Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here

Open Access Building Up Belonging: Diasporic “Homecomers”, the Ghanaian Government and Traditional Rulers: A Case of Return*

No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
MyBook is a cheap paperback edition of the original book and will be sold at uniform, low price.

Building Up Belonging: Diasporic “Homecomers”, the Ghanaian Government and Traditional Rulers: A Case of Return*

Full text article:

  • HTML
  • XML
  • PDF
Add to Favorites

image of African Diaspora

[Abstract This essay analyzes the political dynamics involved in the construction of belonging in the case of African Americans’ “return” from the diaspora generated by the Atlantic slave trade to a town in Southern Ghana. Given the articulated belief of common ancestral origins, such arrival was initially welcomed by all the three groups of actors involved: the returnees , the local authorities, divided by a chieftaincy dispute, and the Ghanaian government that was supporting homecoming policies. The concepts of origins and kinship and the way to validate them, though, were differently conceived by the various political actors; furthermore each of them held dissimilar reasons and had different expectations behind this return. All these differences created a mutual, mutable and dynamic relation between the actors who were involved in the arrival and aimed to assert their authority., Abstract This essay analyzes the political dynamics involved in the construction of belonging in the case of African Americans’ “return” from the diaspora generated by the Atlantic slave trade to a town in Southern Ghana. Given the articulated belief of common ancestral origins, such arrival was initially welcomed by all the three groups of actors involved: the returnees , the local authorities, divided by a chieftaincy dispute, and the Ghanaian government that was supporting homecoming policies. The concepts of origins and kinship and the way to validate them, though, were differently conceived by the various political actors; furthermore each of them held dissimilar reasons and had different expectations behind this return. All these differences created a mutual, mutable and dynamic relation between the actors who were involved in the arrival and aimed to assert their authority.]

