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August, 2019

 

West Africa's historic slave sites bear witness to brutal trade

KUNTA KINTEH ISLAND, Gambia, Aug 29 (Reuters) – When Gambian boat captain Abdoulie Jabang ferries visitors to Kunta Kinteh island he tells them that the waves lapping the shores of the former slave site threaten to wash history away.

Situated at the mouth of the Gambian river, the island is home to one of the many forts that dot the West African coast – crumbling reminders of the centuries-long transatlantic slave trade that tore millions of Africans from their homes.

As Jabang steered his blue-painted wooden boat through the water, he gestured towards Kunta Kinteh, whose ruined fortress shaded by giant baobab trees is threatened by erosion.

“You see the island is very small now,” he said.

“We have to preserve this island for the young coming generations – we need to let them know about it. We should never forget what this land has been used for.”

From Senegal’s Goree Island at Africa’s western-most point to the Nigerian port of Badagry on the Gulf of Guinea, the sites where slaves spent their final days on African soil have turned into places of pilgrimage and remembrance.

Many have seen a surge in visitors this year, which marks 400 years since the first record of African slaves arriving in North America.

Tourists can walk along the cannon-studded ramparts of slave fortresses or pass through the points of ‘No Return’, where slaves were marched in chains to waiting ships.

Some who live and work in the shadow of the landmarks see the sites as a reminder not to let history repeat itself.

“Future generations need to know what is happening so that it does not happen again,” said Chief Seraphin Kpissi, whose village in Ivory Coast lies near a slave site on the banks of the Bodo river.

A tall stone slab wrapped in chains now stands as a memorial to the slaves who were forced to take a last bath in the Bodo’s muddy waters towards the end of their march to the coast.

The memorial was erected with the participation of UNESCO, which has granted world heritage status to Kunta Kinteh island and several other West African sites due to the important testimony they provide of the slave trade. (Writing by Alessandra Prentice Editing by Gareth Jones)


S.Africa's Adcock Ingram posts higher FY profit, unloads Ghana investment

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 28 (Reuters) – South African pharmaceutical firm Adcock Ingram Holdings Ltd said on Wednesday full-year earnings rose 10.6% and that it disposed of its investment in Ghana.

Headline earnings per share from continuing operations for the year ended June 30 rose to 421.7 cents from a restated 381.3 cents in the previous year.

HEPS is the most widely watched profit gauge in South Africa and strips out certain one-off items.

The company said in a statement that it had disposed of its investment in Ayrton Drug Manufacturing Ltd, its associate in Ghana, as its performance did not meet expectations.

Adcock Ingram, which also has operations in India, said revenue rose 11% to 7.1 billion rand ($465.97 million). ($1 = 15.2369 rand) (Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)


Africa's biggest bank targets its smallest shops in fintech deal

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 27 (Reuters) – South Africa’s Standard Bank has taken a stake in local fintech firm Nomanini to offer credit to potentially millions of small shop owners and other informal retailers across Africa that have limited access to banking services.

Africa’s biggest bank by assets has invested $4 million in Nomanini, which connects informal merchants with distributors via an e-wallet, and aims to roll the service out across 14 African countries by early 2021.

Nine out of 10 retail transactions in Africa are conducted in cash or via informal channels like kiosks and open-air markets, according to a 2017 report by audit firm Deloitte.

Using Nomanini technology, Standard Bank will collect and analyse data on the retailers. Adrian Vermooten, Standard Bank’s head of digital in Africa regions, said data on just one primary product line, such as pre-paid airtime, was enough to proxy the risk associated to that shop, build up a financial profile and understand its ordering patterns.

This will allow the bank to pre-empt the trader’s re-stocking needs and send them alerts offering to arrange and underwrite its next order, for instance.

This could be done via Nomanini or Standard Bank devices supplied to the traders or by leveraging other existing networks or devices from third parties – whatever fits best in each market.

Vermooten pointed to tens of thousands of informal traders who currently act as mobile money agents in African countries. “Those are all small little businesses that we find really attractive,” he said.

At a later stage, the bank will look to help those retailers offer financial services, like cash deposits and withdrawals, to their customers.

Vahid Monadjem, founder and CEO of Nomanini, said even just 100,000 retailers could reach between 50 million and 150 million people.

Standard Bank hopes that its licences to lend and offer other products, such as insurance, will give it the edge over mobile operators that currently dominate financial services in markets like Kenya.

