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Reaping the Rewards of Accra’s Tourism and Identity Drive

The Ghanaian principle of sankofa says that ‘to know where you’re going, you have to understand where you have come from’ – and it guides Birthright AFRICA, an ambitious US programme that encourages black teenagers and young adults to get in touch with their cultural heritage and history through education and travel. Since 2017 Birthright AFRICA has helped send dozens of people to US museums, cultural sites and universities that highlight the traditions, experiences and innovations of the African diaspora. But the highlight of the once-yearly programme is an all-expenses paid trip to Ghana – where the students learn about African kingdoms, the impact and example of pan-Africanist figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, and the human impact of the transatlantic slave trade at Cape Coast Castle, with its ‘door of no return’ being the emotional focal point of the visit. Many students report that the programme helps them form a deep and emotional understanding of their history and culture, one often glossed-over in US school and university classrooms. Thousands of other people of African descent are also making deeply personal trips to countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo. Ghana welcomed hundreds of thousands of people during its 2019 ‘Year of Return’ – 400 years after the first enslaved Africans arrived in the New World – and last year it forecast 45,000 people to visit the country solely to uncover their ancestral roots.