1. Amanor K.S., Ubink J.M. Contesting land and custom in Ghana. State, chief, and the citizen 2008 Leiden Leiden University Press
2. Adjaye Annor III Valsecchi P., Viti F."Local Government vis-à-vis Chieftaincy in Ghana: Interplay of Authority, Power and Responsibilities" Mondes Akan. Identité et pouvoir en Afrique occidentale. Akan Worlds. Identity and power in West Africa, 1999 Paris L’Harmattan 81 94
3. Arhin K. Valsecchi P., Viti F."The Nature of Akan Government" Mondes Akan. Identité et pouvoir en Afrique occidentale. Akan Worlds. Akan worlds, identity and power in West Africa, 1999 Paris L’Harmattan 69 80 (Nana Arhin Brempong)
4. Arhin K. Odotei I.K., Awedoba A.K."Chieftaincy, an Overview" Chieftaincy in Ghana: Culture, Governance and Development 2006 Accra Sub-Saharan Publishers 27 41
5. Balkenhol M."Genealogies of slavery. Articulating political subjectivities in the Netherlands" African Diaspora 2011Vol Vol. 4 No. 2 135 162
6. Basu P. Harper M."Roots-Tourism as Return Movement: Semantics and the Scottish Diaspora" Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000 2005 Manchester Manchester University Press 131 154
7. Basu P. Highland Homecomings. Genealogy and heritage tourism in the Scottish diaspora. 2007 London-New York Routledge
8. Bayart J.F. L’état en Afrique: la politique du ventre. 1990 Paris Fayard
9. Bellagamba A., Klute G. Bellagamba A., Klute G."Tracing Emergent Powers in Contemporary Africa-Introduction" Beside the State. Emergent Powers in Contemporary Africa 2008 Cologne Rüdiger Köppe Verlag 7 21
10. Bellagamba A."Back to the Lands of Roots. African American Tourism and the Cultural Heritage of the River Gambia" Cahiers d’études africaines 2009aVol Vol. 1-2 No. 193-194 453 476
11. Bellagamba A. Inclusi/Esclusi. Prospettive africane sulla cittadinanza 2009b Torino Utet
12. Benson S."Connecting with the past, building the future: African Americans and chieftaincy in Southern Ghana" Ghana Studies 2003Vol Vol. 6 109 133
13. Benton A., Shabazz K.Z."“Find their level”. African American Roots Tourism in Sierra Leone and Ghana" Cahiers d’études africaines 2009Vol Vol. 1-2 No. 193-194 477 512
14. Berry S. Chiefs Know Their Boundaries Essay on Property, Power, and the Past in Asante, 1896-1996 2001 Oxford James Currey
15. Boni S. Le strutture della disuguaglianza. Capi, appartenenze e gerarchie nel mondo Akan dell’Africa occidentale. 2003 Milano Franco Angeli
16. Boni S. Amanor K.S., Ubink J.M."Traditional ambiguities and authoritarian interpretations in Sefwi land disputes" Contesting land and custom in Ghana. State, chief, and the citizen 2008 Leiden Leiden University Press 81 111
17. Bruner E."Tourism in Ghana: The Representation of Slavery and the return of Black Diaspora" American Anthropologist 1996Vol Vol. 98 No. 2 290 304
18. Bruner E. Culture on Tour Ethnographies of Travel. 2005 Chicago University of Chicago Press
19. Busia K.A. The Position of Chiefs in the Modern political System of Ashanti. 1968 London Frank Cass
20. Calchi Novati G.P. Triulzi A."Nazionalismo africano" Storia dell’Africa 1979 Firenze La Nuova Italia 143 158
21. Chabal P., Daloz J.P. Triulzi A., Ercolessi M.C."Retour sur une lecture hétérodoxe du politique en Afrique noire" State, Power, and New Political Actors in Postcolonial Africa, 2004 Milano Fondazione Feltrinelli 113 129
22. Crowther F.G. Ahanta Memorandum, 1912 Accra ADM 11/1/1700, PRAAD
23. Delpino G."Patrimonio monumentale e comunità costiere. Un’indagine antropologica e storica sui forti europei dell’Ahanta West, Ghana" AFRICA 2006Vol Vol. LXI No. 3-4 592 609 (IsIAO)
24. Delpino G."Il turismo delle origini. Esperienze di incontro con la diaspora nera in Ghana" Africa e Mediterraneo 2009Vol Vol. 65-66 57 60
25. Ebron P."Tourists as Pilgrims: Commercial Fashioning of Transatlantic Politics" American Ethnologist, 1999Vol Vol. 26 No. 4 910 932
26. Ferguson J. Global Shadows. Africa in the Neo-Liberal World Order 2006 Durham Duke University Press
27. Finley C. MacLaren B., Lasansky D.M."Authenticating Dungeons, Whitewashing Castles: the Former Sites of the Slave Trade on the Ghanaian Coast" The Tourism of Architecture /The Architecture of Tourism, 2004 Oxford-New York Berg 109 128
28. Fortes M. Redcliffe Brown A.R., Forde C.D."Kinship and Marriage Among the Ashanti" African Systems of Kinship and Marriage, 1950 London-New York-Toronto Oxford University Press 252 284
29. Gaines K.K. American Africans in Ghana. 2006 Chapel Hill The University of North Carolina Press
