6 countries to visit on a return to Africa

OPINION: Of course, Ghana and South Africa are on our list of places for African-Americans to visit when returning to the Motherland. But four other countries may also be worth a trip.

A tourist takes a picture of the dungeons at the Cape Coast Castle on Aug. 18, 2019. African-American visitors flocked to Ghana as it marked the "Year of Return" to remember the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in Virginia. (Photo by Natalija Gormalova/AFP via Getty Images)

Malcolm did it. Stokely, aka Kwame Ture, did it. Even Du Bois did it, at the improbable age of 91.

They all made it to the African homeland.

As have thousands of African-Americans who over the years made two countries their most frequent destinations, Ghana and South Africa.

We want to tell you about the adventures that await you both in Ghana and South Africa, as well as a whole bunch of other African gems that are off the beaten path for diaspora Africans.

But first, on the allure of the continent for anyone with a bit of adventurous wanderlust. If you need to know where you came from to know where you’re going — or where you have been — then Africa is a must-visit destination.

For centuries, the continent’s story was told by outsiders, usually Westerners, who imposed their own often distorted and poisonous worldview on the reality of Africa.

They called a land where the sun doesn’t stop shining the Dark Continent!

Far from reality.

Maya Angelou, in her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” wrote about her experiences in Africa and the sense of connection and belonging that she felt while there. She described Africa as a place where she felt “among my own kind, among people who understood my heritage and my culture,” and she spoke about the pride and empowerment that she felt as an African-American visiting the continent.

“For the first time, I felt that I was among my own kind, among people who understood my heritage and my culture,” she wrote. “I felt at home in Africa, and I knew that this was a place where I belonged.”

In case you doubt you need Africa to give you a sense of grounding, ask Dave Chapelle. In 2005, Chappelle abruptly left his Comedy Central show to travel to South Africa. He said he felt that the demands of producing the series were taking a toll on his mental health and that he was not being treated fairly by the network. He also reportedly felt that he had lost control over the direction of the show and that it was no longer true to his vision.

Chappelle spent a few weeks in South Africa, where he took time to reflect on his career and his life. He eventually returned to the United States and resumed his career to even greater fame and fortune.

It is difficult to say exactly how many African-Americans visit the African continent each year, as there are no comprehensive statistics on this topic. However, it is likely that the number of African-Americans visiting Africa has increased in recent years due to a number of factors, including increased economic development on the continent, the growth of the African diaspora, and the proliferation of affordable air travel.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of African-Americans traveling to Africa for ancestry-based travel, or “roots tourism,” which involves visiting the countries or regions of Africa from which their ancestors were taken as slaves. This trend has been fueled in part by the availability of DNA testing and genealogy services, which have made it easier for people to learn more about their ancestry and to connect with their cultural roots.

Ghana

A group of African-American tourists hold hands as they enter the ocean in a remembrance ceremony after visiting the “Door of No Return” at the Cape Coast Castle on Aug. 18, 2019. (Photo by Natalija Gormalova/AFP via Getty Images)

Ghana is the most popular destination for those seeking a homecoming. And the West African nation has been proactive in attracting African-Americans to its shore, in 2000 passing the Return of Abode law, which granted the right of return to people claiming ancestral descent from the continent.

Ghana was the final home of W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois moved to Ghana in 1961 at the invitation of the country’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, who offered him citizenship and a position as a faculty member at the University of Ghana. Du Bois accepted the offer and spent the last years of his life in Ghana, where he continued to write and work on civil rights issues. He died at the age of 95 while in Ghana and was buried in the capital, Accra.

South Africa

A view from the Apartheid Museum, which takes its visitors on a journey through the country’s recent history of racism, in Johannesburg, South Africa on Aug.12, 2022. (Photo by Murat Ozgur Guvendik/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

South Africa looms large in our imagination because of its storied history of triumph over apartheid with the leadership of Nelson Mandela. But the country also happens to be so beautiful that it is impossible to exaggerate. It is also highly developed, and Western visitors feel more easily at home because of its developed infrastructure and highly advanced tourism industry.

South Africa has a first-class health care system, an affordable cost of living for Westerners and English is widely spoken, making it a place where it is easy to land and navigate. It does present major challenges because of its distinction as the most unequal place on earth. But it’s a country with a vast potential that people of African descent from around the world call home.

Tanzania

One word: Zanzibar. Or two: Kilimanjaro. Or three: the Masai Mara. So it goes with Tanzania, which is endowed with numerous natural beauties but still remains off the beaten path for many international visitors.

Kenya

A Maasai woman arrives with collected firewood at a village nearby Selenkay Conservancy, a community-owned conservation area run by a private company, in Amboseli, Kenya, on June 22, 2022. The camp’s 10 luxurious tents see tourists flocking again, after the shutdown linked to COVID-19. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Kenya is a tech pacesetter in Africa as its young population creates innovations from fintech to ridesharing. That is before we even get into its Indian Ocean beaches, vast lands of wild animals and tea plantations.

Senegal

Senegal is the cool cousin of Africa. The laid back, Francophone country is an epicenter of Christianity and Islam. The capital, Dakar, maintains its reputation as the home of an Afro-French nightlife infused with Latin-inflected African tunes from bands such as Africando.

Ethiopia

When Ethiopia gets its act together anytime now, it will be an African powerhouse ready to take off in a way that befits its long and incredible history of independence, unique traditions and the second-largest population on the continent. Ethiopia is hard to crack, but once you do it with the help of local friends, you have a treasure trove of the past, the present and the future representing an intoxicating brew that is uniquely Habesha, as the Ethiopians call themselves.


Samson Mulugeta has reported from 45 of Africa’s 54 countries and has lived and worked in South Africa for two decades.

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