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.
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.
“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.