When some of the most well-known faces from the African diaspora arrived for a recent vacation in Accra, Ghana, it looked like just another gathering of famous people.
Actors including Idris Elba rubbed shoulders with supermodel Naomi Campbell, TV sports presenter Mike Hill, and author Luvvie Ajayi.
Behind this meet-up of box office stars, fashion royalty and top creatives is a focused and ambitious strategy to make Ghana a major tourist destination.
The country recently unveiled a 15-year-long tourism plan that seeks to increase the annual number of tourists to Ghana from one million to eight million per year by 2027.
Ghana’s tourism industry is projected to raise $8.3 billion a year by 2027, plus associated benefits, according to the plan.
VIP guests attended events chaired by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, the architect of the plan to boost tourism and diversify the country’s economy through reaching out to its diaspora, while guests took part in conferences, festivities and trips across the country to discover its unique and sobering heritage.
The primary purpose of the festival was to forge closer ties between Ghana, the African continent and those of African descent living elsewhere.
It’s 400 years since the first African slaves were taken from countries like Ghana to mainland America, marking the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade route. This timing is based on the first recorded landing of a ship carrying Africans in Virginia in August 1619.
An estimated 75% of slave dungeons on the west coast of Africa were in Ghana — millions of people were taken and transported on ships that departed from Ghanaian ports.
President Akufo-Addo’s Year of Return announcement pointed to Ghana’s tragic legacy as a reason for diaspora descendants to return and learn about this chapter of history.
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Happy Newyear my darlings May all you desire come to you !! There is nothing that you cannot do or achieve 2019 !! LETS CHANGE THE NARRATIVE OF THE GREAT CONTINENT AFRICA I Pledge ✋🏾!! I Stand here with President @nakufoaddo and my mother @valeriemorriscampbell #GHANA THE MORHERLAND #TRUE PARADISE #GRATEFUL #BLESSED #NAOMIAFRICA🇬🇭♥️♥️😘😘🙏🏾
The celebrities who attended the Full Circle Festival were taken on guided tours of the slave dungeons.
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To Experience a Slave Dungeon: _______ “There were no Jamaicans here, no Trinidadians were here, we were one people.” _______ “Our ancestors were the people that refused death. You are the products of the people that refused to die!” _______ On this day, the beginning of “Black History Month” I reflect on our time at the Cape Coast Slave Castle in Accra Ghana built in 1652—why this abomination of a place is called a castle is beyond me—100 of us spent approx. 10 mins in a slave dungeon meant for 200 captives, those uncomfortable minutes felt like an eternity and yet we knew that our time in that room was limited. Imagine what it must have been like for a captive who had no sense of when he or she would be let out. Many died in these dungeons that you see in this video. _______ I will share additional videos from our time at the castle and time with the Rabbi at various points in this month. _______ The resilience of our people after all we’ve endured is a testament to our greatness. Never make any apologies for your right to share space on this planet. #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackHistoryYear #FullCircleFestival #Accra #Ghana #SlaveCastle #BlackPower #OneAfrica #yearofreturn #yearofreturn2019
“Every person of color needs to get on this pilgrimage,” said actor and co-organizer Boris Kodjoe who is of Ghanaian descent. “They need to experience this journey and get in touch with their emotional heritage, walk through the dungeons and see the ‘door of no return,’” he told CNN.
Marketing rockstar Bozoma Saint John — who has a series of marketing coups like Beyonce’s halftime Super Bowl show under her belt — worked with Kodjoe, inviting 100 of the most influential members of the African diaspora to party with them at the festival over Christmas and New Year.
Saint John, who works for global media conglomerate Endeavor and previously had high profile roles with Uber and Apple Music, says the project is close to her heart.
“As long as you have melanin and you are seeking a return to Africa, it is a must,” she told CNN.
“I really felt that I wanted to show people the country I know and love. I take it as a personal mission and will use my professional weight to help the mission.”
Saint John says that returning members of the diaspora can expect joy on their trip to Ghana as well as moments of solemnity. Skyscrapers and restaurants feature prominently in her promotional material.
“All the fun things you can do in Nice, Bali, Ibiza, you can do here in Ghana too,” she added.