It was the year of 1984, Jerry Rawlings was the president of Ghana, just a year before 1 million Ghanaians returned to Ghana after been expelled from Nigeria.
On the other side of the world in Britain the year was dominated by the miner’s strike. Most importantly this is the year two young Ghanaians in their mid-twenties decided to emigrate to London to start a better life. My parents knew each other back in Ghana and quickly fell in love.
Both from the Eastern region of Ghana known as Akyem, also both from royal families back home they believed their destiny was in the UK and could create a better life for their future family.
Born and bred in London, I remember my childhood extremely vividly; my parents were the stereotypical Ghanaians that often spoke their local dialect Twi at home. We listened to the sounds of Daddy Lumba, Amakye Dede, and many others.
A vibrant Saturday night consisted of mostly hall parties in either the South or North of London where the majority of Ghanaians were dispersed. These hall parties brought us together with staple favourites such as Supermalt and Jollof as the adults swayed to the sounds of highlife all night. This was followed by Church on Sunday mornings.
My parents tried their best to help me and my siblings to never forget our roots with often us being called by our Ghanaian names ‘Abena’ ‘Kofi’ and ‘Akua’. My mother frequently shared her interesting background, her grandfather was Nana Sir Ofori-Atta King of Akyem Abuakwa one of the most influential kingdoms of then what was called the Gold Coast. He started the Ofori-Atta dynasty which has today created greats such as current President Nana Akufo-Addo and many others.
The big six who led Ghana into independence consisted of half of the Ofori-Atta family. Being told all these fascinating facts left me in awe and most importantly wanting to know more, I wanted to seek who I really was. On the other hand, my father who also shared a fascinating background yearned more to assimilate to the British identity as the years went by.
He encouraged us to make friends with Caucasians and Asians as they were deemed as much more intelligent and more straight-laced in his eyes. Often polishing his African accent to resemble the British man. He tried to speak with a British twang however the Ghanaian side really came out at Parent’s evening when teacher’s comments were not deemed as favourable. The Ghanaian accent sure came out!
September 1997 a year, I will never forget. As a family we decided to travel back home as our parents wanted to introduce us to where they grew up. Only 9 years old, I remember the trip as if it was yesterday. Ghana Airways existed back then, getting off the plane the air felt and smelt different. It was raining however the air felt intensely hot, it was a different type of warmth.
A warmth where it just hits you in your face, it felt very humid. As little drops of rain fell on my forehead the contrasting weather confused me, I questioned how was it possible to rain and for the air to feel so muggy all at the same time. Kotoko airport felt very ancient and looked slightly unpolished however the first thing I noticed was everyone looked similar which I was not used to.
The workers had a deep dark complexion with beautiful African features and they greeted us with kind smiles. The hustle and bustle were unreal, the concept of individuals selling household items on the streets in Accra often perplexed me. I fell in love with the culture, the people and the hospitality. Often being greeted by family members or strangers with a polite Akwaabaa. A month in Ghana left me managing to pick up Twi at a fast rate. My heart was in Ghana, people looked like me and there was an instant sense of familiarity and belonging. Not to forget the Ghanaian delicacies left my mouth watering from succulent fresh dishes such as Plantain and Kontomire stew to Fufu with peanut soup.
It may have taken a while for my stomach to agree however it was undeniable the food was scrumptious. Back in the UK I tried my best to hold onto my roots as growing up African in the UK was never an easy ride, Africa was often depicted as poor, uncool and it was assumed people only lived in shanty type houses or slums. Trying my utmost best to dispel negative images to non-Ghanaians and showing pictures of what Ghana really looked like in contrast to what they saw on BBC News!
Our next trip to Ghana as a family was back in July 2006, a whole 9 years had suddenly passed. Accra had evolved in those years a change I was not ready for. It became much more cosmopolitan, a lot more fast-paced with a plethora of international establishments. Ghana was still Ghana however there were many more foreign faces in abundance from Chinese to Indian you name it.
They owned businesses and spoke the local dialect; the only difference was their skin colour. As much as the diversity helped Ghana’s economic structure I yearned for the old Ghana.
Over the years I have experienced Ghana at different stages of my life from going back as a youngster, teenager, going back with friends for the festive season to going back with my husband. The face of Ghana has changed a great deal, the economy has continued to expand this year and the economic growth has been estimated to increase 7.6% this year with it being to be one of the world’s fast-growing. Oil has been proven to be at a steady growth.
A completely different Ghana from the one I first experienced in 1997 as a youngster. The current President who is often described as a breath of fresh air has impacted Ghana in more ways than one. Having had the chance to have met him personally he comes across as a man of integrity, witty and extremely articulate which on one occasion made me feel I needed to tone down my South London accent. I did feel if I felt out of place addressing him imagine how the average Ghanaian would feel relating to a prominent figure from such a privileged background.
Since his election in 2016 he has encouraged great change from wanting to change the Africa-Europe relationship as he stated at a conference this year, ‘’the continent must take our destiny in our own hands’’. Delivering this statement to 400 representatives of the African diaspora. Implementing positives such as one district one factory to increase jobs, increasing the GDP growth rate and reviewing the national health insurance scheme. There is no denying Ghana is in a much better condition.
In 2018, the President declared 2019 as the ‘Year of the Return’ urging the diaspora to return back to Africa and bring their skillsets and build the country. There has been a huge and exciting buzz surrounding the year of the return as many hailing it as a success and it has been rumoured that 1 million visitors are visiting Ghana this Christmas. Celebrities have been seen in Accra and endorsing the Year of the Return also public figures such as Boris Kodjoe, Bozoma Saint John and Naomi Campbell are sharing their passion for Ghana.