Kenyan telecom company Safaricom has pioneered offering Kenyans without bank accounts a network to transfer cash via mobile phones with its M-Pesa mobile payment service platform.

Standard Bank will also face competition from traditional rivals such as FirstRand, which has also teamed up with a fintech firm to target informal businesses.

New players are entering the fray too. Digital-only lender TymeBank, which launched this year, is planning to offer business accounts, while a bank set up by money transfer service Hello Paisa and lender Sasfin is specifically targeting informal retailers.

Hello Paisa’s Managing Director Ahmed Cassim told Reuters in an interview on Monday that the bank, launched in June, would offer retailers point-of-sale devices in order to collect data that would allow it to sell them products like loans and insurance – a strategy similar to Standard Bank’s.

“I think the penny has dropped that the opportunity exists,” Cassim said, adding that moving a retailer away from cash also allows its customers to shift towards other methods of payment, further expanding the addressable market for financial services.

LONG-TERM OPPORTUNITY

Africa is the world’s second-fastest growing banking market, according to a 2017 McKinsey report.

Standard Bank and Nomanini will roll out their service in South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, eSwatini and Lesotho.

Other products it will offer the retailers include short-term savings and insurance.

Nomanini is open to partnerships with other banks elsewhere, but says its partnership with Standard Bank alone will give it substantial geographical reach and product range.

“The scale of the opportunity for Nomanini within Standard Bank’s footprint can keep us busy for a very, very, very long time,” Manadjem said. (Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Susan Fenton)


UPDATE 1-WHO says eradicating malaria “can be done”, but first aim is to control it

(Adds expert comment on context, para 8)

By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent

LONDON, Aug 23 (Reuters) – Eradicating malaria is biologically feasible and a lofty aim, the World Health Organization said on Friday, but the focus for now should be getting the funds, tools and political will to control it.

Launching the findings of a three-year long analysis of the global fight against malaria, WHO experts said that while ending the mosquito-borne disease “can be done”, it’s not yet possible to put a price tag or target date on achieving eradication.

Setting unrealistic goals with unknown costs and endpoints can lead to “frustration and backlashes”, said the director of the WHO’s global malaria programme, Pedro Alonso, so the world should focus first on developing new medicines, vaccines and insecticides to get malaria cases and deaths under control.

“With the tools that we have today, it is most unlikely that eradication could be achieved,” Alonso told reporters in a telephone briefing. “We need to focus on getting back on track.”

After a decade or so of significant declines in malaria case numbers and deaths, latest WHO data show progress is stalling.

Malaria infected around 219 million people in 2017 and killed around 435,000 of them – the vast majority of them babies and children in the poorest parts of Africa.

These totals are little changed from 2016, but global case numbers had previously fallen steadily from 239 million in 2010 to 214 million in 2015, and deaths from 607,000 to around 500,000 from 2010 to 2013.

“Today, there are more countries without malaria than with (it), and more countries than ever have fewer than 10,000 malaria cases, putting elimination within reach,” Abdourahmane Diallo of the campaign group Roll Back Malaria said in a statement about the WHO’s report. He noted, however, that in some of the worst-hit countries, malaria cases are increasing, showing a need “to reignite and accelerate progress”.

A number of drugs are available to successfully treat malaria, and insecticide-treated bednets have proved able to control mosquitoes and infections. A partially effective vaccine – the world’s first against malaria – has been developed by the British drugmaker GSK and is being deployed in Ghana and Malawi, with plans for rollout in Kenya.

“TRANSFORMATIVE TOOLS”

But the WHO’s malaria eradication report, a summary of which was published on Friday, said these tools would not be sufficient to wipe out malaria altogether.

It urged scientists and global health funders to renew a drive towards research and development of “transformative tools and knowledge” to control mosquitoes and create more effective vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat the disease.

It also called for political leadership in the fight against malaria, and for funds and data analysis to be used in the places where it is likely to be most effective.

Currently, less than 1% of global funding for health research and development investment goes to developing tools to tackle malaria, it said.

“Our priority now should be to establish the foundation for a successful future eradication effort while guarding against the risk of failure that would lead to the waste of huge sums of money, frustrate all those involved… and cause a lack of confidence in the global health community’s ability to ever rid the world of this disease,” the report said. (Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Gareth Jones and Ros Russell)


WHO says eradicating malaria “can be done”, but first aim is to control it

LONDON, Aug 23 (Reuters) – Eradicating malaria is biologically feasible and a lofty aim, the World Health Organization said on Friday, but the focus for now should be getting the funds, tools and political will to control it.

