Ghana's Joseph Project Says 'Come Home' The Joseph Project is inviting African American tourists to come explore their African roots. Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, the country's Minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations in Ghana, shares more about the project.

Ghana's Joseph Project Says 'Come Home'

Ghana's Joseph Project Says 'Come Home'

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The Joseph Project is inviting African American tourists to come explore their African roots. Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, the country's Minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations in Ghana, shares more about the project.


And we have more on Ghana. Summer vacation for many of us is a welcome break from everyday concerns. And over the years, many Americans have used that time to explore their roots, rekindle old ties to countries of origin. That's been difficult for many African-Americans even to consider for obvious reasons - the expense, the lack of knowledge about where they came from, and the painful history that caused those ties to be broken to begin with.

But now the nation of Ghana has tried to rebuild those ties through The Joseph Project. It's an initiative aimed at drawing people from all over the African Diaspora to explore their history in Ghana.

Joining us to talk more about The Joseph Project is Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey. He is the minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations. He was traveling in the U.S., and he was kind enough to join us here in our studios. Welcome, minister.

Mr. JAKE OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY (Minister, Tourism and Diasporan Relations): Thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: Tell me more about the Joseph Project. Where does the name come from, and where did the idea come from?

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: Well, the idea is the not new to Ghana - or, indeed, to the Gold Coast - because long before we became Ghana, while we started our struggle for full independence from British colonialism, our then political leaders reached out to the African Diaspora. We have letters from people like Casely Hayford, who was a major political leader in the 1910s and 1920s, to DuBois, to Marcus Garvey.

MARTIN: W.E.B. DuBois, the great intellectuals.

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: W.E.B. DuBois, yes. And, you know, talking about how the two struggles, the struggle for independence on the African continent and the struggle for rights and civil rights over here, you know, we're intertwined and we're mirroring each other. And the time that we went into - got our independence, the first leader of independent Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, you know, who as you know was educated in the U.S. at - at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, reached out. He invited DuBois, who was not given a passport by the American government, but he also invited Dr. King who did come with the delegation so that they were part of the whole independence changeover.

MARTIN: But that raises a point, though, that with the Ghana has long been a destination for African-American intellectuals. But with the Joseph Project, as I understand it, you're really trying to get…

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: We're widening it.

MARTIN: …more…


MARTIN: …regular folks to come.

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: Yes. We want to - I mean, what was happening, because it was so politicized, or at least it was political leaders and so on, it became ideological. Now we don't want to get into the ideology. We want to just get the African family together again.

MARTIN: Where does Joseph come from, the name?

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: Joseph comes from the Bible and the Koran - because Joseph is also in the Koran - who was sold into slavery by his brethren, rose in the land of his slavery and then when the brethren reached to him, he reached back.

MARTIN: Are you mainly interested in African-Americans, or are you also interested in Africans in Europe, Canada, Latin America?

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: We're interested in the all the Africans in the Diaspora who were affected by the slave trade. And that includes in North America - not just the United States, but also Canada. It includes the whole of South America - who have big African populations - the whole of the Caribbean, and then those who went through the Western Hemisphere and are now in Europe.

MARTIN: Many of the projects were timed to coincide with the celebration of gaining independence, which commenced in March. What are some of the events that your interest in having people attend or participate in?

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: Well, we were happy that the launch coincides with the 50th anniversary of our independence and also coincides with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the North Atlantic slave trade.

With the launch, we're doing - essentially, we're doing a healing process because we feel that we're never going to get people coming together again until and unless we have put the spirits of our ancestors to rest. People are affected by violence, and no greater violence has been visited upon a people than the violence that our people suffered through capture, transportation and then what they suffered in the slavery here and post-slavery, and indeed, in many places where they're still suffering today.

So we want to start with a healing ceremony this year, and the healing ceremony will send a signal to the ancestors that the children and the grandchildren are now beginning the process of coming together.

MARTIN: But it's also a matter of tourism, is it not? I mean, it's also a matter of attracting a natural constituency that might have a greater interest in Ghana than perhaps other groups in the same way that Italian-Americans are very interested in Italy, and you know, the Irish-Americans are very interested in visiting Ireland.

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: I think it's probably nearer in that sort of situation to what the Jews are doing in Israel, okay. They're not just interested in Israelis just coming back or Jews just coming back to visit Israel as, well, I've been back, I've seen the old homeland and I'm on my way, but to actually make some commitment. Because we will never be completely emancipated. We'll never be completely free. We will never be able to be, really, first class citizens until such time as Africa itself is treated with respect.

MARTIN: You know that's an interesting dilemma, because as people of the Diaspora who are second, third, you know, fourth generation, unlike persons, say, from some European countries and other countries who know where they're from, literally, most African-Americans do not. And as we discussed, Africa is a continent, not a country.

There are many countries who wish to be considered, you know, for the attention of African-Americans who have achieved this success that you described. So how are planning to forge those terms when you cannot say to Mr. Johnson, to Mr. Smith, this is where you were born. This is where your great, great grandmother was born. How do you plan to forge those ties?

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: I think - in recognizing that, we have said from the very beginning the Joseph Project is not a Ghana-only project. It can only work if it is an Africa-wide project, especially a West African-wide project.

So for the healing ceremony, we're inviting traditional rulers from Senegal down to Angola, for all those places from which our people were taken. We want in Ghana to be the gateway. Let them come back there. Let them get a taste and say okay, let me see something else about Africa. Let me find our where in Western Africa my people originally came from, and then themselves make the pilgrimages to those places.

MARTIN: There's some concern that efforts like the Joseph Project reinforced a - already have strained or kind of fanciful relationship between Africans and African-Americans. In fact, some African-Americans, when they go to Africa, report, you know, hurt feelings that they are viewed really as really the deep pockets. They're just viewed as the rich foreigners. Of course, there's some hurt feelings on the part of Africans who are perhaps disappointed that African-Americans don't have a deeper connection to their country.

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: Because I'm not…

MARTIN: Do you think it's possible that these - that false expectations are already being raised?

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: Yes, there's an ignorance in Africa about what pertains over here. That is why the project is the Joseph Project, but it's part of a broader program called the Akwaaba Anyemi Program, which is welcome home brother or welcome home sister. And part of it, a major part of it, is teaching our people who the diasporans are. Because the colonials had a situation where - when did slave trade stopped, they drew a veil across it, as if it never happened. In our history books that we were - that are children were taught, there's about three lines about the slave trade, and that's all. You know, what they've been through, the struggles they've been through, we don't know about.

MARTIN: Some Ghanaians have criticized elements of the Joseph Project saying that the Christian reference by itself glorifies the colonial past. How do you respond to that?

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: The thing about Joseph being Christian. For me, that's a very simple thing. There's a huge numbers out there. We can't deal with everybody. We're going to eat this elephant piece by piece. And we're starting with the softest pieces first, and the softest pieces are within the churches and within the black schools. So we'll start with those, and then we'll move on to the more difficult areas later.

MARTIN: Minister Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations for the Republic of Ghana. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Mr. OBETSEBI-LAMPTEY: How kind. Thank you very much for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Coming up, just in time for the summer movie season, who's the next big villain? One media critic thinks he knows.

Mr. JACK SHAHEEN (Author, "Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People"): The one stereotype that's sticking to us like glue is the image of the Arab - Arab equal Muslim equal terrorist.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Movies, the same old thing? We'll find out.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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