Ghana's Year of Return campaign has generated so much interest as well as hard dollars, that many more countries are joining the diaspora bandwagon. But the real benefit could be the emotional and social connections now unleashed.
Ghana's Year of Return unleashed an amazing reconnection between the African diaspora and the continent. The numbers are impressive--at least a million visas issued and $1.9bn revenues generated.
Most remarkably, young diasporans now see the continent as a destination for partying and cultural tourism, where they are likely to bump into musical and acting heroes at events such as Afro Nation.
As a gold standard for diaspora engagement and outreach, it has successfully tapped into the neglected diaspora tourism market, by responding to its various segments and their demographics (i.e., those interested in areas such as memorial, heritage, cultural, business, development, etc), and also, utilising the diaspora as high-profile ambassadors of the outreach and marketing.
The clear success of the 'Year of Return' in numbers and soft power for Ghana has led to a renewed momentum for African identification, pride and reconciliation, with Nigeria and Benin launching 'Door of Return' and 'Gate of Return' initiatives and Ghana extending the Year concept to a decade-long 'Beyond Return' programme.
The diaspora/heritage tourism market might be the route to enable African countries to increase the amount tourism contributes to the economy, from a low figure of 3% to the global average of 10%, with the attendant resulting impacts of the multiplier effect on spending, jobs, infrastructure and as a driver of economic development.
While a lot of this is about countries rushing to capitalise on the increased revenue, the emotional, cultural and social momentum is real and one is excited about where it might all lead in terms of opening doors of opportunity.
There is pressure on the AU to adopt the idea of the Year and align it with the UN's International Decade for People of African Descent (20152024), as a way of giving expression to that decade's aims to 'ensure the full realisation of the economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights' of people of African descent.
Other opportunities await to be embraced. Heritage tourism, for instance, offers the prospect of improving regional one-stop visa regimes; aiding the revamping of neglected African museums, festivals and other cultural areas.
There is also the opportunity of...