30. Ghana Tourist Board Tourist Statistical Fact Sheet on Ghana 2008
31. Ginzburg Migliorino E. La marcia immobile. Storia dei neri americani dal 1770 al 1970. 1994 Milano Selene
32. Harper M. Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants 1600-2000 2005 Manchester Manchester University Press
33. Hasty J."Rites of Passage, Routes of Redemption: Emancipation Tourism and the Wealth of Culture" Africa Today 2002Vol Vol. 49 No. 3 46 76
34. Hasty J."“Forget the past or go back to the slave trade!”: Trans-Africanism and Popular History in Postcolonial Ghana" Ghana Studies 2003Vol Vol. 6 135 161
35. Holsey B. Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana. 2008 Chicago University of Chicago Press
36. Klein M."Studying the History of Those Who Would Rather Forget: Oral History and the Experience of Slavery" History in Africa 1989Vol Vol. 16 209 217
37. Lentz C., Nugent P. Lentz C., Nugent P."Ethnicity in Ghana: a comparative perspective" Ethnicity in Ghana. The limits of invention 2000 Basingstoke Macmillan 1 28
38. MacGonagle E."From Dungeons to Dance Parties: Contested Histories of Ghana’s Slave Forts" Journal of Contemporary African Studies 2006Vol Vol. 24 No. 2 249 260
39. Mamdani M. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. 1996 Princeton Princeton University Press
40. Markowitz F., Anders H.S. Homecomings: Unsettling paths of return 2004 Lanham Rowman & Littlefield
41. McCaskie T.C. Rossi B."African American Psychologists, The Atlantic Slave Trade and Ghana: A History of the Present" Reconfiguring Slavery. West African Trajectories 2009 Liverpool Liverpool University Press 45 62
42. Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relation Akwaaba Anyemi. Golden Jubilee Year 2007 2007 brochure
43. Nelson A."Bio Science: Genetic genealogy testing and the pursuit of African ancestry" Social Studies of Science 2008Vol Vol. 38 No. 5 759 783
44. Odotei I.K., Awedoba A.K. Chieftaincy in Ghana: Culture, Governance and Development. 2006 Accra Sub-Saharan Publishers
45. Osei Tutu B."The African American Factor in the commodification of Ghana’s slave castles" Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 2002Vol Vol. 6 115 133 New Series
46. Osei Tutu B. Anquandah J.K."Trasformations and Disjunctures in the Homeland: African American Experiences in Ghana." The transatlantic slave trade: landmarks, legacies, expectations 2007 Accra Sub-Saharan Publishers 326 342
47. Perrot C.H., Fauvelle-Aymar F.X. Le retour des rois. Les autorités traditionnelles et l’Ètat en Afrique contemporaine 2003 Paris Karthala
48. Rathbone R. Nkrumah & the Chiefs The Politics of Chieftaincy in Ghana 1951-60 2000 Oxford James Currey
49. Rattray R.S. Ashanti law and Constitution 1929 Oxford OUP
50. Reed A."Sankɔfa Site: Cape Coast Castle and Its Museum as a Markers of Memory" Museum Anthropology 2004Vol Vol. 27 No. 1-2 13 23
51. Republic of Ghana Constitution of the Republic of Ghana 1992. 1992 Accra Ghana Publishing Company Limited
52. Schramm K."Panafricanism as a Resource: The W.E.B. DuBois Center for Pan African Culture, Ghana" African Identities 2004Vol Vol. 2 No. 2 151 171
53. Schramm K."The Transatlantic Slave Trade: Contemporary Topographies of Memory in Ghana and the USA" Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 2005Vol Vol. 9 No. 1 125 40
54. Schramm K. Rowlands M., de Jong F."Slave Route Projects: Tracing the Heritage of Slavery in Ghana" Reclaiming heritage: Alternative imaginations in West Africa 2008 Walnut Creek Left Coast Press 71 98
55. Schramm K. African Homecoming: Pan-African Ideology and Contested Heritage. 2010 Walnut Creek Left Coast Press
56. Schramm K. Schramm K., Skinner D., Rottenburg R."Genomics en route: Ancestry, heritage and the politics of identity across the Black Atlantic" Identity Politics after DNA: Re/Creating Categories of Difference and Belonging, forthcoming Oxford Berghahn
57. Tonah S."Chieftaincy succession disputes and the challenge to traditional authority in Mamprugu- Northern Ghana" Research Review 2005Vol Vol. 1 45 57 NS. 21
58. Ubink J. In the Land of Chiefs Customary laws, land conflicts, and the role of the state in peri-urban Ghana. 2008 Leiden Leiden University Press
59. Valsecchi P."Calendar and the Annual Festival in Nzema. Notes on Time and History" AFRICA 1999Vol Vol. LIV No. 4 489 513 (IsIAO)
60. Valsecchi P."The “True Nzema”: a layered identity" AFRICA 2001Vol Vol. 7 No. 3 391 425