Launching the findings of a three-year long analysis of the global fight against malaria, WHO experts said that while ending the mosquito-borne disease “can be done”, it’s not yet possible to put a price tag or target date on achieving eradication.

Setting unrealistic goals with unknown costs and endpoints can lead to “frustration and backlashes”, said the director of the WHO’s global malaria programme, Pedro Alonso, so the world should focus first on developing new medicines, vaccines and insecticides to get malaria cases and deaths under control.

“With the tools that we have today, it is most unlikely that eradication could be achieved,” Alonso told reporters in a telephone briefing. “We need to focus on getting back on track.”

After a decade or so of significant declines in malaria case numbers and deaths, latest WHO data show progress is stalling.

Malaria infected around 219 million people in 2017 and killed around 435,000 of them – the vast majority of them babies and children in the poorest parts of Africa.

These totals are little changed from 2016, but global case numbers had previously fallen steadily from 239 million in 2010 to 214 million in 2015, and deaths from 607,000 to around 500,000 from 2010 to 2013.

A number of drugs are available to successfully treat malaria, and insecticide-treated bednets have proved able to control mosquitoes and infections. A partially effective vaccine – the world’s first against malaria – has been developed by the British drugmaker GSK and is being deployed in Ghana and Malawi, with plans for rollout in Kenya.

“TRANSFORMATIVE TOOLS”

But the WHO’s malaria eradication report, a summary of which was published on Friday, said these tools would not be sufficient to wipe out malaria altogether.

It urged scientists and global health funders to renew a drive towards research and development of “transformative tools and knowledge” to control mosquitoes and create more effective vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat the disease.

It also called for political leadership in the fight against malaria, and for funds and data analysis to be used in the places where it is likely to be most effective.

Currently, less than 1% of global funding for health research and development investment goes to developing tools to tackle malaria, it said.

“Our priority now should be to establish the foundation for a successful future eradication effort while guarding against the risk of failure that would lead to the waste of huge sums of money, frustrate all those involved… and cause a lack of confidence in the global health community’s ability to ever rid the world of this disease,” the report said. (Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Gareth Jones)


An African American mother and daughter journey to their family's past in Ghana

CAPE COAST, GHANA, Aug 22 (Reuters) – Halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, the plane carrying Tani Sanchez and her daughter Tani Sylvester on a heritage tour to Ghana crossed paths with a powerful storm.

A sharp drop in elevation hurled flight attendants to the floor. Passengers started screaming and crying.

“‘Oh my God, I brought my mom! What did I do?’” Sylvester, 40, recalled thinking as the plane shook. “It was the scariest thing that has ever happened in my life.”

After a few minutes, the pilot pulled the aircraft to safety above the dark clouds.

Looking back, Sylvester sees the moment of terror as a nudge from the past, an invocation of the suffering of millions of Africans who were crammed into the lightless hulls of ships and sent in the opposite direction during the centuries-long transatlantic slave trade.

“I think my ancestors were telling me, this wasn’t an easy trip for us,” she said.

“They sailed over that same Atlantic Ocean. It was traumatising and scary for months, and I experienced five minutes of trauma and I was freaking out.”

The two Tanis are among a growing number of African Americans exploring their ancestral roots in Ghana, which has encouraged people with Ghanaian heritage to return in honour of the 400th anniversary of the first recorded arrival of African slaves to English settlements in what would one day become America.

They had set off the previous day from Los Angeles, where Sylvester works for a digital-streaming service. But their family’s journey began nearly two centuries before on a sugarcane plantation in Louisiana – and, before that, the homeland to which they were bound.

THE ‘LITTLE BITTY’ SLAVE

Sanchez’s great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Moss was born into slavery around 1838. Moss was a “little bitty lady” with long hair pulled back in a bun who was tough from growing up as a house slave on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation set on an isolated bluff. After obtaining permission from her master, she married her first husband according to slave custom by jumping across a broom together. He died at his plantation; no one knows how.

After the Civil War, she married a black former Union soldier from the North named Charles Wright who had moved to Louisiana to seek his fortune. Wright so cherished his memories of serving in a Union regiment that he kept his uniform carefully preserved in his home and was often called “Soldier” by family and friends.

