Although Ghana officially launched the Return to Africa project last year, the history of Africans in the diaspora returning to the Mother Continent goes back two centuries. Kwaku examines the historical records to chart this movement.
With Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo having personally launched The Year of Return (TYOR) project in Washington DC last autumn, Ghana is poised to be the number one destination for African-Americans and other diaspora Africans in 2019. However, as we shall see, there's a long history of Africans returning to Ghana and other African countries.
TYOR's year-long activities include concerts, a carnival and an investment summit, as well as history, youth, cultural and Pan-Africanism programmes. Although the project aims to attract mainly diaspora Africans, including second-generation Ghanaians, from all parts of the world, the focus is heavily tilted towards African-Americans. The reason being that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first recorded arrivals of Africans in what is now the United States.
The status of the 20 trafficked Africans who arrived on a Spanish ship at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 is still debated. As chattel enslavement had not yet officially begun in England's North American colonies, the speculation is that the Africans were either enslaved or indentured workers, or a mixture of both.
But within fifty years, chattel enslavement had become legalised in Virginia and other states, and particularly in the southern states, chattel enslavement was to become the key driver of the plantation economies that flourished well into the late 19th century.
The insatiable need for enslaved Africans meant millions of Africans were trafficked from Africa across the Atlantic to plantations in the Caribbean and Doth North and South America, which resulted in significant African diasporas in the so-called New World. Nominal emancipation of Africans in this region came over a long period.
In 1793, the Africans in Haiti became the first to be emancipated, and on 1 January 1804, they declared Haiti an enslavement-free republic, following the African-led Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804. In 1838, the Africans in the British Caribbean were emancipated. The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act only freed Africans aged up to six in 1834 (the servitude of slaves over six being abolished in two stages). The last of the Latin American countries to abolish enslavement were Cuba in 1886 and Brazil in 1888.