African Diaspora and the Question of Return: A Subtle Review of Diaspora Festival, Badagry

The concept of diaspora is about ‘not being at home’ or ‘to scatter’, ‘to disperse’ and ‘to take root elsewhere.’ The formation of the diaspora is premised on dispersals of people into spaces, which could either be voluntary or involuntary. In mapping the history of African Diaspora, three historical dimensions can simply be configured: the people of African descents that had migrated from Africa in the pre-historical period about 6 – 7 million years ago to populate other parts of the world (based on the proven hypothesis that Africa is the birth place of humanity); second are those who were the consequence of forceful dispersals as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, starting from the 15th century; the third group are those Africans who found their ways in foreign lands as a result of failure of socio-economic and political order in their respective countries and the economic pull of the global North. As a fall-out of these historical trajectories, people of African descents are to be found today in all continents of the world.

However, the transatlantic slave trade led to the greatest forced migration of a human population in history. Millions of Africans were transported to the Caribbean, North and South America, as well as Europe and elsewhere. An ‘African Diaspora’ or dispersal of Africans outside Africa was created in the modern world. Africans from the continent and the Diaspora have sometimes organised together for their common pan-African concerns – against slavery or colonial rule. Thus, over time a pan-African consciousness and various pan-African movements have developed.

In recent years the African Union, the organisation of African states, has recognised that the Diaspora, as well as Africans from the continent, must be fully represented in its discussions and decision making.  Those in the Diaspora have often maintained links with the African continent, while forming an important part, and sometimes the majority, of new nations.

The transatlantic slave trade began during the 15th century when Portugal, and subsequently other European kingdoms, were finally able to expand overseas and reach Africa. The Portuguese first began to kidnap people from the west coast of Africa and to take those they enslaved back to Europe. It is estimated that by the early 16th century as much as 10% of Lisbon’s population was of African descent. After the European discovery of the American continent, the demand for African labour gradually grew, as other sources of labour – both European and American – were found to be insufficient.

The Spanish took the first African captives to the Americas from Europe as early as 1503, and by 1518 the first captives were shipped directly from Africa to America. The majority of African captives were exported from the coast of West Africa, some 3,000 miles between what is now Senegal and Angola, and mostly from the modern Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon.

Historians still debate exactly how many Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic during the next four centuries. A comprehensive database compiled in the late 1990s puts the figure at just over 11 million people. Of those, fewer than 9.6 million survived the so-called middle passage across the Atlantic, due to the inhuman conditions in which they were transported, and the violent suppression of any on-board resistance. Many people who were enslaved in the African interior also died on the long journey to the coast – some in an attempt to resist slavery.

The total number of Africans taken from the continent’s east coast and enslaved in the Arab world is estimated to be somewhere between 9.4 million and 14 million. These figures are imprecise due to the absence of written records. The forced removal of up to 25 million people from the continent obviously had a major effect on the growth of the population in Africa. It is now estimated that in the period from 1500 to 1900, the population of Africa remained stagnant or declined.

The human and other resources that were taken from Africa contributed to the capitalist development and wealth of Europe. Africa was the only continent to be affected in this way, and this loss of population and potential population was a major factor leading to its economic underdevelopment. The transatlantic trade also created the conditions for the subsequent colonial conquest of Africa by the European powers and the unequal relationship that still exist between Africa and the world’s big powers today.

The paper looks at the question of return and how Nigeria since 1999 has used the Diaspora Festival Badagry to continue to reconnect African Diaspora back to their homeland as well as promote tourism.  Put differently, diaspora festival(s) are designed with the sole intend to attract the historic African diaspora back to their cultural and ancestral roots.

Over the years however, diaspora festival has become a peculiar kind of festival that is a common phenomenon that has become a force in driving international tourism along the coastal states of West Africa. In Ghana, it is referred to as Pan-African Festival (PANAFEST); in Gambia, it is called Homecoming Roots Festival; in Senegal, it is Goree Diaspora Festival, and in Republic of Benin, it is referred to as Voodoo Pilgrimage Festival. Many of these West African countries have created Ministries of Diaspora and Tourism for the purposes of diaspora engagement and building their economies through cultural connections and the festival is heavily supported by these countries’ respective government at the centre. This is premised on the history of enormous socio-economic opportunities and potentials the diaspora has come to symbolise for many countries across the globe.

