Last week, delegates from Ghana met in Kansas City with African-American leaders to formally apologise for the country's role in the transatlantic slave trade.
"It's time to say what needs to be said to all African Diaspora, and we must have the conversation and resolve our actions and inactions as rulers of our kingdoms during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which is deeply regretted," Nana Obokese Ampah I, the founder and president of the Obokese University of Excellence in Ghana, was quoted saying, according to Black Enterprise magazine.
For nearly 150 years, Ghana was one of the key centres of the European slave trade on the West African coast. Anything between 10 million and 25 million Africans was sold, traded, and transported in the transatlantic slave trade.
European slave merchants came in ships loaded with manufactured goods to barter or trade for enslaved people. The enslaved Africans had either been captured in war, kidnapped to be sold to European slave traders or seized in raids by the traders themselves.
The role of African chiefs and warlords in the slave trade remains a very uncomfortable subject for Africans. Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is almost alone in daring to speak, with quite a lot of contempt, about the role of Africans — and the chiefs who failed to beat off colonisers.
Like all these things, the Ghanaian apology seems partly driven by economic self-interest.
The apology ceremony is a part of an event that "looks to bridge a long-lasting exchange of trade, tourism, and culture between Kansas City, a Unesco City of Music, and Unesco Ghana".
In recent years, Ghana has had several "return" projects, an aggressive campaign to get African-Americans and the African diaspora to come to Ghana, tour, do business, or settle there. It has been a profitable business. They have come in record numbers.
On the last visit to Accra in December 2021, at our fully-booked hotel, possibly over 80 per cent were African-American tourists.
Many prominent African-Americans have gone to Ghana, and a few have settled there to "escape racism" in America. Fleeing to Africa to escape racism, however, almost requires one to have a limited view of the African condition.
Daily, more Africans put out to sea in dangerous boats and drown, escaping misery in the sometimes illusory search for green pastures in Europe, than there are African-Americans and the Black Diaspora coming to the continent.
If the black folks escaping racism ended up in parts of North Africa, they would face the same discriminatory treatment — or worse. In the countries they come to, they are likely to be privileged as Americans, with some money in their wallets.
The majority of the people in some of these countries will still live in poverty, enduring high levels of political repression and war destruction, but mostly discrimination because of which ethnic group or region they hail from.
To be black or African is complex and goes way beyond skin colour or ancestry. Like it has for centuries, it still means fighting against oppression, discrimination, and deprivation daily.
It's not a social and political challenge one checks out of by getting on a plane or boat and checking into a waiting black nirvana hours later.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]