61. Valsecchi P. I signori di Appolonia. Poteri e formazione dello Stato in Africa Occidentale fra XVI e XVII secolo. 2002 Roma Carocci
62. Valsecchi P. Cultura, politica, memoria nell’Africa contemporanea. 2006 Roma Carocci
63. Valsecchi P. Bellagamba A., Klute G."“He Who Sets the Boundary” – Chieftaincy as a “Necessary Institution in Modern Ghana" Beside the State. Emergent Power in Contemporary Africa, 2008 Cologne Rüdiger Köppe Verlag 139 161
64. Van Dantzig A. Forts and castles of Ghana. 1980 Accra Sedco Publishing Limited
65. Wade-Brown A."Il capodanno tra gli Nzema del Ghana: festa della comunità o del potere?" L’Uomo 1982Vol Vol. VI No. 2 151 76
66. Wade-Brown A."Festa e sistema politico: il caso del “Kundum” tra gli Nzema del Ghana" La critica Sociologica 1989Vol Vol. 90-91 121 38
67. Welman C.W. The Native States of The Gold Coast, II, Ahanta. 1930 London The Crown Agents For The Colonies
68. World Travel & Tourism Council The 2010 travel & tourism economic research 2010 ()
69. Yuval-Davis N."Belonging and the politics of belonging" Patterns of Prejudice 2006Vol Vol. 40 No. 3 197 214
70. FN0* This paper was discussed in its initial form in the panel State, Diasporas and Citizenship: New Forms of Political Subjectivity in Africa of the ECAS conference Respacing Africa held in Leipzig, 4-7 June 2009. It draws upon my work-in-progress PhD dissertation which focuses on the Ghanaian perceptions of African American returns to Ghana. Between 2005 and 2009 I spent fourteen months of fieldwork in Ghana working in the Western Region and in Accra where I alternated the ethnography with research in the National Archives (PRAAD). I would like to thank K. Krause and K. Schramm, the ECAS panel’s organizers and editors of this AFDI special issue.
71. FN11)The term paramountcy corresponds to the Twi – the Akan language more spoken in Ghana - ɔman (plur. aman). Ruler of an ɔman is the ɔmanhene (paramount chief). Every ɔmanhene ranks above other chiefs (ahene, sing. ohene) and village heads (adikro, sing. ɔdikro) (inter alia Rattray 1929; Fortes 1950; Busia 1968; Arhin 1999). For the institutional role currently attributed by the Ghanaian government to the chieftaincy, see Chapter XXII of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana 1992. For an overview on Ghanaian chieftaincy, see also Odotei & Awedoba 2006.
72. FN22) The stool (sing. ebia, plur. mbia) is a wooden seat. It embodies the authority of the family that holds the power.
73. FN33) In this essay I will not refer to the names of any of the concerned persons and I will not quote directly any of my interlocutors because of these events. The situation is very tense and I do not want the details I present in this paper to be used in non-academic contexts or exploited for political or conflictive purposes. During my fieldwork I spoke with both the aspirant chiefs and their supporters as well as with neutral people and I always declared my complete neutrality toward the chieftaincy litigation. I never met members of the African American group in person but I discussed and conducted an interview with the group’s president via the internet. I also followed their activities through their homepage and blogs (all internet addresses used were checked on 19 May 2011). Furthermore I met the then ambassador of the United States in Ghana in order to debate the case with her.
74. FN44) With this term I refer to those movements (permanent and temporary) of people who during their journeys or their moves feel that they are going back to, or are back, in their original home (inter alia Ebron 1999; Basu 2005, 2007; Bellagamba 2009a; Markowitz & Anders 2004; Harper 2005; Schramm 2010).
75. FN55) In this paper I do not in any way attempt to homogenize African Americans or the return phenomenon of Atlantic slave trade descendants. The homecoming movements involved only a small section of the heterogeneous population of African origins in the Americas. Indeed the idea and the possibility of going back to Africa gave rise to a rich dialogue among African American intellectuals of the 19th and 20th centuries. The positions were quite variegated between those who believed in a country for African people and those who stressed their right and their will to be in the Americas, a multiplicity of views that is still current (inter alia Calchi Novati 1979; Ginzburg Migliorino1994).
