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Descendants of Africa Unite For Their Roots

Many people of African ancestry feel a strong tie to the continent, and there are a number of efforts to help them realize that connection.

One was a recent "Africa Diaspora Heritage Trail" conference in Hamilton, Bermuda. The event sought to encourage the descendants of Africa slaves to tour Africa and other historical sites in the Caribbean and North America. It also aimed to encourage the African diaspora to seek products from Africa.

The keynote speaker was Nigerian author and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. VOA English to Africa Service reporter Angel Tabe asked him why such a conference was needed. He said, “Africans in the Diaspora tend to look in the direction of Europe, Asia, before the African continent, to spend their vacations, where they want to relate to in terms of expanding their cultural horizon, and I have always felt that members of the African family should have priority.”

Soyinka argues that those who can afford the cost should be able to travel to whatever countries they choose. “…The first direction one should go is [to] one’s roots if you’ve been separated from them, [especially] in this age of DNA, when people are finding what part of the African country they come from. …[like television chat show host] Oprah Winfrey, female astronauts, musicians, the famous Rev. Jakes, who turns out to be an Ibo…. Prominent people…are finding out through DNA’s scientific methods, not the whimsicality of history.”

Soyinka says curiosity drives people to try to find out what their people looked like, whatever their material status. “It doesn’t matter whether it is a one-horse or one-hut village, so it’s a way of structuring the possibility of fulfilling that hunger which had been there long before the famous ‘Roots’ by Haley. You know, any initiative to facilitate that is beautiful.”

In a related development, the African Union (AU) has created what it calls "a sixth region" in its organizational structure to accommodate foreigners of African ancestry (the other five regions being the north, south, east, west and central portions of the continent). The United States has already appointed its regional representative. The move would encourage closer cooperation between Africa and those in the diaspora -- which would now be able to send recognized delegations to AU meetings and activities.

Soyinka describes it as a quite a bold move, adding that these days, world politics and relationships between nations have eroded physical geographical boundaries through technology.

But he says that there may be some complications. He also believes that the idea would have more impact if it had been born of the grassroots, not leadership. “Nobody should think for a moment that the very launching of the idea makes it viable…. These are people who have identified themselves with another sense of belonging; many African Americans …have come to Africa and considered it a disaster…so there is a lot for them to learn, a lot. Otherwise, I think it’s a marvelous idea.”