As a Ghanaian, the purpose of the “Year of the Return” often leaves me confused. The people returning have spent their entire lives in environments where systemic racism has resulted in unnecessary inferiority complexes which in turn have left many black communities in unhealthy cycles of stagnation and oppression. Knowing this, you would think we would want to focus on the beauty and strength of Africa. That the “returnees” would want to experience and embrace what it means to no longer be a minority and to be at the centre of one of the potentially most crucial times in the history of the development of the African continent. But that’s not what’s happening.
Instead, people are returning to remind themselves of slavery. They cry and feel connected through tours of dungeons not realizing that this is not who Africans are. The slave trade does not define Africa.
We have had thousands of years of beautiful history. Africans invented maths. Sounds pretty unbelievable until you realize all those pyramids didn’t get there on prayers and luck. In fact, over 35,000 years ago Ancient Egyptians scripted textbooks about maths that included division and multiplication of fractions and geometric formulas to calculate the area and volume of shapes.
We were also doing many medical procedures way before the Europeans. We did the earliest known surgery back in 2750 B.C!
Our engineering feats still boggle archaeologists. Many people don’t even know there are way more than 3 pyramids in Africa.
The “Lion Cave” mine in Swaziland is believed to be over 40,000 years old! But if that’s not impressive enough we should also remember the Haya of Tanzania invented carbon steel 2000 years ago.
Our ancestors were also explorers not just hanging out in the bush. There is evidence to suggest that ancient Africans sailed to South America and Asia hundreds of years before the Europeans, but your history books won’t talk about that.
Slavery doesn’t define Africa and it isn’t a piece of our history we should forget because it changed black culture for the last 400 years. However, we must remember those 400 years have been less than 1% of our history. We need to educate ourselves and remind ourselves of African excellence. We need to take back our history because we are in no way inferior.
The Sankofa represents going back for what is precious. By focusing only on slavery during the “Year of the Return” instead of the richness of our culture we do every returnee a disservice. We should be showing them why we are proud to be African. We should be educating them about the stories of Mansa Musa, Yaa Asantewaa, the Nubian pyramids etc and teaching them about the true accomplishments of our people.
In fact, we should be using the “Year of the Return” to remind ourselves how amazing we were before the days of colonialism and aid. We should never forget the past, but by only focusing on slavery during this “Year of the Return,” we are failing the returnees and ourselves.
Nii Ala Russell Adjei is an architect from Accra, Ghana whose work can already be seen on 3 continents. He is currently continuing his architecture studies in the highly competitive Tsinghua University program which is currently globally ranked among the top 10 best architecture schools in the world. When he is not designing, in his free time he likes to write about the challenges facing his people. While some may consider him a Pan-Africanist, he considers himself to be more of a Nkrumaist. He believes that today’s generation needs to educate themselves more about the precolonial history of Africa so that they may become not only stronger and more confident, but also independent and completely free from imperialism.