The couple prospered after Wright bought his first piece of land, where he established orange groves and grew apricots, pears and pecans. They had six children, but only three survived childhood.

They lived in a well-appointed home filled with old-fashioned furniture and canopy beds and would go to church every Sunday in a stylish buggy pulled by “fine big old red horses.”

TRACING A FAMILY’S HISTORY

These stories from a beloved grandmother about the family’s experiences through slavery, the Civil War and early 20th century America sparked Sanchez’s lifelong quest to discover her ancestry.

Using oral histories, court transcripts, land deeds and census documents, Sanchez, who is an associate professor of Africana Studies at the University of Arizona, gathered enough information to form a clear picture of the past few generations on her mother’s side.

The result is a 300-plus-page book on her family’s history, “‘Didn’t Come From Nothing’ – An African American Story of Life.” All the details of the family’s history here are taken from the book.

For a long time, Sanchez’s efforts to glean insight on earlier generations came to nothing. Like most African Americans, her ancestry was erased by the machinery of slavery. Would-be family historians often reach dead ends because of a lack of personal records from a time when black people were treated as commodities.

The advent of genetic testing gave Sanchez hope that DNA could shed light on the family’s lost origins. The results, some showing a direct link to the Ashanti ethnic group in Ghana through her great-great-grandfather Wright, helped pave the way for the mother-daughter tour this month.

On the eve of the trip, sitting at her kitchen table in California with her mother, Sylvester talked about what the journey meant to her.

“We’re the first people in our family who’ve ever gone back home to Africa,” she said. “The last people that came from Africa, they came in chains. They were slaves, and we’re going back as free people.”

HANDMADE STOOL AND A HOMELAND

Family lore has it that Charles Wright was never enslaved, but contradictory public records muddy the picture. He was born in the 1830s or early 1840s in Maryland or Virginia and in older age looked like the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, according to one of his granddaughters.

He enlisted in the United States Coloured Troops in 1864 and served in Corpus Christi, Texas, before moving to Louisiana.

Very little is known about his early life or his origins. DNA tests now suggest he has an unbroken black male line extending back to the Ashanti people.

He made himself a personal prayer stool that ended up in the possession of grandson Taft Wright. The Ashanti have a tradition of carving wooden stools as seats for their owner’s soul. Sanchez sees Wright’s stool as a clue that he may have been within touching distance of his African past.

FOOTSTEPS AT THE SLAVE RIVER

After arriving in the sprawling, humid Ghanaian capital, Accra, Sanchez and her daughter joined a group of around 40 mostly African Americans. They got to know each other as they were taken around the city by a tour guide who taught them to sing a Ghanaian hymn and how to respond to a traditional call for their attention in the local Akan language.

Mostly strangers before the trip, the group bonded as they followed the torturous route their ancestors may have taken. In the dungeon of a slave fort, they stood together in shocked silence as they heard how the floor beneath their feet was still grouted with centuries of hard-packed human faeces, urine, blood and flesh. If one of the group appeared overwhelmed, others would quickly seek to console them, offering tissues, a hug or a sympathetic ear.

“I have taught introduction to African American studies and I have taught slavery, but there is something about being here and actually walking on the path and looking at the dungeons and looking at the devastation colonisation has left – there is nothing like it,” Sanchez said toward the end of the tour as Atlantic waves crashed onto the nearby beach.

The previous day, the group had visited a river farther inland where slaves were forced to bathe before imprisonment on the coast ahead of their journey to the Americas.

They picked their way down the bank past stands of bamboo to the shallow, sun-dappled water, helping the less sure-footed as they went. On the guide’s invitation, Sylvester stepped into the creek, closed her eyes and raised her hands in prayer.

“I felt what my mom was saying about honouring the ancestors, like my ancestors would want me to get into that water and retrace their steps,” she said. “And even just taking off my shoes and feeling the same ground that they walked on, getting into the water, I just feel like I came out of that water a different person.”

Afterward, Sylvester wrote with black marker on a pink memorial wall at the site, “Long journey home,” and she and her mother signed their names: Tani S + Tani S.

QUILT-MAKING AND THE PAST

Born in 1897, Mary Louise Wright had a happy childhood, attending quilting bees and gumbo parties at her grandparents’ house in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She was a favourite of her grandfather Wright, often accompanying him on visits to his orange groves.

Before she turned 20, Mary Louise married Curley Euell, who worked as a lumberjack in the local sawmill. His father had been the victim of a lynching in the area. Euell never spoke about his father or his death.