76. FN66) There are different opinions as to whether it is possible to speak about Panafricanism (Benton & Shabazz 2009) and about the differences with the Panafricanism of the 1960s (Benson 2003).
77. FN77) See McCaskie 2009 and Hasty 2003 for an analysis of the different political reasons of the two parties behind these new pan-Africanist policies.
78. FN88) After the December 2008 election and the creation of an NDC government, the ministry was renamed the Ministry of Tourism. The NPP decision to change the name of the Ministry of Tourism and to include “diasporan relations” among its duties was criticized by many: it was seen as the demonstration of dishonest pan-Africanist aims in the NPP’s policies. The NPP was accused of being interested only in the economic aspects of the African American diaspora. Indeed during the last twenty years, tourism has been a growing sector in Ghana: in 2010 its contribution to the Ghanaian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to be 6.7% (World Travel & Tourism Council 2010). Although it is not possible to estimate the number of African American tourists in Ghana (the Ghanaian statistical records on the country’s visitors are based on the nationality of the travellers, not on their origins) 15.4% of the visitors entering the country in 2006 were Americans (Ghana Tourist Board 2008). This percentage also includes African Americans whom are perceived by the Ghanaians as the main audience of roots tourism because of their being historically and emotionally particularly involved in the Atlantic slave trade.
79. FN99) The Joseph Project was launched with the awareness of the National House of Chiefs. It approved the project but some discussions arose about its name. The National House of Chiefs stressed that the Biblical name of the programme could exclude people belonging to religions not connected with the Ancient Testament. Therefore the actual name of the programme is “Joseph Project-Akwaaba Anyemi” (“Joseph Project-Welcome Sibling”).
80. FN1010) At the moment the status of “person of African descent in the Diaspora” allows people of African origins just to apply for a residence permit in the country and the mentioned economic and bureaucratic facilities are more proposals than reality. Through the Joseph Project the Ghanaian government promised to develop a particular policy towards African American returnees by granting them, for instance, special legal assistance in the acquisition of lands. However, there is already the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), an institution established exactly with the aim of helping and directing private investments in the country without any particular attention to the origin of the investors.
81. FN1111) One of the main points of critique concerning this project, as well as NPP policies towards the Atlantic slave trade descendants in general (see footnote 8), is the fact that not everybody who claims African roots is invited, but only those who have enough financial resources to benefit the country economically.
82. FN1212) In Ghana chieftaincy disputes are neither a rarity nor a novelty (Berry 2001; Boni 2003; Amanor & Ubink 2008). Among other things, chieftaincy litigation shows how being chief is an ambition for many contemporary Ghanaians (Tonah 2005).
83. FN1313) It is an area with a complex history strongly connected with the European presence on the coast (Portuguese, Swedish, Dutch, British and Prussian). In different times and with different implications such a presence affected the political realities of the region by contributing to the success or to the weakening of the local states (Valsecchi 2001, 2002).
84. FN1414) This is the appellative used in Ghana to refer to chiefs and elders.
85. FN1515) The American city’s name refers to Frederick of Wales (1707-1751) of the house of Hannover, while the Ghanaian fort to Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg (1620-1688) of the house of Hohenzollern.
86. FN1616) It is after this arrival in Prince’s Town and the African American project of establishing a genetic centre that the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations developed the idea of including genetic research within the Joseph Project’s initiatives.
87. FN1717) Indeed the court that was judging the case had recently recognized him as the rightful chief of the town. This recognition was independent of the African American arrival. Since the Chieftaincy Act of 1961 (Act 81) and the Act 370 of the 1971, the institutions in place to regulate and to judge chieftaincy issues in Ghana are the Traditional Councils, the Regional Houses of Chiefs and the National House of Chiefs (Annor Adjaye III 1999).
