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

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

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[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.]

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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.
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2011-01-01
2015-07-28

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