factor in the departure of African Americans from African countries. And it is rare.
In contemporary times, there are African Americans who have left Ghana, of their own volition, and returned to the United States for different reasons including economic hardship. Other African countries, including Tanzania, have experienced the same phenomenon. But this does not mean that the majority of black Americans have had bad experience in Africa. There are those who have and those who haven't. And it seems the majority have a favorable impression of Africa even if they have had hard times and continue to face hardship.
To understand the black American experience in Africa, and make a realistic assessment of the situation, it is important to construct a proportional perspective on reality. And that means not ignoring critics or dismissing everything they say as propaganda or a mischievous attempt to sow seeds of discord between Africans and African Americans, even if they tell the truth, or some truth. However unacceptable, accept it if it's true. Otherwise you are sweeping dirt under the rug.
It also means not believing everything people, friends and foes alike, say about Africa without verifying whatever is said or written. The article by Gregg Pascal Zachary in The Wall Street Journal about Ghana is relevant in both cases. And it caused a firestorm for the same reasons. As Kwadwo Kyei stated in his column, "No One Said Ghana Was A Paradise," in African Spectrum, May 2001:
"In recent weeks Ghanaians have demonstrated an uncharacteristic patriotic zeal. Like wounded tigers, our people have leapt to the defense of our country in the wake of a gratuitous newspaper attack on her, leaving no doubt about our loyalty to the land of our birth. And we have G. Pascal Zachary to thank for waking up the patriot in us.
Zachary’s recent article in the The Wall Street Journal entitled 'Tangled Roots' has touched off a firestorm of indignant responses from Ghanaians around the world including some fellow Spectrum writers. At the risk of overdoing it, it is now the turn of this column to share its modest point of view on an issue that threatens to sow a seed of discord between Ghanaians and African-Americans.
The article in question describes the frustrations of African-American immigrants in Ghana: from difficulties with immigration to problems getting accepted into the Ghanaian mainstream to discriminatory treatment when it comes to paying for goods and services. Incidentally, for another group of immigrants, African immigrants in America, almost all these problems seem to have a rather familiar ring to them.
Considering its origin - The Wall Street Journal, a newspaper that seldom, if ever, has kind words for Africa - there is the temptation to dismiss the article as just another obnoxious attempt by a conservative publication to discredit an African nation in the eyes of black America and the rest of the world. May be that was the intent. What else would please the enemies of the black race more than a state of alienation between Africans and black Americans? But whether it was or not, Zachary’s article affords us an opportunity to set the record straight on the issue of African-Americans resettling in OUR common motherland.
The article reveals an important characteristic shared by nearly all immigrants: the tendency to indulge in unrealistic expectations about their new or adopted homelands. As is often the case, people migrate in search of a better life, whatever it is that constitutes a better life for them. Many leave their native lands because economic opportunities elsewhere are better; others leave because either the social or cultural or political or religious climate in their native countries is not conducive to their personal wellbeing.
Whatever their motivations to leave, and since they start out with such great expectations, most immigrants are bound to get disillusioned by their initial encounter with the hard facts on the ground in their new homes. Then it begins to dawn on them that, after all, the grass is not greener on the other side.
The grass certainly is not greener in Ghana, and for that matter, anywhere else in Africa. Ghana, like nearly the rest of Africa, is in the throes of a desperate struggle for survival. Our economy is in a shambles; our political system has been in disarray for some time. Ghana is a nation trying to find its feet, a process that has been going on during the last forty years. The entire world is privy to this fact.
Therefore, it seems a little naive on the part of those who wish to make Ghana their home to expect in many respects, any more than they knew about the country before they decided to relocate there. Many of the sentiments the African-Americans poured out to Zachary are actually frustrations born of impatience as well as largely unjustified feelings of disappointment that their El Dorado turned out to be just another struggling Third World nation.
Nevertheless, a particular grievance of the African-Americans merits serious attention. It is indeed a shame that our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora who return to the land of their ancestors should become victims of extortion just because they are perceived as wealthy people from another land. This is patently unfair. Requiring a particular group of people to pay more for goods and sevices merely on the basis of where they came from smacks of the same kind of discriminatory practices against blacks and people of other races and cultures that American white racists have long been accused of. The American bigots practice racial discrimination; the Ghanaian extortionists practice cultural discrimination. Either behavior is inexcusable.