In 1924, the couple and their four children joined the “Great Migration” of African Americans moving away from the South. Euell had accepted an offer to relocate to Arizona, so the family loaded themselves and their belongings onto a freight car, sleeping on mattresses as they headed west.

They eventually settled in Tucson and bought a house that remained a gathering place for generations.

Quilt-making was an important social activity for Mary Louise throughout her life. Some of the quilts’ patterns or color schemes appeared to hint at an unconscious African influence. In the quilts, Sanchez could see her family’s connection to its forebears across the sea.

“WE ARE ONE”

Once in Ghana, Sanchez was electrified by the sense that she was meeting people whose grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents may have known her African ancestors.

The tour involved long bus rides on bumpy roads hedged with tattered banana and palm trees. As they journeyed inland to the Ashanti capital of Kumasi and then back to the slave sites on the coast, they passed shops tacked together out of sheet metal, old boards and tarpaulin offering everyday services with a religious flavour: “Great Miracle, fax and printing,” “With God Tailoring” and “Peace Be With You Keycutting.” Street vendors weaved through the traffic, selling chilled drinks and snacks from bowls balanced on their heads. In the distance, a vine-draped tropical forest covered the rolling hills of what the passengers were being told was their homeland.

During a traditional Ashanti “durbar” ceremony of drumming and dance outside Kumasi, a local chief formally welcomed them back to the tribe and proclaimed: “We are proud of you. … We are one.”

In a small courtyard, musicians in black-and-white robes beat waist-high drums as the chief, his wrist stacked with chunky gold bracelets, performed a ritual dance under a large fringed parasol spun above him by an attendant.

The tour group lined up to greet the chief one by one. After stooping to shake his hand, Sanchez returned to her seat. Almost in surprise, she reached up to catch a tear sliding from beneath her glasses. She pulled a crumpled tissue from her handbag and dabbed her eyes.

“I certainly didn’t expect to cry. I studied this. … I’m actually crying?” she said afterward.

“I was thinking of my obsession with genealogy and how I’ve been doing it for years,” she said as curious locals stood in the back watching the event. With a friendly smile, one girl in skinny pink jeans pulled her phone out to film a member of the tour dancing to the drums.

“My ancestors would have given anything to go back, anything to escape the horrific situation,” Sanchez said. “And here we are. And I truly believe that they were looking down and they got a kick out of it.”

NOT A SECOND-CLASS CITIZEN

After the move to Arizona, the Wright-Euell family continued to encounter unequal treatment. They weren’t welcome in restaurants and were only allowed to sit in the balcony of cinemas. The children faced insults at school from white teachers and pupils, which their mother advised them to ignore.

Mary Louise’s determination that they receive a good education led her to work for wealthy white families as a maid, eventually putting all six children through university or nursing school.

She had inherited her grandfather’s resolute character and refusal to see herself as a second-class citizen despite the severe restrictions against black people.

In the 1960s, as the Black Power movement was getting into gear, a young Sanchez excitedly told her grandmother about what she had recently learned about African and black American achievements.

The information didn’t surprise Mary Louise. “Well, we didn’t come here empty-handed. We didn’t come from nothing,” she replied.

The phrase would ring in Sanchez’s ears during her years of research into the family’s history. She had a name for her book.

MISSING PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

As Sanchez and her daughter prepared to fly home from Ghana, Sylvester talked excitedly about her hope that black people in the diaspora might eventually take subsidised trips back to Africa similar to the “Birthright” program that offers Jewish youth from around the world a free trip to Israel.

“Everyone has a homeland. People go, ‘Oh I’m from Ireland, I’m from Scotland.’ Being African American, I tell people I’m from New Orleans, like that’s where I was born, you know?” she said.

“There’s something healing about being here, eating the food, meeting the people – it’s the missing piece of the puzzle that connects you to who you really are.”

Sitting side by side, the pair mused over what they would be feeling as they flew back over the Atlantic to the United States. They were still dressed in the white clothes worn for an earlier ceremony, where they had received a traditional name and sipped schnapps from a cup proffered by a local chief wrapped in a robe of densely patterned cloth.

No matter the flight conditions, their ancestors would not be far from her thoughts, Sylvester said.

“They went through all of this hardship so that I wouldn’t have to, but I need to acknowledge that every day that I’m alive.”

