The first set of African slaves are said to have landed in the Americas in 1502. History has it that in 1833 several slave-owning countries including Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal agreed to stop the practice although many of them and others continued the practice up to even beyond the 1880s.
Marcus Garvey, in his back-to-Africa mantra, motivated the black people to envision Africa as a significant world power. Though Garvey did not advocate massive migration to Africa, he expected talented blacks to play a pivotal role in the building of an African empire. He recognised that the status of blacks in any country depends on Africa being a model for the world.
After 400 years of slavery, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo in 2019 took a bold step in spearheading the AU’s recognition of the African Diaspora as its 6th region, to declare that “2020 is the of Return for the African Diaspora”.
New Era recently interviewed Pan African Centre of Namibia (Pacon) board member Evelyn Shilamba on the Year of Return for the African Diaspora.
New Era (NE): Does the above sentiment resonate broadly across the entire continent?
Evelyn Shilamba (ES): The declaration of African Diaspora as the 6th region of the AU was done by the African Union, a continental union consisting of 55 member states located on the continent of Africa.
NE: What do we understand or mean when we speak of the African Diaspora? Is it just the blacks?
ES: The African Diaspora refers to people of African descent not living in Africa. Naturally, there is no restriction to the multiplication of the human race, anyone of African descent outside of Africa is included. It is significant that every human being procreated by two people from whatever race as long as there is an African blood in him/her, is African. That says a lot about the power of Africans as the Cradle of Life.
NE: Do we have reliable statistics on the composition and talent pool of the African Diaspora?
ES: African slaves worked in all industries applying their talents and skills. Most of the world’s successful self-made entrepreneurs dominating the entertainment and sport industries are of African descent. The African Diaspora is endowed with talent that can contribute immensely to the development of Africa.
NE: How ready or prepared is the Motherland to implement this decision?
ES: I believe the need for the AU to have resolved and announced its decision, stemmed from Afrika’s readiness to implement it. Since President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo declared the Year of Return and ensured its successful execution, the media has been dominated with news of African countries, especially in West Africa issuing citizenship to African Diaspora. That is a sign that we are ready, although it is a process that requires time. The great achievement is the willingness to move forward, it strengthens the unity of Africa and solidarity for Africans.
NE: Should there be a cluster of countries selected for a pilot?
ES: The decision to choose the country one desires to make home in Afrika remains a personal choice. Any individual will assess the country based on its Foreign Policy – relation with the International Community; Trade Policy – is the environment welcoming to investors; Immigration Laws – how friendly are the laws governing the movement of people in addition to political, social, technological, and environmental factors before they visit or settle. Members of the African Diaspora settled in Africa are happy in those countries they have found welcoming.
NE: Should African countries prepare a list of preferred areas of skills and investments that would assist the implementation of this decision?
ES: If we recognise African Diaspora as part of Africa, we cannot become indifferent and scrutinise them based on their skills or investments. We should welcome them regardless. Many of those who returned home are active business people contributing to the social and economy of the continent. Every human being desires to live in a society, where one is treated with respect, dignity; and have equal rights.
NE: What are some of the things that African countries would need to do to attract the African Diaspora?
ES: We must maintain peace and stability by silencing all kinds of conflicts that will derail our progress and development; manage Africa resources for the benefits of African people - the looting by a few for self-gratification needs to stop. Africa has natural, mineral and marine resources in abundance to ensure a decent living standard for its people. We need governments based on the Rule of Law; democratically elected leaders accountable to their people. We should remove barriers that seem to divide us be it political, social or economic and promote free movement of the people. Africans must not feel unwelcome in their Land.
We should encourage the learning of languages that unify people, such as Swahili, which is spoken by over 150 million people. Afrika is facing the biggest challenge - the demise of the Afrikan language and culture due to modernisation that seems to depict everything western as best. We need to develop our African languages, break down barriers and promote our culture. It is important to learn and able to communicate in other non-African languages, but we should not overlook our languages forgetting that others are advancing their cultures through language.
NE: Are there any burning issues that African countries would need to address before implementing this decision?
ES: Yes, there are. I would use Namibia as an example. In 2018 Dr Hage Geingob invited the Most Honourable, Andrew Michael Holness, the Prime Minister of Jamaica to Namibia during which the two sister countries signed bilateral agreements one being the wavering of visa requirements for Jamaicans visiting Namibia. Back in the 70s Jamaica supported the struggle for liberation and granted Namibians free entry to their beautiful island. Migration laws needs to be address and reviewed by removing offensive names that make others feel unwelcomed or discriminated against. We must be cordial when talking about our guests. Governments can take a leaf from the hotel industry that refers to their customers as guests, treats them courteously and thus creating a memorable experience.
NE: We declare 2020 as the Year of Return of the African Diaspora. Are the Africans in the Diaspora ready to move back to Africa?
ES: Yes, Africans in the Diaspora are ready to move back to Africa. However, we are talking of countries in the Caribbean, those in the USA and Europe, therefore we are not advocating for mass exodus just as Marcus Garvey did not advocate for such in his back-to-Africa mantra, when motivating blacks to envision Africa as a significant world power. History recalls that the African-Americans initiated a project called Trace Your DNA in their quest to find their roots. Many have visited those countries, where their ancestors came from and have made it their second homes. Like this interesting quote by one who said: “I have found my roots through African Ancestry and am excited to say I am of Nigerian descent. I have a homeland!”
NE: Some have argued it was inappropriate to confine the celebration of Black History to one month, what is your take on this?
Yes, indeed! We should celebrate our achievements at all times. Afrika history must be part of our education system. We should not be conformed to the belittling of our existence by those, who seem to think that our contribution is only meaningful when they decided we have lived up to their standards of their “exclusive clubs”.
I am referring to the so-called “first black awards” in this era. Africa is the Cradle of Life. Civilisation started in Africa. We built the pyramids. We cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to amateurs. We are the pioneers of the existence of the human race.
NE: For the younger generation who do not understand the history, its significance, what will your message be?
ES: They need to know and understand the struggle their forefathers fought in order for them to have the freedom, equality, justice and dignity they are enjoying today. It is said “If you do not know where you are coming from, you will not know where you are going.”
NE: Any concluding remarks?
ES: We must live by the spirit of Ubuntu – “I am because you are” and Harambee - “all pull together” the official motto of Kenya.
2020-02-28 07:23:10 | 4 months ago