Contrary to the opinion held by others, I believe that charging so-called wealthy foreigners higher prices is not the same thing as assessing an individual a higher rate of income tax due to his clearly documented and verifiable more-than-average earnings. Some of the 'wealthy' African-Americans in Ghana may not be wealthy at all for all we know. Not every black American who hops on a plane to go to Africa is rich. And even if they all were, making them pay more at the point of transaction is a practice that cannot be defended under any circumstances, especially when affluent Ghanaians are not subjected to the same treatment. Taxation is the only legitimate means by which society can compel the really well-heeled among us to give back some of their wealth for the good of all. If so-called wealthy African-Americans in Ghana are compelled to give back something by any other means, it is nothing but extortionary and discriminatory. And they have every right to be upset about it.
Beyond this blatant unfairness, however, the validity of the African-American indictments against Ghana as catalogued in the Wall Street Journal article is very much in dispute. Some returnees may feel "hoodwinked" by the promise of dual citizenship that didn’t materialize, but the proposal is far from dead as the Journal article mischievously proclaimed. While it is unclear why the measure failed to win endorsement in Ghana’s parliament, to say that it is dead is to betray a lack of appreciation of the depth of Ghana’s commitment to Pan-African solidarity.
As the first black African nation to free itself from colonial bondage, Ghana under its first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, very early recognized its special responsibility to bring black people all over the world together, both physically and psychologically. Toward this end, Ghana actively sought to encourage black American and black West Indian emigration back to the shores where their ancestors came from. Furthermore, Ghana organized and sponsored numerous international conferences of black people from all parts of the world. A very significant outcome of this policy was the decision by two of the most illustrious personalities in the African Diaspora, W.E.B. DuBois and George Padmore, an American and a West Indian respectively, to relocate in Ghana. Over the years, other less famous black people from across the Atlantic have followed in their footsteps.
In time, dual citizenship in Ghana for black Americans will become a reality. It would be so historically out of character for Ghana not to follow through on this. Meanwhile, the door is still open for African-Americans to acquire Ghanaian citizenship through the normal channels, except that they would have to trade in their much-coveted U.S. citizenship for the Ghanaian equivalent. The portion of Zachary’s article describing the problems of African-Americans in this area should be taken with a grain of salt, for it is highly inconceivable that any administration in Ghana would deliberately create impediments in the way of eligible black Americans seeking to become citizens of Ghana.
Equally suspicious is the story of a man who was being prevented from leaving Ghana because he overstayed his visa. Didn’t it usually work the other way round: people getting kicked out of a country for overstaying? No nation, not even an impoverished one like Ghana, has any desire to keep illegal immigrants within her borders.
Other complaints of the African-Americans are just as unsustainable. The gripe about not being allowed to vote or run for public office in Ghana even sounds silly. Since when did non-citizens become eligible to vote or run for public office in any country? Without a doubt, black Americans, in spite of the denials of a handful of lost souls - the despicable Uncle Toms - are kith and kin of the African people. However, the laws of modern nation-states have no use for emotionalism. These laws look at things strictly from a technical angle, so that, notwithstanding one’s ancestry, one has to have citizenship status in order to participate or share in all the goodies reserved for the citizens of a particular nation.
By and large, the African-American experience in Ghana doesn’t seem to be such an unmitigated disaster, even judging by the account of the Journal article. Many of the immigrants are engaged in profitable businesses of their own; others are employed in fields such as teaching and other professions. Local chiefs have generously donated lands to some of the entrepreneurs for real estate development and other commercial uses. How does any group of people become any more mainstream than this in another country? These facts speak for themselves and make nonsense of any attempt to paint Ghana with the brush of inhospitality and even hostility toward African-Americans.
The welcome mat is still in place for African-Americans and other black people as well as other foreigners who want to make Ghana their home. For newcomers, the most important thing to remember is that Ghana is no paradise on earth. If they love her, they should go in with a mindset that borders on the sacrificial; they should be prepared to help in the great national reconstruction effort now taking place.
Their rewards will manifest themselves in their own good deeds toward their new homeland."
Ghana, and the rest of Africa, may not be paradise; and will probably not attract the majority of African Americans, may be not even 100,000 of them, to go back to the motherland to live there permanently. But it definitely is home to those who have decided to leave America and return to Africa.
There may be thorns and thistles on the welcome mat at the door, now and then, here and there. But the door is wide open. What once was the Door of No Return, out of which went captured Africans who were shipped to America into slavery, never to return, has now come to symbolize, for African Americans, a return to Mother Africa - from whose loins they sprang, to paraphrase Countee Cullen.
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