Diplomacy, Identity and Appropriation of the “Door of no Return”. President Barack Obama and Family in Ghana and the Cape Coast Castle, 2009
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President Barack Hussein Obama’s one-day state visit, with his family, to Ghana in July 2009 was in many ways a journey that fused official engagements and a deeply private quest. This chapter explores the underlying political motivations, historical meanings, symbolisms and paradoxes of the Obama family’s visit within the broad frameworks of US’ sub-Saharan Africa politics and “Roots” or “Diaspora” tourism. Ghana was an appropriate destination for the trip for two reasons. First, the country provided the political context for him to outline his Presidency’s sub-Saharan African policy. Second, on the “map of Africanness”, Ghana, with its scores of slave trade relics presented the historical and emotional setting for individual members of the family to engage with the historical truth about their heritage and identity. Indeed, the Obama family’s tour of the Cape Coast Castle fortresses, like that of thousands of African Americans who have visited or will in the future be visiting the slave trade memorial sites in West Africa, was a “pilgrimage” to the continent of origins. Notably, however, in contrast to the trips by the “anonymous” African Americans, the media coverage of the Obama family’s high-profile pilgrimage threw the global spotlight on the decisive role of slavery in the making of the African American experience in the Americas. We discuss the implications of President Obama’s walk through the infamous “Door of No Return” at Cape Coast Castle, arguing that though he is not a slave descendant, the President combined his political stature, rootedness in Africa, command of media attention and great capacity for empathy to refocus attention on the salience of the lessons of the Atlantic slave trade.
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