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Damn the return

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

'A Twitter space convo'

In the ever-evolving landscape of social media discussions and virtual gatherings, one event stood out for its insightful exploration of a topic that holds great significance for continental Africans and the global African Diaspora. Hosted by OPENSPACE Global on June 16th 2023, and aptly titled 'Damn the Return,' this Twitter Space conversation brought together an audience eager to delve into the various impacts of the "Year of Return" initiative in Ghana. This insightful conversation, hosted by Sydney Sam, the founder of OPENSPACE Global, featured Christabel Dadzie, founder of the Ahaspora Professionals Network, as a guest speaker. The event brought together an engaged audience eager to contribute their thoughts and experiences to the discussion.

The Year of Return: A Brief Overview

Before we dive into the conversation recap, let's briefly revisit the concept of the "Year of Return." In 2019, Ghana declared the "Year of Return" to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia, USA. This initiative invited African descendants from all over the world to return to Ghana and reconnect with their African roots. It aimed to foster reconciliation, healing, and unity among Africans on the continent and those in the Diaspora.

Exploring the Challenges and Triumphs

As the host of the Twitter Space, Sydney Sam kickstarted the conversation by acknowledging the profound significance of the "Year of Return" and the impact it had on people's lives. He then invited the audience to share their perspectives on what the ‘Year of Return’ meant to them. The responses from the audience were diverse and insightful, highlighting the multifaceted goals of this initiative. They included;

  1. Tourism Attraction: The initiative was seen as a powerful tool for attracting tourists from all around the world eager to immerse themselves in Ghana’s rich cultural heritage and historical significance.

  2. Investment Stimulus: Many participants recognised the ‘Year of Return’ potential to draw investors, thereby contributing to economic growth and development in Ghana.

  3. Creative Empowerment: The initiative provided a significant platform for creatives to showcase their talents and gain international recognition, fostering artistic and cultural exchange.

  4. Cultural Reconnection: Perhaps the most profound aspect, the ‘Year of Return’ was viewed as a way for African diasporans to rekindle their connection with their ancestral roots, instilling a deeper sense of identity and belonging.

Despite the positive aspects of the 'Year of Return' initiative, the audience highlighted several concerns that deserve attention;

1. The state of infrastructure in Ghana

This was a prominent issue throughout the discussion. Participants noted that while the initiative aimed to attract tourists and investors, the country's infrastructure, including roads, often fell short of providing the necessary support for the influx of visitors. This infrastructure deficit posed challenges for visitors and locals alike.

2. Miscommunication between the government and locals

Some participants pointed out that there seemed to be a disconnect between the government's objectives for the Year of Return and the expectations and needs of the local population. This misalignment raised questions about how the initiative's benefits were being distributed and whether there was adequate community engagement and consultation in the planning and execution of the initiative.

3. ‘Extremely limited intellectual conversation’

Another noteworthy challenge was the perceived lack of intellectual engagement during the ‘Year of Return’ Initiative. While the initiative successfully attracted a significant number of visitors who came to explore Ghana’s historical sites and enjoy its vibrant culture, some participants expressed concerns about the absence of substantive intellectual conversations. It was noted that beyond sightseeing and celebratory events, there was a dearth of conferences, seminars, or educational programs that could have provided a more profound understanding of African history, contemporary issues, and opportunities for diasporans to connect on an intellectual level.

‘Damn the Return' served as a poignant reflection on the enduring impact of Ghana's ‘Year of Return’. Throughout the conversation, both the positive and challenging aspects of the initiative were illuminated, providing a comprehensive view of its significance. Creating an enabling environment, i.e. infrastructure, fostering skill development and cultivating open-mindedness to bridge the gap between expectations and outcomes became key pillars that could have enhanced the effectiveness of such an initiative. Nevertheless, these pillars could serve as guiding principles for future initiatives.

See you in our next side convo!

Credits: Margaret Mathenge

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