Slavery caused the most traumatic interruption that ever occurred in the natural evolution of African societies which among other trauma profoundly eroded the self confidence and self determination of a whole People. Ghana's coastline is dotted with many, now silent memorials of over 500 years of this most turbulent era in Africa's history.
The slave trade took about 300 million people away from the continent, most of them said to be between the ages of fifteen and forty, undoubtedly the most active and productive segment of the populace. Of these, an estimated thirty million perished before they could get to their destinations, mainly on account of the horrible and terrible conditions they were made to undergo. Africa was made to lose so many of her people whose efforts could certainly have made a difference to the continent's fortunes.
The institution of the Pan-African Historical Theatre Festival (popularly known as PANAFEST) in Ghana in 1992 was in line with the country's historic role as the torchbearer of freedom and unity on the continent. PANAFEST is aimed at offering a platform to tell the truth about the history of Africa. It was mooted by the late Mrs. Efua Sutherland in the mid 1980s as a cultural vehicle for bringing together Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora around issues of slavery which remain suppressed. This step finds meaning in William Woodrow's admonition that "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world and it stands in the danger of being exterminated".
PANAFEST is premised on the fact that the arts, particularly theatre, are powerful tools of communication and healing that people need to express themselves, dialogue and mobilize their energies to move to greater heights. The festival mainly takes place in and around the historic city of Cape Coast where colonial landmarks such as ancient forts and castles serve as a daily reminder of what humanity is capable of.
Emancipation Day is celebrated yearly on 1st August at Assin Manso in the Central Region to recollect the horrors of the slave trade as well as honour those who worked hard to overcome the challenges of that trade in humans. It is a continuous call to all Africans and people of African descent to become more committed to the emancipation of the entire African continent from slavery, especially in areas where it still exists in and to engage ourselves more meaningfully in the development of the African continent.
Emancipation Day celebrations is about the state of mind and it does not always have to do with race. As a nation, we face many challenges but this is both inescapable and indispensable to the process of nation-building. Our best option for the fullest emancipation of all our citizens is to achieve more, while ensuring that all benefit, on the basis of equity. Emancipation Day is also about improved health care, equality before the law, equal participation in government, empowerment through educational opportunities for our very young children and adults, and empowerment through equal rights and justice.
As we mark the 20th Anniversary and the 10 biennial celebration of PANAFEST this year, it will be instructive to assess the celebrations over the period, and whether it is still relevant, especially as it is mostly funded by Government.
PANAFEST consciously provides an opportunity to confront the effects of enslavement, purging the pain of Diaspora, acknowledging the residual effects of the trade on the Continent and re-uniting all affected people so as to forge a positive future in the contemporary global environment. Remembering the slave trade, slavery and its abolition is imperative for Africa and indeed the whole world since Africa's pain and bane became the gain of most of the industrialised world.
It provides a platform for Africans to do a sober reflection on how we survived the inhuman treatment our people went through during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Indeed it is a tremendous thing that we have survived the lash of the master, the bloodhounds, the rapes, the kidnappings and the brutality. While few of us remember the physical pain, there is ample evidence that most of us bear the psychological scars of the past. Herein lies the issue of mental slavery which has to be confronted with all the resources and power at the disposal of the modern African.
The occasion also brings fond memories of our illustrious and gallant freedom fighters and emancipators namely; Maxwell Philip, JJ Thomas, Sylvester Williams, Uriah Buzz Butler, C.L. R. James, Eric Williams, Malcolm X ,Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, W.B.E Dubois, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela , to mention a few, whose exemplary leadership should be seen as reference point to continue to inspire much confidence in the African to continue and wage the war towards total emancipation of the African till final victory is won in every sphere of life.
It provides an opportunity to re-examine the role of the Great African ancestors, their pioneering spirit of promoting Pan African liberation and unity as well as valiant contemporary efforts to innovate individuals, communities and countries to bring into being an alternative world. PANAFEST celebrates the strengths and resilience of African culture and achievements of Africans in spite of the transatlantic slave trade and its aftermath. It is designed to help Africans to reconnect their strengths and thus rededicate themselves to fully assuming their own destiny in recognition of the lessons of history.
As an international event, PANAFEST generates several inbound tours to Ghana from the Americas, Caribbean's, Europe and other parts of Africa with appreciable economic impacts on the local economies in Accra, Cape Coast, Elmina, Assin Manso, Assin Praso and beyond as well as transit cities and towns visited by the visitors during the pre and post event. It makes Ghana a motivational attraction for African people and a powerful reawakening event aimed especially at Africans in the Diaspora to retrace their steps to the Motherland - Africa, a phenomenon welcome and accepted by Ghanaians and also affords us the opportunity to renew our bonds with our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. Since 1994, the festival has attracted the participation of official delegations, individuals and groups from Africa, Europe and the United States.
During the celebration period, all hotels, restaurants, commercial transport operators, super-markets and souvenir retailers among others, do brisk business. Thus the benefits derived from the continuous existence of PANAFEST are enormous and impacts positively on the well being of the people. It is expected that the visit of our brothers and sisters to retrace their roots in Africa could be a springboard for them to explore business opportunities within the country.
The foregone pointers are testimonies to the fact that PANAFEST and Emancipation Day are worth their continuous celebration. Perhaps if there have been some challenges like the active involvement and participation of the Ghanaian public as well as the Africans on the Continent and in the Diaspora, these must be addressed. Much more effective marketing of PANAFEST here on the Continent and also in the Diaspora as well as the needed support from the private sector can help improve and make the festival attractive, participatory, and sustainable. These surmountable challenges do not in any way make the celebrations irrelevant.
The writer is Head, Public Relations at the Ministry of Tourism.