Sanchez said she was still processing everything she had seen and learned on the trip, but felt a sense of closure. When asked if she planned to continue her genealogical quest, she replied, “I’m actually kind of satisfied.” Nevertheless, her book on the family’s history may need to be updated.

After the durbar ceremony in Kumasi, Sanchez seized a chance to talk to the chief and asked if he would be willing to be tested to find out if they share any genetic links. He agreed, and she kissed his hand.

Later she said she hoped to find someone to do the test. “And then find out,” she said. “Why not find out?”

Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; edited by Kari Howard. Additional reporting by Kia Johnson in Washington, D.C., and Rollo Ross in Los Angeles.


Ghana cashes in on slave heritage tourism

* A 400-year slavery anniversary sparks rise in heritage tours

* Ghana tourism board expects 40% rise in visitors this year

* Rise could benefit economy – if it can be sustained

By Alessandra Prentice and Siphiwe Sibeko

ASSIN MANSO, GHANA, Aug 20 (Reuters) – In a clearing at the turnoff to Assin Manso, a billboard depicts two African slaves in loincloths, their arms and legs in chains. Beside them are the words, “Never Again!”

This is “slave river,” where captured Ghanaians submitted to a final bath before being shipped across the Atlantic into slavery centuries ago, never to return to the land of their birth. Today, it is a place of somber homecoming for the descendants of those who spent their lives as someone else’s property.

The popularity of the site has swelled this year, 400 years after the trade in Africans to the English colonies of America began. This month’s anniversary of the first Africans to arrive in Virginia has caused a rush of interest in ancestral tourism, with people from the United States, the Caribbean and Europe seeking out their roots in West Africa.

“Ten years ago, no one went to the slave river, but this year has been massive,” said Awuracy Butler, who runs a company called Butler Tours.

She said business has nearly doubled this year, which has been touted as the Year of Return for the African diaspora tracing their family history. The number of tourists has forced her to hire more vehicles, she said.

“Everyone wants to add the slave river to their tour,” she said. The coastal forts where they spent their last days in Ghana in suffocating conditions are also increasingly popular, she said.

The increase in tourism has been an economic boon for Ghana, which unlike other West African countries has aggressively marketed its “heritage” offerings for the anniversary.

Officials see it as an opportunity to entice some much-needed foreign investment into the economy, dogged in recent years by high inflation and public debt that has needed an International Monetary Fund lending program to fix.

The Ghana Tourism Authority expects 500,000 visitors this year, up from 350,000 in 2018. Of those, 45,000 are estimated to be seeking their ancestral roots, a 42% increase from last year.

On a recent day in the capital, Accra, a delegation of tribal elders and a representative of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre welcomed a tour group at a hotel in the city.

At an event in a low-ceilinged hotel conference room, the tour guide encouraged the visitors to sing a hymn in a local language, gently chiding them for not yet knowing the tune. “You are Ghanaians now,” he said.

Members of the group, who were mostly African American, went up to the front one by one to pose with a smiling tourism ministry official or one of the robe-clad elders as they received an official certificate of participation. The investment representative launched into a lengthy power-point presentation focused on the need for investment in Ghana’s cocoa sector and the minimum capital requirements for joint ventures.

With an average spend of $1,850 per tourist, the tourism authority expects this year’s revenues to top $925 million, a 50% increase from 2018, which it hopes to sustain over the next three years at least.

The amount is dwarfed by Ghana’s $2-billion cocoa industry but is considered essential in a country of 28 million people who mostly live in poverty.

Anthony Bouadi, a tour guide at Cape Coast Castle, a fortress where the captives were kept until they were sent on ships over the Atlantic, said he believes the site will change the lives of those who visit.

“The moment you get to know your history, it is going to change you,” he said. “We are encouraging our brothers and sisters from the U.S., from the Caribbean from Europe to come back to their Motherland Africa to get to know the culture … and whatever the ancestors went through.”

The surge of visitors is part of a global phenomenon: Airbnb data shows a five-fold increase in people travelling to places connected to their ancestry worldwide since 2014.

U.S. genetics company African Ancestry says its sales of DNA tests tripled after last year’s release of the superhero film “Black Panther,” an Afro-centric blockbuster with a predominantly black cast. The company is launching an ancestry-based travel service later this year.

To make the most of the moment, Ghana will host a mass “ancestry reveal” on Friday. More than 80 African American participants, including the head of the NAACP, will learn their genetic history, touted as the largest ceremony of its kind in Africa’s history.

