Generations ago their ancestors were sold into slavery, now some Americans of African descent are choosing to return to the lands of their forefathers. Nancy Kacungira has been finding out why.
The Akoma Academy in Cape Coast, Ghana, is unapologetically African.
From the brightly coloured African-print uniforms sported by the students to the posters of the continent’s icons on the walls – everywhere you look, you see a piece of African heritage.
But the school’s owner was born and raised in Detroit in the United States.
Chekesha Aidoo – who was born Priscilla Davis – grew up in a family of educators.
For a long time though, she knew very little about the continent she now lives in.
“There wasn’t anything about Africa taught to me in school or on TV except for Tarzan… and I was told that was incorrect!” she says with a laugh.
But when she was 14 years old, a class trip to the continent was announced at her school; something clicked and she became excited.
She ran home and told her mother who, equally enthused, joined the trip as a chaperone. They travelled to Ghana, and their hearts never left.
Ms Aidoo still tears up when she thinks about the day they first set foot on African soil.
‘I felt free in Africa’
“This was 42 years ago but I still remember. I was so taken by the energy. I actually got down on my knees and kissed the ground.
“Even the air in my lungs was right. It was like I was home”.
She did go back to the US, but her mother stayed in Ghana, and eventually founded the Akoma Academy.
After years of working and raising a family in the US, Ms Aidoo decided to stop shuttling between Africa and America and move to Ghana permanently.
She helped her mother run the school, and when her mother passed away, she took over.
Although she does miss the rest of her family who are still in Detroit, moving back there is not an option for her.
Ghana is ‘much less stressful’
“In America everybody keeps to themselves and they’re afraid to get involved in anybody’s issues. I would be so alone there,” she tells me.
“Here, I’m enclosed in this warm community bubble. I wouldn’t want to leave that.”
There are lots of other things she loves about living in Ghana.
The food is cleaner, she has financial freedom, and it is generally less stressful, she says.
She also feels that she is making a real contribution to the community.
Ugandan TV journalist Nancy Kacungira won the first BBC World News Komla Dumor Award for Africa-based journalists.
The school tries to promote a positive self-image among its students, teaching African history so that they can be proud of their heritage.
Some of the children attend free-of-charge, and she finds sponsors for others who also cannot afford the fees.
Like Ms Aidoo, Imakhus Okofu did not know much about Africa before she came to Ghana, but her reasons for coming had nothing to do with sentiment.
“I didn’t come to Ghana because I had some yearning to want to be in Africa,” she tells me.
“Based on what media and what everyone told us about it, the last place I wanted to be was in Africa.”
She was working as a travel agent in New York when she decided she needed to experience Africa herself before she recommended it as a tourist destination.
So at the age of 50 she came to Ghana with business in mind, but as part of her tour she paid a visit to what was once a slave dungeon – and it changed her life.
Cape Coast Castle is one of dozens of slave castles built on the West African coast by European traders.
From Cape Coast, and the other sites, more than 12 million Africans were shipped out, in chains, across the Atlantic Ocean.
The passage of time has not faded the scratching on the black walls, or dulled the stale, acrid smell in the dungeons.
It was here that Ms Okofu felt the full horror of what had happened to her ancestors.
“Going through the dungeons was traumatic. I kept thinking, why would anyone do this?
“They didn’t tell us about this, I never heard about this in school. I knew when I crossed that threshold and came out that I would never be the same again.
“And I knew then that Africa was going to be my home.”
It has been her home for 25 years.
Ms Okofu now runs a hotel by the beach and occasionally organises tours of the slave castles.
She also acts as a repatriation guide, giving advice to other African Americans who want to or have relocated to Africa.
She says there is a sizable community of them in Ghana, with about 300 in her area alone.
‘I belong in Ghana’
She remembers the incredulity that met her decision to move to Ghana, not just from family in America, but from Ghanaians too.
“They’d ask me: ‘Why would you leave America to come here and suffer?’
“And I’d say: ‘This is suffering? I lived through civil rights movement. Everything we ever got in America we fought for.’ I don’t hate America, but I don’t like it. I love Africa.”
It took 50 years for her to discover where home really was for her, but once she did, Ms Okofu had no doubts about where she belonged.
“When did I become an American? When I landed on the soil of America? No, I’m still an African.”
Four in 10 Africans did not survive the perilous journey across the Atlantic and those who did, were destined for a life of torture – never to return to their homes.
Hundreds of years later, a return of a different kind is finally possible.
Some of the descendants of those sold into slavery still feel a bond with Africa strong enough to make them want to leave the land they were born in, and return to the continent their ancestors were forced to leave.
The second round of the BBC World News Komla Dumor award will be announced early next year so look out for it.
Source : BBC