I read in the news yesterday that Ludacris has just gotten Gabonese citizenship. It seems his wife is from Gabon, and so he got it through her. Irrespective of how he got it, though, it is symbolic of a wave of Africanism that has been cresting over the past few years. Specifically, the facet of Africanism I am referring to is the reconnection of dispersed Africans with the continent of their origin in tangible ways. Like gaining African citizenship, for example. Citizenship through familial ties as in Ludacris’ case, by way of residency, or via conferral as in Ghana’s 2019 Year of Return program.
So, we seem to be coming full circle as members of the African diaspora. Dispossessed of the national identity we would have inherited from our ancestors had they not been deracinated by European desecration, many of us are now being replanted. Or replanting ourselves. We have ebbed over the course of four hundred years, and now some of us have started flowing back. For others, like a river once diverted, we are now regaining our natural course. African reconnection.
Back to Africa. So ironic that this mantra — invoked and heralded by iconic black leaders like Marcus Garvey to reclaim our roots but derided by many — is now an overall more positive, rallying drive for African reconnection. Reconnection both mentally and physically. For four hundred years, folk of my racial ilk endured physical, mental and emotional suffering brought on by the ravages of servitude. Servitude of the harshest type in the history of mankind as far as we know. Servitude underpinned by torturous penury, from which Europe extracted wealth through the unpaid, forced labor it entailed. But the phoenix is rising. Rising from the ash of servitude and its legacy of less-than.
The legacy of less-than is fast disappearing. The legacy of not-good-enough. We learned from our sociology books that we are descendants of slaves. However, we now know, as put by the actor Boris Kodjoe, that we are instead the descendants of the survivors of enslaved Africans. Big difference there. We were taught that the slaves were from a dark continent. Dark, not solely in terms of their hue but of uncivilization. They were from lands overrun with poverty, depravity, nakedness, jungles and wild animals. Now we are aware that the enslaved Africans were formed from the wisdom of the Mali Empire and from the fortitude and greatness of the Songhai Empire. And before those, from the practice of sedentary farming during the Holocene, and the development of a thriving iron industry in Sub-Sahara.
So, we now realize that we had been shown only one side of the coin. The dull side. Now we are seeing the shiny, bright side. Discovery through books, media, personal contacts and travel has opened our eyes to a new reality. And so, the Door of No Return has now become the Door of Welcome for the diaspora to come back to Africa, whether to reside or to visit.
My first visit to Africa, over 30 years ago, was a real eye-opener. In Ghana, I did not have to look out for wild animals dashing across the streets as some of my friends had thought; instead, I had to go to a zoo. In Abidjan, I craned my neck towards the night skies, trying to see how far up the skyscrapers went – a mini version of Manhattan. Just like the little girl, born in England to a Ghanaian mother, said to her mother the first time they visited Ghana together. “Mom, is this Africa?” “Yes, my dear, this is where I am from.” “So, why did my teacher in London only tell me about the lions and tigers in Africa?”
Of course, it may seem simplistic to have expected Africa to be any different from what I saw on that first visit. After all, I did know it was much more than what the TV shows and the news and the documentaries portrayed. But, seeing it with my own eyes was still a big deal.