Ghana has long encouraged its diaspora to return and has strong links with the African American community. Malcolm X visited in the 1960s and spent time with the American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who lived there at the time. The prominent black writer and activist W.E.B. Du Bois settled and died in Ghana. Since, many other ordinary African American families have returned.

But questions remain about whether the heightened interest in Ghana can be sustained after the anniversary. Bad roads, a cumbersome visa application process and expensive flights could stem the number of visitors in the long term.

“The government has a huge responsibility,” said Peter Appiah, head of research and publicity at the Centre for National Culture in Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city.

“If we want to sustain this tempo,” he said, “then we need to do a lot more in terms of social infrastructure.”

MASSIVE YEAR

At Assin Manso, a group of visitors removed their shoes and walked barefoot down a path to the muddy river that runs through a bamboo grove.

Together they placed their hands in the water, then waded in to offer prayers in thanks for the opportunity to return.

“I can’t even get my head around people coming from a land like this and being snatched,” said Miriam Allen, a 62-year-old retired urban planner from New York, clutching a box of tissues and choking back tears.

“This is a good place and a bad place. A good place to know your ancestors, but to know what those white people did to us. I can’t …” she said, breaking off.

On most tours, Assin Manso marks one of the final stops on a country-wide swing in which groups take part in Ashanti rituals, meet local chiefs and trace the gruelling route captured slaves took from the country’s northern hinterland out to the coast.

The forts that still dot Ghana’s coast are a reminder of what slaves endured.

At the Cape Coast Castle, rusted old cannons point out to sea from the ramparts, angled skyward, away from locals playing football on the beach below.

The government is committed to its upkeep – on a recent visit, workers were repainting the high white walls.

In forts like this one, slaves experienced their last days on African soil crammed in steaming-hot dungeons without light – and where tourists are now returning in droves.

“I have seen a lot of people – they really are coming,” said Bouadi, the guide at the castle, who now does up to six tours a day compared with three last year. Each tour has doubled in size, he said, to around 40 people.

He tries to help his family when he can, using the extra money he earns to pay their water and electricity bills.

“Tourism organisations in Ghana are having to hire more people,” he said. “If people earn more, they can pay for school fees; it boosts the local economy and reduces poverty.”

Ghana’s efforts stand in stark contrast to other West African countries with rich histories of their own that are little known outside the continent.

Despite a collection of slave sites, including the picturesque but haunting Goree Island, where tourists can visit old slave quarters and its “door of no return,” Senegal does not appear to have harnessed the potential like Ghana. Neither has Benin or Nigeria.

In Nigeria, the main sites commemorating the slave trade are three small museums along a road in the coastal town of Badagry. Artefacts including chains used to shackle slaves are spread across the museums, two of which are small single-story buildings with corrugated iron roofs.

Foreign tourists are rare at the site, and a large proportion of visitors are schoolchildren on tours. The poor state of local roads, dotted with potholes, make it hard to visit Badagry: The 65-kilometer (40-mile) journey from the country’s largest city, Lagos, takes around three hours.

“As far as I know, only Ghana has made such a significant effort in terms of programmes and activities,” said Shanelle Haile, a doctoral student at Brown University in Rhode Island who was in Ghana to study diaspora engagement surrounding the anniversary.

“Now that we’re here and we’ve done the events and the activities, it’s really moving and it’s a powerful experience,” she said. “I just hope that more African Americans learn and hear about it.”

Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in Dakar; Christian Akorlie in Accra; and Afolabi Sotunde in Badagry, Nigeria. Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Kari Howard


Ivory Coast sunny weather supports next main cocoa crop – farmers

ABIDJAN, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Rains last week in most of Ivory Coast’s cocoa growing regions were below average but dew and good soil moisture content augured well for the next October-to-March main crop, farmers told Reuters on Monday.

The April-to-September mid-crop is tailing off, and farmers are now focusing on the next main crop, which runs officially from October to March.

Farmers across most of cocoa regions said they were happy with the better mix of sun and rain, adding that lots of pods in their plantations were now well formed and almost ripe.

In the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt, although rainfall was below average, farmers said they were confident on the length of the main crop because of the proliferation of small pods or ‘cherelles’.

“There are good pods and we had lots of dew and fine rain. Cocoa likes that,” said Koffi Kouame, who farms near Soubre. “The trees will need good rains and good sun in September to consolidate (these gains),” he added.

Cocoa needs a delicate mix of sun and rain to thrive: too little rain and it wilts; too little sun, and pods fail to flourish and become susceptible to disease.

Data collected by Reuters showed rainfall in Soubre, which includes the regions of San Pedro and Sassandra was at 7.8 millimetres (mm) last week, 7.2 mm below the five-year average.

Farmers were happy with the improved of the sun and forecast a good start of the next main crop in southern region of Agboville and Divo, in the eastern region of Abengourou, and in western region of Man, where rainfall was below average last week.

In the centre-western region of Daloa, producing the quarter of Ivory Coast’s national output, cocoa planter Albert N’Zue said strong volumes of beans would come out of the bush in October compared with last year in the region.

Data collected by Reuters showed rainfall in Daloa, including the region of Bouafle, was 27.9 mm last week, 1.8 mm above average.

In central regions of Bongouanou and Yamoussoukro, rainfall was above average last week, farmers there remained confident in a strong crop.

Average temperatures ranged from 24-25.7 degrees Celsius, data showed. (Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly Editing by Tim Cocks)


Ghana yet to decide on cocoa farmgate price -Cocobod

DAKAR, Aug 15 (Reuters) – Ghana will not make a decision on a cocoa farmgate price until an industry committee meets to discuss it in September, a spokesman for the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) said on Thursday.

Reuters this month reported that Ghana will raise cocoa farmgate prices by 5.2% for the 2019/20 season starting in October to 8,000 Ghanaian cedi ($1,477.38) per tonne, the first increase in four years, following strong sales of export contracts to chocolate makers and cocoa houses.

But Cocobod spokesman Fiifi Boafo said that no decision had been finalised and that a committee made up of representatives from the cocoa board, licensed buyers and farmers will make a decision next month.

“We need to get the input of everyone before we set a price,” he told Reuters.

Ghana and Ivory Coast, the world’s top two cocoa producers, joined forces in June to impose a floor price for cocoa of $2,600 per tonne and a live income differential (LID) of $400 per tonne. They have also been in talks for two years about simultaneously announcing their farmgate prices. ($1 = 5.4150 Ghanaian cedi) (Reporting By Edward McAllister; Editing by Susan Fenton)


South African retailer TFG to review Kenya, Ghana stores

* Firm very cautious about expanding in rest of Africa

* Will consider GDP growth, lease negotiations before leaving

* TFG to launch new store format Sportscene in Sept

* Sportscene will have DJ booth, tattoo parlour

By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 15 (Reuters) – South African fashion retailer TFG will decide next year whether to continue trading in Kenya and Ghana where it has at least six stores in each market, Chief Executive Officer Anthony Thunstrom said on Thursday.

South African retailers have been performing poorly in the rest of Africa as low economic growth and currency devaluations hit sales. In July, department store chain Woolworths retreated from West Africa for a second time.

“We’ve been very cautious in terms of where we have expanded. Closer to home has been better for us. Much less risky and at the moment we’re doing okay,” Thunstrom said.

TFG will review economic growth, legislature and lease negotiation in Kenya and Ghana before making its decision, Thunstrom said.

“The other difficulty is, because of where the commodity cycle is, government revenues are massively down in those countries. So you get all sorts of funny tax things coming up where suddenly the VAT rate has increased overnight or you can’t claim the input VAT and your cost of business goes up 20%,” he told reporters.

LURING MILLENNIALS

In its South African home market, Thunstrom said TFG will be launching a smaller format Sportscene store that will have entertainment such as a basketball court and a DJ booth, in an effort to lure millennials into its stores and away from online players such as Naspers majority-owned Superbalist.

The new format store will also have a tattoo parlour, a play station and a sneaker cleaning service, he said. TFG’s Sportscene brand sells designer sneakers and athleisure wear.

The store will be launched in September in Johannesburg’s upscale Sandton shopping and financial district, Thunstrom said.

“Consumers do not enjoy shopping, for a variety of different reasons, in big department store formats anymore,” Thunstrom said.

“They (department stores) almost have no customer service, anything you can buy in a department store today you can pretty much buy online or at a specialist retailer and (they) do little if anything to create customer experience.”

In the full-year ended March, TFG reported a 19.6% rise in retail annual sales to 34.1 billion rand ($2.23 billion), while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 6.2% to 5.2 billion rand. ($1 = 15.2652 rand) (Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Elaine Hardcastle)