With a surge of young Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians in the diaspora packing their bags and relocating back home, the likes of Terry Afram who is a Dutch Ghanaian entrepreneur from Bridge partners has called this year’s the Year of Return ‘The Ghanaian dream’ and he sells it rather well too. Encouraging people like him to come back and resettle.
So why are people returning to Ghana? I for one tried back in 2017 feeling bored and stagnant at the time in London, I believed back home had a plethora of opportunities and there is a certain type of freedom in Ghana where you may not necessarily experience in the UK.
Most importantly our experiences and expertise are much more appreciated. The Western world can be depicted as rigid with not enough fluidity and systematic (which is not always a bad thing) which I believe Ghanaians can learn from. Ghana offers growth and a calmer way of life; many are returning for the sunnier shores of Accra.
I interviewed two British Ghanaians Beauty Entrepreneur and founder of R&R Luxury Valerie Obaze and Presenter and Entrepreneur Jeffrey Boateng better known as Harmkay, they discuss their experiences of growing up as a British Ghanaian and relocating back to Ghana.
Can you tell me about your experiences as a British Ghanaian growing up in London?
I was born and raised in London and the UK will always be my ‘second home’ after Ghana. Growing up in London was great, I was able to meet so many people from different walks of life, visit new cities and spend time with family. I spent many summers in Accra during my childhood and would return back to London for school in September - having the best of both worlds was perfect for me.
Growing up did you ever encounter any challenges regarding your culture/heritage and how did you overcome?
The main challenge growing up in the 80’s during a period of famine in East Africa and “Live Aid”, was trying to explain to people that this was not a reflection of the entire continent. Making people understand that Africa was a huge continent with many different faces and situations was very difficult, when all they saw on the news was images of starving children, surrounded by flies. In the 80s and early 90’s, it was not “cool” to be African, but regardless I was always proud of my culture and where I came from. Thankfully I was fortunate enough to be very much in touch with my Ghanaian side and went “home” (to Ghana) at least once a year. I also had friends from a range of different backgrounds and enjoyed sharing insights into Ghanaian tradition (and food) with them.
What were your first experiences of Ghana?
Ghana has been part of me and the cornerstone of my identity, for as long as I can remember. I lived in Accra as a toddler and have been coming to Ghana on a regular basis ever since. It has always felt like home to me – I have so much family here, so there was never a dull moment.
What made you want to relocate back home?
I moved back to the Continent in 2010, firstly living in Lagos with my husband who is Nigerian. From there we made the move to Accra four years ago to be closer to my family and to relocate the business, bringing us that bit closer to the source of the raw materials we use to make the products for my brand, R&R Luxury. After nearly seven years of operating from Lagos, we decided to move our factory and operational HQ to Ghana doing our bit for the Ghanaian economy and community.
Ghana has come a long way in terms of development and progression in certain aspects, do you believe this to be correct and what else can be done?
So much has changed since I was young and just visiting. In terms of infrastructure, it’s night and day. Entertainment wise, there is a lot more choice now, with a vibrant art/food/creative scene which makes things far more interesting than when I was growing up. The beauty industry has developed in a big way and I feel like now is a great time to be in Ghana. Of course, there is always more that can be done, but with the current Government’s emphasis on social progress (introducing free high school education and reviving National Health Insurance), I’m positive that we can look forward to a great upwards trajectory for our country.
How have you incorporated your culture into your brand?
Everything about my beauty brand, R&R Luxury, is West African. We use natural, African ingredients which are sourced in the North of Ghana, all of our manufacturing takes place in Ghana and we sell locally as well as export to the international market. One of our key products, Shea Oil, is named ‘Ori-Nku’ which combines the Yoruba (Nigerian) and Ga (Ghanaian) words for ‘shea’. The R&R brand mission is to share nature’s gift to Africa with the rest of the world, whilst empowering our supply chain
In the one-sentence why should individuals come to settle in Ghana?
Can you tell me about your experiences as a British Ghanaian growing up in London?
As a British Ghanaian growing up in London, I never really entirely embraced my culture in my younger days (circa Primary school). I was aware of my heritage as my Mum always spoke to us in Fante, which I understood but I always replied in English as I didn’t feel confident or cool to speak it. I always knew our local dishes, the language, famous artists and actors from Ghana but never knew much of anything about history and culture of Ghana. When I got to secondary school and started hanging out with Ghanaians out of school who spoke the Motherland language, they made me feel like an outsider whenever I spoke English, so I was forced to started speaking with my Mothers tongue.
What does Ghana mean to you?
Ghana means “Home” for me. A place filled with love, creativity, hustlers, opportunity, sun, good food and of course a place which comes with its challenges. It also means “leadership”. Having many leaders like Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Yaa Asantewaa, The Big Six etc it is harder for you not to be inspired by them and follow what they started by leading change in whatever industry you are in.
Would you ever consider relocating there and why?
Yes! 100%. Many of our parents came here to give us “a better future & create a more sustainable foundation” as it was very difficult in Ghana for them during 60s/70s/80s. Being raised in the UK having access to higher level education, working in different sectors and coming across & learning from so many different people- I believe it’s a responsibility for us to take that back to the country our parents left and add value in creating/building our beloved Motherland. In all honesty I believe it is within their purpose to relocate and create/be a part of something back home. I also believe many are tired of working here and not being able to be themselves, which ultimately will not make you happy. Home and fulfilling your purpose are where true happiness is found.
Ghana has come a long way in terms of development and progression in certain aspects, how does that make you feel?
I enjoy the process and eventually seeing the progress of anything. I have been going to Ghana since I was 6 years and now, I am 31. It’s beautiful to see the changes that have happened in 25 years. This demonstrates the opportunity the country has in development in various sectors, but more importantly, it enables us to question ourselves how we can contribute to that development.
Thank you for reading.
At Heathrow waiting for our flight to the motherland