Reclaiming An Identity: What Ghana Means To Me

I think that this trip was a powerful experience. Being able to see firsthand where much of my culture originated from showed me how truly global the African diaspora is. I had gone to somewhere that many people I know had desired to visit, and was able to at a time in my life that I could appreciate it. This is not the only part of the world I want to see, but this was one of the most important places I had hoped to travel to in my lifetime. I had many questions, and came back with answers that I had been searching for quite a while for.

Before we left in late May, I had decided to be open minded about what I would see and experience in the country, and would try to not arrive there with any preconceived notions. I had heard too many people saying that the trip had not lived up to their expectations, so I tried to temper mine so I would not feel like I was searching for something that I could not find. I also decided that some of the ideas about the continent that stem from some diaspora ideology might work against my absorbing the reality of Ghana’s current state. So while I did make many cultural connections I also tried to be observant of the differences. The romantic idea of what Africa means to many is often not in step with the direction many countries on the continent have taken, and as someone pointed out can sometimes be negligent of how people in places like Ghana have chosen to view themselves and the world.

For me, I also learned a lot about myself while away. Having lived in the United States my whole life, I do understand that I see the world through that experience, and am unmistakably America no matter where I go. That said, I am more specifically African-American. I have come to see the relation to this with Ghana when I was in the Cape Coast castle, and stood at the doors of no return where the only option for slaves was to get on the boats headed for the Americas. As realized by many others, including Barack Obama, that was where my cultural experience began. A culture that has impacted the world through its music, literature, dance, athleticism, inventions, and a struggle that has changed the discourse on civil rights in the 20th century. This is part of my identity, and I know how this group is very much linked to western Africa. And it was disappointing that Ghanaians did not seem to understand this connection in the same way that many African-Americans do, even seemingly rejecting it. So, I had to realize that I was of that experience more than anything else, and in a sense I will probably only be able to identify with those who also see themselves as part of or understanding the displacement that can come with it.

The first president of the country, Kwame Nkruamh, envisioned a unified African continent that connected with those who came from the Diaspora, and dedicated much of his life’s work to that. I admire that the people of Ghana celebrate his legacy and feel that his mission represents part of what Ghana is about, but it also seems like the work isn’t being put in to fulfill this dream and it remains just that. While in recent years Ghana has established relations with countries that have connections to the diaspora such as Trinidad, it has largely ignored how tourism and investments from those who descended from that region have also vitalized the country. Very little has been done to acknowledge this, and even with an act passed in 1994 that proposed to provide dual citizenship to blacks from the Americas, only one person has successfully been able to do this. This has been frustrating for those who would like to see the country prosper, but are limited by what they can do to help. The relationship needs to be developed by the country for it’s own future, not neglected.

The country has great potential to thrive in the 21st century, but faces many difficult challenges. The main danger Ghana faces now is making bad deals with international corporations that seek to harvest the resources in the country, and then becoming exploited as it barely profits from this. While Ghana is not as corrupt as many other African nations, there are many who would enable this to happen for the short term benefits it would bring to them. Even the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ironically warned about the possibility of Neo-Colonization taking place all over Africa from rising superpowers like China. Many of the students I have heard from are frustrated about this, but feel powerless to get involved because they aren’t aware of the political figures who help to make these decisions. Add to this the international Ghanaian community that tends to stray away from contributing to the country’s growth, and there is a big dilemma at hand that very few know how to address.

That said, there were many great parts of our trip that I will remember as long as I live, some of which resonated with me very deeply. Many were in the festive moments such as getting Adowa dance lessons from a legendary figure in highlife music, Koo Nimo, or being welcomed to Besease by many of the villagers. Some were more solemn like reflecting on the slave trade at the beaches of Cape Coast or passing by places where figures like Malcolm X spoke at when he was there. The discussions between colleagues invited more passionate thoughts from everybody than they normally would, and thinking to myself in my spare time seemed to be more meditative than usual. And even the simple things in life  such as going for a walk during the sunset or having a water fight in the rain between friends seemed different because of where it happened. It’s these moments that we learn to treasure, and cause us to grow as we move along towards our destinations.

This concludes the blog series on a once in a lifetime trip to Ghana. I would like to thank everyone who encouraged me to go while I had the chance to and have such an amazing experience. I now know what was meant when I was told that that this was something that I needed to do. It’s unfortunate that not too many people have the opportunity to or take advantage of something like this, but I am forever thankful that I did. I do intend to go back in the future, hopefully as a reporter working to tell the story of the country’s transformation. When this happens I will be sure to talk about that which didn’t make it to the newscast or pages on here. Thank you once again, time for the next story/adventure to begin!

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