88. FN1818) Personal communication, Accra, 24 06/2008.
89. FN1919) Online interview, 3/07/2008.
90. FN2020) On the website of the sister-cities association the African Americans initially referred to their aspirant chief as “the chief of Prince’s Town”, while he is now introduced as “the gazetted chief”.
91. FN2121) The Central Region is characterized by the presence of different sites particularly or more notoriously involved in the Atlantic slave trade as the former slave-market city of Assin Manso and the two castles of Elmina and Cape Coast. Declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1979 as have been all the forts and castles of Ghana, these two buildings attracted the attention of international organizations such as UNESCO and the UNWTO which made these places focal points of root and heritage tours in Ghana by creating programmes such the Slave Route Project (Schramm 2005, 2008). Nowadays these localities are strictly involved in policies and discussions related to roots and heritage tourism (Inter alia Van Dantzig 1980; Bruner 1996, 2005; Osei Tutu 2002, 2007; Finley 2004; Reed 2004; MacGonagle 2006; Holsey 2008).
92. FN2222) Even if the Joseph Project had the explicit goal of including regions outside the Central Region, the Western Region was initially excluded from it, on the contrary, for instance, of other areas of Ghana, especially the Northern ones (Schramm 2008).
93. FN2323) The idea of the gene pool is a further demonstration of the central role that African American returnees play in Ghana by inspiring and prompting the Ghanaian policies and activities toward the Atlantic slave trade diaspora.
94. FN2424) The idea and the term “traditional” are very ambiguous and quite misleading. As P. Valsecchi argued “the direct forerunners of what we call traditional authorities are purely and simply the various institutional forms taken by the policy of the continent at all levels, from the small community [...] up to the reigns and the big imperial realities.[...] Before the European colonization in Africa the ‘traditional authorities’ were just ‘the authorities’” (2006: 19, my translation).
95. FN2525) As it has already been discussed, the litigation has to been seen as part of a bigger picture. This dispute involves wider reaching interests and traditional political figures who make a contribution to its actual complexity.
96. FN2626) The dual citizenship was one of the points of the NPP electoral campaign of 1999. Indeed many NPP members and voters were Ghanaians in the contemporary diaspora.
97. FN2727) See Balkenhol’s discussion in this volume where he argues that diasporans who are visiting Africa are not so much concerned with contemporary politics in African states. In the case of the return to Prince’s Town, it would be improper to refer to the African Americans as tourists because they actively built up a relationship with the local contemporary community of Prince’s Town. Their presence was more than a touristic visit or a “roots journey”; it was a return.
98. FN2828) In Southern Ghana there is the practice of incorporating non-royals into the chieftaincy system by appointing them nkosuohene, progress or development chief, whose duties concern the prosperity of the community (Benson 2003). Also African Americans have been awarded nkosuohene and other honorary titles (McCaskie 2009): this practice can be interpreted as a way to integrate individuals – even if they do not hold Ghanaian citizenship – within the community, into the institution of chieftaincy. However, the political power of nkosuohene is negligible compared to other chiefs.
99. FN2929) Prince’s Town, 22/02/2009.
100. FN3030) This would be different to becoming nkosuohene or getting other honorary titles within the traditional system. To sit on the stool is formally a role exclusively inheritable, open only to the members of the royal lineage.

Article metrics loading...


Affiliations: 1: University of Milano-Bicocca Italy


Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to email alerts
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    African Diaspora — Recommend this title to your library

    Thank you

    Your recommendation has been sent to your librarian.

  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation