Sierra Leone on Tuesday granted citizenship to 22 African Americans who traced their roots to the West African country through DNA analysis.
Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio urged diaspora Africans to take advantage of opportunities in their “ancestral home” as he granted passports to new citizens at a ceremony held at State House in Freetown, according to a statement from the presidency.
President Bio said that Sierra Leone had come a long way from slavery and colonialism, through repressive dictatorships, epidemics and disasters, and that his government's goal was to restore its dignity and open it up to the rest of the world.
Officials said majority of the new citizens traced their roots to the southern Bo and northern Tonkolili districts.
“This is the land of our mutual ancestors who were to later work rice fields and plantations that sustained the economies of the 13 British Colonies in the Americas,” Bio said.
“This is the land of Sengbeh Pieh of the Amistad revolt. This is the land of the rice coast, of the Gullahs, of folktales about the trickster, of handicraft, of foodways, of seeking rituals, and the call and response of African-American song and dance.”
In 2008, Hollywood actor Isaiah Washington became the first African American to be granted citizenship by an African country after tracing his roots to Sierra Leone via DNA analysis. His journey “back home”, where he was crowned a chief, is the subject of a 2010 Hollywood movie.
Since then several African Americans have developed interest in tracing their roots to the continent, including Whoopi Goldberg, a star in the anti-apartheid blockbuster, Sarafina, who also traced her roots to Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has a rich history tied to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Notable is the story of the Amistad Revolt which was led by a Sierra Leonean anti-slavery campaigner Sengbeh Pieh.
Pieh, known in the western world as Joseph Cinqué, is of Mende origin, one of the two largest ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. He led the infamous revolt of many Africans on the Spanish slave ship La Amistad.
The Sierra Leone government hopes to use this history to sell the country to the outside world.