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11.01.2005 General News

African Americans Returning to Ghana

By Associated Press
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ACCRA, Ghana -- As a young African-American wondering how to connect with his heritage, Marcus Manns may have been alone in thinking that his ancestral homeland had a great need for a decent chiropractor.

Fresh out of college four years ago, Manns landed in Ghana's sweltering, exhaust-choked capital with only $1,200 in his wallet, no contacts, and no ticket home.

"I thought I'd set up my booth and there'd be people lined up for days," the 30-year-old from Bassett, Va., said as he played golf recently at Accra's Achimota Golf Club. He punched a shot through a tangle of weeds and laughed. "Boy, that just wasn't the case."

Some Ghanaians had never even heard of chiropractors, he said.

Manns is among a growing number of black Americans trading potentially lucrative careers and relative comfort back home for a new life in Africa, where the former slave-trading hub of Ghana is wooing Americans with some of the easiest immigration rules on the continent. That includes a "right of abode" for qualifying American members of the African diaspora, echoing Israel's offer of automatic citizenship for Jews.

Centuries ago, the Gold Coast - Ghana's name under British rule - was a major slave-embarkation point; every year thousands of Africans left here to become human chattel in the New World. Untold numbers died in slave raids or making the "middle passage" in cramped, pestilential ships. Some parts of Africa were left virtually unpeopled.

The tide was reversed in 1957, when Ghana became one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from colonial rule. Many black Americans began turning up here.

Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, a graduate of Lincoln University in Chester County, Pa., was a leading voice for repatriation, enlisting Americans like the authors W.E.B. DuBois and Maya Angelou to help spread the movement.

Post-independence euphoria was quickly shattered, however, as Ghana fell into decades of military rule before embracing constitutional democracy in 1992.

These days, the country's expanding economy, stable government and laid-back, English-speaking population makes it an easy holiday choice for tourists, who flock to the chain of slave forts that still line Ghana's coastline.

For some, Ghana offers incentives to stay: It is the only African country to offer black Americans "right of abode," allowing those who qualify to work and own property, said Janet Butler, president of the African American Association, a support group for expatriates. Applicants must live in Ghana seven years before fully qualifying.

President John Kufuor - who won a second term in Dec. 7 elections - wants to attract African-American businesses, particularly those in the communications, technology and entertainment industries, said a spokesman, Kwabena Agyepong.

"The connection between Ghana and African-Americans is obviously significant," Agyepong said. "We want them to feel at home here, and we're making laws that will ensure that."

As many as 1,000 black Americans are living in Ghana, Butler said. They are a varied lot: aid workers, pan-African nationalists here since the 1960s, entrepreneurs, retirees, Rastafarians. A few live in mud huts, embracing the agrarian life of their ancestors.

Butler moved to Accra in August 2000 with her lawyer husband and two children after five years in Nigeria as an engineer with Procter & Gamble. She cited affordable, quality private schools and an absence of racism as among the draws.

"My kids have a sense of self-esteem here, a sense of who they are," said Butler, adding that her oldest son, 17, first encountered racial slurs while visiting relatives in Alabama several years ago. "This place gives them a sense of security, and you can't put a price on that."

Despite the pluses, many black Americans said their dreams of being welcomed back to Africa as long-lost kin were quickly snuffed out. Africans, they said, couldn't understand why they'd abandon Western comforts and move to an impoverished continent.

"There is a fundamental disconnect between African-Americans coming back and the Africans receiving them," said Pamela Bowen, who moved to Ghana from the Silicon Valley four years ago to start a nonprofit AIDS organization. "We expect them to be ecstatic to see us return, but the fact is Africans ... see us as just Americans."

Manns believes his move to West Africa fulfilled a "chiropractic mission," but it wasn't easy. After two months in Ghana, he was broke. A friend came to his rescue, lending him a tiny room where he worked, ate and slept for over a year.

Four years later, Manns operates two "wellness centers," staffed by three black chiropractors recruited from the United States, and a nonprofit branch that serves Ghana's poor.

"For me, coming to Africa completed a circle," he said. "Being here gives me a sense of purpose. It makes my life more meaningful."

His next big idea for Africa: Health food stores.

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