The Chief Executive of the Ghana Tourism Authority, Mr Akwasi Agyeman has paid glowing tribute to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo for the foresight of initiating the “Year of Return.”
He said apart from being the vision bearer, the President also made practical inputs into its implementation and spearheaded the campaign to get the African Diaspora and other lovers of Africa to buy into the vision.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra, Mr Agyeman said President Akufo-Addo had again initiated the ‘Beyond the Return’, a sequel to the Year of Return (YoR) to ensure that the country reaps from cooperation with people in the Diaspora, and charged the tourism promoting institutions and other stakeholders to work for its success.
Mr Agyeman said the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) and other collaborators would commence close consultation with other stakeholders including private sector, Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) on the investment aspect and the Ghana Immigration Service on visa issues, among others.
With that, he said all the stakeholders and other entities would understand and be in tune with the vision of the President for Beyond the Return, which is a 10-year project to be launched in February this year to coincide with Black History month.
Birth of Year of Return
President Akufo-Addo proclaimed the Year of Return to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival in 1619 of the first 20 slaves from West Africa to the Virginia, which later became part of the United States of America (USA).
The purpose was to bring together Africans, people of African descent and all well-wishers and lovers of freedom to strengthen the collective commitment to ensure that the blots in Africa’s history, such as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery, never reoccur.
It is also to provide the platform for strengthening the ties of solidarity among all people of African descent.
Mr Agyeman said when President Akufo-Addo assumed office in 2017, he made the Tourism Ministry a Cabinet position.
He said the President made it clear to the then Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Mrs Catharine Afeku that he wanted the entire ministry and its agencies to focus on two things; domestic tourism – ensuring that Ghanaians traveled around the country – and secondly, heritage tourism to continue with the Africa diaspora conversation.
That, according to the CEO of the GTA, led to the launching of the “See Ghana, Eat Ghana and Wear Ghana” programme in 2017 for domestic tourism, as well as moves to look for the opportunity to ensure that the President’s vision of connecting with the diaspora took place.
“God being so good, 2019 was exactly 400 years since the slaves were taken from the shores of Ghana, so working with the office of the Diaspora Affairs of the Office of the President, the Panafest Foundation, the Adinkra Group, we sat down to bring to fruition the President’s charge to push heritage tourism to another level”, Mr Agyeman recounted.
Launch and dividends
He said the President had inputs from the word go and even selected the venue for the launch of the Year of Return, which took place in front of the Congressional Black Caucus in the USA.
The President then insisted that it should be a global campaign, a position that informed his visits to the Caribbean and promoted it in five nations, culminating in unprecedented dividends, with some of the heads of states of those countries coming to Ghana.
Mr Agyeman said President Akufo-Addo also ensured that the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Tourism since 2017 was increased as part of moves to ensure that the programme was successful.
Those steps, he explained, had led to a number of bilateral agreements and co-operations on trade and diplomatic fronts between Ghana and some Caribbean countries, including Jamaica and Guyana.
Beyond the Return
Mr Agyeman said though others had worked in the background, “We cannot take away the fact that this is the President’s vision and he had tasked the team again that there should be a “Beyond the Return” campaign which must be sustained.
“For him, it is not just about people vising but he wants that real connection to happen. So we are quite excited and happy for the opportunity and would once again go back to the drawing board on his instructions and work on it”, he added.
He said already President Akufo-Addo had made excellent inputs into the ‘Beyond the Return’ initiative after he took the draft programme from the steering committee.
He said the President made it clear that he would like the Beyond the Return to be more of engagements to enhance the diaspora investments.
Mr Agyeman noted that the President had been touching on the need for a diaspora bond as countries such as India, Israel and China had relied on to expand their economies and infrastructure.
He said the President wanted the African diaspora to also make huge contributions to the development of the continent and with Ghana as the lead country also benefiting, adding that “in his words we should engage all stakeholders and that he does not want any stakeholder to say that he was not consulted.”