The year 2019 has been declared the ‘Year of Return’ by the President of Ghana, Nana Akuffo Addo, to remember the first batch of slaves that was transported to present day United States of America in 1691. For well over 300 years, African slaves mainly from the west coast were forced onto
European ships and sent to the New World through the so called ‘Middle Passage’. They were branded, treated as chattels and used as manual labour for the cultivation of farms and development of infrastructure. It is estimated about 40 million Africans were sold into slavery. In
1807 when slavery was becoming less lucrative due to resistance from slaves and technology, Britain ended their participation in the trade and it was abolished at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Slave trade was finally abolished in the United States of America after the American Civil War in 1865.
Recounting The Past
The trade in slavery was not alien to the people of Africa prior to the Trans-Atlantic trade; Africans had dealt in slaves mainly through payments of tributes from a vassal state to a ruling state. These slaves were used as household staff and gradually became part of the community and family. The introduction of arms during the Trans-Atlantic trade saw the rapid rise in the capturing of slaves and opulence of slave traders both Europeans and Africans. The Asante Kingdom was notorious for its involvement in the trade by capturing about 60000 – 80000 slaves yearly from vassal states and
transporting them to the coast in exchange for guns and other European goods. For over 300 years, Africans were involved in the transportation of the able and youth to foreign lands at their expense. The prosperity of the few was paramount to the general well-being of the people. African slaves
were used as labor to develop the economies and societies of Western lands whereas Africa descended into chaos, anarchy and colonialism.
The Year of Return
On the occasion of him becoming a Ghanaian citizen on February 17th 1963, W.E.B. Du Bois said:
“My great grandfather was carried away from the Gulf of Guinea. I have returned that my dust shall mingle with dust of my forefathers. There is not much time left for me. But now my life will flow on in the vigorous young stream of Ghanaian life, which lifts the African personality to its proper place among men. And I shall not have lived in vain.”
The ‘Year of Return’ must remind us we are the architects of our own destiny. It is noteworthy that the African story did not start with slavery; among its much strength are its cultural and social sophistication. We should remind ourselves of our common struggle and fate. Policy makers must reflect on the theme, ‘The Year of Return’ and realize that it is not meant only to receive our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora and boost the tourism sector but also to educate the children of our history, create opportunities for the youth to curtail brain drain in order for them to add their quota to the development of the Republic and create an environment of peace and tranquility for the old.