“I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me” – Kwame Nkrumah
I spent quite a bit of my childhood in Ghana – many Christmases, birthdays, family holidays and the like. Ghana was a peaceful place, an escape, a home away from home. But Ghana back then was very different from the Ghana we know today. I remember one year, when my family drove from Lagos all the way to Accra. It was a 21-hour journey (we ran into some trouble along the way), but it seemed like we had just gone to a neighbouring village. Once upon a time, Accra was, to us, more or less an extension of Lagos. Both cities were so similar that during family trips to Ghana we would often forget that there were two whole countries between us and home. The roads were somewhat homogenous, the buildings identical, and radio stations played all the exact same songs.
However, as the years have gone by, Ghana has fully come into her own, with decades of growth and development culminating in what shall forever be remembered as the Year of Return. Throughout 2019, people from across the African diaspora have been encouraged to visit their countries of origin, experience the cities, the culture, the food, the tourism opportunities, reconnect with their heritage, and most of all, just have a good time. Ghana’s own ‘Detty December’ took off with a rocky start, as Cardi B’s short and controversial stay in Accra caused a stir across social media. But asides from Cardi-gate, Ghana’s season of return has gone off more or less without a hitch. With successful festivals and concerts like Afronation, Detty Rave and Afrochella bringing home megastars like 6lack, Rick Ross, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Teni, Davido and Mr Eazi, there was plenty to look forward to for music-lovers this season. In fact, rumours that Beyoncé (who released a Lion King-inspired project featuring Shatta Wale and a host of other African music stars back in July) would be making an appearance in Ghana were so widespread that her publicist was forced to release a statement of denial. However, Queen Bey’s mom, Tina Knowles-Lawson, was seen around town, hanging out at the Polo Beach Club, and shopping for clothes and souvenirs at the new Africa-focused concept store known as The Lotte.
There was more going on in Ghana than any one person could keep up with. For me, organising this trip took a village, several iPhone apps, and about a thousand phone calls. I started my trip on December 28th having dinner with friends at La Palm beach before rushing off to Afronation: Day 2. After seeing some of my favourites like Efya and Olamide shut it down, we decided to check out a club called Twist. It was around 4 a.m. by the time we arrived, and although our friends on the inside assured us it was a vibe, the area outside the venue was in disarray. There was a lot of honking, pushing, shoving, yelling and hollering as crowds of people desperate to enter the now-packed club fell over themselves in an attempt to gain access. Even some international celebrities (who I shall not name) were seen waiting for an opening amidst the madness. This experience, which followed closely behind the hours of relentless traffic we had experienced leading away from the airport, confirmed what we knew all along – that Ghana was about to be a madness in the final days of the decade.
Thanks to social media, by the end of December, everybody was either in Ghana, or wishing that they were. Fashion icon Naomi Campbell was seen turning up with DJ Cuppy at her ‘Cactus on the Roof’ party, and ringing in the new year in style at Kōzo’s end-of-year bash. British Vogue editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, has been a regular face in the Ghana space, so it was no surprise to see him out with his fashion industry friends like Imaan Hammam and Leomie Anderson. Meanwhile, Lupita Nyong’o was spotted living her best life at Moses Sumney’s sunset show at the Nubuke foundation. Jidenna, Jackie Aina, Ebonee Davis, the list goes on and on.
‘The Year of Return’: so simple, yet so ingenius, and perhaps one of the most timely and efficacious PR moments Ghana has had since Kwame Nkrumah was pictured dancing with the Queen in 1961. But the Year of Return was not just about hosting big-name celebrities and making noise on social media. This moment stands at the peak of a major socio-cultural shift – a new Scramble for Africa, that has infiltrated western media in recent years. Whilst Afrofuturism has become a popular movement in arts and culture in the last few decades, art and media have opened doors for people all over the world to re-examine how they perceive African history, culture, politics and even religious practices and spirituality, a rebirth reminiscent of the Black Arts movement in 1960s America. And these movements go far beyond colourful dashikis and catchy slogans. They are about people of colour coming out en masse to celebrate themselves and recognise their own brilliance. This kind of self-love and appreciation is, in a way, an act of rebellion, in a world where blackness has been so widely despised. To see all sorts of African people coming together, celebrating one another, sharing, giving, loving – it is the Pan-Africanist’s dream.
And who could think of a better location for this all to come together than in Ghana, where President Nkrumah – a philosophical warrior and Ghana’s first president – spoke tirelessly about the dangers of imperialism and neocolonialism, constantly encouraging African people to recognise their own strengths and see the potential in themselves, away from the limitations of the western gaze?
Yet, as Nigerians, who have seen decades of technological, social and economics potential too often stifled by bad leadership and infrastructural setbacks, one can hardly help but feel a twinkle of sadness or longing. Fifteen years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that Ghana would pull off a project like the Year of Return before Nigeria, who has for decades been pegged to be the major player in Africa’s business and creative industries. Recently, a friend of mine remarked that it is strange that more slaves were taken from Nigeria than from Ghana, and yet it is Ghana hosting a Year of Return, which means that the descendants of all those Nigerian slaves are now trying to ‘return’ to the wrong country. Of course, this was said partly in jest, but there is certainly something noteworthy, perhaps even sad, that Africa’s most populous country failed to position herself at the forefront of the ‘Return’ narrative in the past few years.
In fact, in 2018, Ghana overtook Nigeria to become Africa’s largest recipient of Foreign Direct Investment. In a recent article titled ‘Nigeria’s loss is Ghana’s Gain’, David Hundeyin (writing for The Africa Report) opined that “by positioning itself as open for business and diaspora, Ghana is seizing the opportunities that Nigeria is missing.” It’s a somewhat bleak picture for Nigeria, and certainly raises important questions about the popular narrative of collective African prosperity and how it manifests in reality. Is there really room for us all to succeed, or is Ghanaian prosperity indicative of hard times for Nigeria, as Hundeyin suggests? Should Ghana’s sweet, sweet success leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of other African nations? Will other Africans take this as a call to action, an invitation to level up? These are all questions I expect to see answered in the next few years. It is a crucial time for Africa right now, and it is my personal dream that Nigeria will reach the point where we are stable and secure enough to host a Return project of our own. Social media has shown us that the demand is there. But, if our brothers and sisters across the ocean are telling us that they want to come home, then it is time for us to have a serious conversation about what they will find when they get here.
Eniafe Momodu is a photographer, creative director, content creator, writer and presenter who has been featured across numerous platforms such as BellaNaija Style, Hip TV, NTA, Glam Africa Magazine, TMZ, Schick Magazine, ThisDay Style and numerous others. In addition to speaking at high profile events ranging from Africa Fashion Week to the Warwick Africa Summit, he recently curated an Instagram takeover for CNN Africa where he documented key places and moments during Ghana’s ‘Year Of Return’ festivities.