Ghanaian and other African students came together Friday night to kick off Africa Week at Cornell. The week of discussions, presentations and celebrations began with a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, during which Ghanaian Deputy Ambassador to the U.S. Irene Addo urged Africans around the world to return to their native continent.
Africa Week was organized by the Coalition of Pan-African Scholars, a group begun three years ago to further Pan-Africanism, a worldwide movement that advocates unity and solidarity among all black Africans and peoples of African descent. Africa Week was designed to celebrate the diversity of African peoples and cultures, while promoting discussion about the unification of African peoples after centuries of diaspora.
“The goal is to get the ideas of Pan-Africanism out there, and to talk about the political, economic and social implications of the unification of Africans inside Africa and outside the continent,” said Abena Sackey, chairman of the board of directors for the Coalition of Pan-African Studies.
Addo spoke about to an audience of approximately 45 Cornell students and staff on Friday night about improving the African continent by uniting the African people. While acknowledging that Ghana has made a lot of progress during the last 50 years since its independence in building a government and an economy, Addo said that there is still a lot of work to be done. Part of her plan to bring change to Africa is the Joseph Project, for which she predicts 100,000 people will make a Mecca-like pilgrimage to their homeland of Ghana for a six-month celebration.
“It is an invitation to all Africans to make the return journey back home,” she said. “We believe they have to connect back to where they came from.”
Addo hopes that the Joseph Project will act as a starting point toward leading every person of African descent back to their African homeland.
“All Africans should come back, because Africa needs help and they themselves need Africa to feel good,” she said.
During the question and answer session following her talk, one man expressed the frustration of people who go back to Ghana and see the country broken.
Others wondered if African-Americans would have a negative impact on native African culture. In fact, views in the audience were mixed as to whether a mass return to Africa would be practical or beneficial for blacks currently living in the United States.
Makafui Favi ’09, whose family now resides in Northern Virginia, is from Togo, a country that looks westward to its Ghanaian neighbor as a role model for national reconstruction.
“We look at them as an example to follow,” Favi said. “Seeing them celebrate gives us encouragement that we can establish the same thing.”
However, Favi was not sure that she would return to Africa to help rebuild her native country.
“It’s a pressure,” she said. “Every time people write from home, they say ‘we’re looking at you.’ But I wonder what I am coming back to.”
Others, like Daniel Ampatu ’07, fully plan on returning to Africa after their work in America is done.
“After I get my Ph.D. in America, I plan to go back to Ghana to teach at the university level,” Ampatu said
Addo was adamant that African scholars have a duty to promote the needs of Africa and a duty to return and help their native land.
“You have to come home,” she said. “We need to do it together … You have been given an opportunity to come to Cornell. How are you going to give back? It is time for us to motivate and not to receive.”
Addo has a long history of activism and now, in addition to serving as deputy ambassador, runs her own non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged women and children, where she does much of the hands-on work herself. She has been an activist since as long as she can remember.
“I wasn’t from a very rich family, but I always wanted to fight back and to give rather than to receive,” Addo said. “God has given me opportunities, and I have never taken anything for granted.”