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Slavery's Diaspora Pays a Visit

Ghana wants the descendants of American slaves to visit, invest, and even settle in the land of their ancestors.

By Lydia Polgreen


Millions of Africans passed through the ports of Ghana on their way to plantations in the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean. Now, Ghana wants its descendants to come back, and is trying to persuade them to think of Africa as their homeland—to visit, invest in, send their children to be educated, and even stay for good. "We want Africans everywhere . . . to see Ghana as their gateway home," says the country's tourism minister. "We hope we can help bring the African family back together again.''

Since gaining its independence from British rule in 1957, Ghana has become an increasingly popular travel destination for African-American tourists drawn to its rich culture and the history of slavery.

To encourage still more to come, Ghana plans to offer a special lifetime visa for members of the African diaspora and will make it easier for them to get Ghanaian passports.

The government is also starting an ad campaign to persuade Ghanaians to treat African-Americans more like long-lost relatives than as rich tourists: Many black American visitors find that Africans treat them, and even refer to them, the same way as white tourists. The term obruni, or "white foreigner,'' is applied regardless of skin color.

"It is a shock for any black person to be called white,'' says Valerie Papaya Mann, president of the African American Association of Ghana. "But it is really tough to hear it when you come with your heart to seek your roots in Africa."

'Door Of No Return'

Many Africans often fail to see any connection at all between themselves and African-Americans. And some don't understand why tourists are visiting in the first place, when, to them, the U.S. is a far better place to be.

Nevertheless, thousands of Americans already live here at least part of the year, says Mann, and the hope is to lure even more, if only for a visit.

To that end, Ghana has preserved dozens of slave forts. At Elmina Castle near Cape Coast, visitors are guided through a suffocating, dimly lit dungeon to the "door of no return," through which slaves passed into ships destined for the Americas.

"You feel our history here,'' says one tourist, tears welling in her eyes. "This is where our people are from. That is a deep, deep experience."