The Diaspora Festival is a global tourism product, which is sometimes described as ‘nostalgic tourism.’ It celebrates the identity, culture, history, heritage and tradition of a given people in a given destination, usually in the primordial homeland at a given period. In other words, Diaspora festival aggregates both the tangible and intangible cultural resources as expressed in the history, artifacts, monuments, places of memory, religion, topographical attraction and the rustic environmental ambiance of the homeland as instigator for homeland nostalgia or pull factors for the Diaspora temporal or permanent return.

The festival is usually weaved around the tragic history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, as opportunity to celebrate African history, freedom and achievement of the black race. Diaspora festivals all over the world are greatly influenced by the classical theory of the so-called ‘Solar System Model,’ which depicts Diasporic communities all over the world as ‘satellites’ or ‘a periphery’ that maintains an unswerving, unwavering, positive attraction to the symbolic Centre (the Homeland), which is often perceived as the Cradle of their innermost being throughout history. In the contemporary African milieu, culture provides the strongest link between Africa and its Diaspora and this has become a veritable means to building their economies through cultural connections and reconnections.

In Nigeria, the sole intention of organizing the festival is not too different from the ones held within the geographical space of West Africa. Thus, Nigeria Diaspora Festival is woven around the historic Diaspora whose forebears were victims of the horrible Slave Trade and majority of who are in perpetual nostalgia to reconnect with the primordial homeland – Africa. African Union at the other hand has recognized the need for inclusion of the African Diaspora in its discussions and decision making. One sure way of achieving this, however, is to initiate a process of linking those in diasporas with the African continent – initiate a voyage of return and create ‘Sense of Africaness’. The Diaspora festival equally intends to achieve this objective through tourism – recognizing that diaspora is the largest asset Africa has outside of Africa.

Diaspora festival, as a nostalgic form of tourism, has the potentials to turn around the history of tourism in Nigeria and Lagos State in particular. Tourism has become an integral part of the global economy that cannot be ignored. According to the 2016 World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) Annual Tourism Reports, tourism contributed 10 per cent to global GDP, created 1/11 global jobs, and international arrivals rose to 1.2 billion. Only 50 million arrivals were recorded for North Africa and part of Sub-Saharan Africa, probably Ghana, Gambia and Senegal; Nigeria was not listed. Tourist exports globally generated $1.5 trillion, about 70 per cent of the world’s export, while tourism receipts at destinations all over the world hit a record of $1, 260 billion.

Sad enough Nigeria is yet to utilize its tourism potential to boast its economy. Little achievement could be said to have been made in the area of using the Diaspora Festival Badagry to woo African diaspora investors back home to invest in the growing economy. Interestingly, very few of these Diaspora Africans have returned to their homeland with many still wanting to rekindle relationship with Africa. Some of them as suggested by scholars might not come back to Africa because African leaders are yet to put in place policies that would make them come home to settle. The continent of African stand to lose a lot for not initiating policies that will facilitate and encourage diasporic return process. Thus, the key to gaining from this group of ‘lost sheep,’ is to bridge the gap between them and the various African countries, formulate synergy that would crystalise in the socio-economic and political interaction of African countries and the Diaspora Africans. For instance, in 2015 according to reports Nigerians in the Diaspora through the formal system sent home $21 billion. A kind of contribution that Abike Dabiri-Erewa noted in 2016 that would help resolve the nation’s economic challenges. According to her, if the formal methods could record this much that the informal methods might have tripled the amount, adding that this recorded sum is huge and had a great impact on the economy.

Creating a synergy that would be trustworthy for the Diaspora people to think of home and possibly, think of investing in Africa is the only genuine visible way of encouraging the African Diaspora to return home to invest and this can only be achieved if African governments stop thinking of what the Diaspora people can do for them, but how they can contribute to their good.

Put differently, Dr. Sabayon Olaoluwa Coordinator Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan at the 2016 Diasporal festival said the call for Africans in the Diaspora to return should be on mutual grounds and not on the elephant coming home to be king, only to be killed by the same people that have invited the elephant. He made this contribution while speaking on Nihilist Advocacy for Return and Transcendence: Olaudah Equiano As Extended Metaphor in the Discourse of Africa Diaspora and Development.

Oluwafemi Kochoni Vice President, World Council of Pan-Africanism, Republic of Benin, takes it a step further – expanding the synergic scope by appealing to Nigeria to use it might in Africa and West African sub-region to provide leadership role aimed at encouraging other smaller African countries to do same which in no distance time will witness the return of the ‘lost sheep’.

Using the same platform for advocacy Oluwafemi Kochoni, called on Nigerian government to take the lead in creating structures and establishing policy that would encourage Africans in the Diaspora to think of home.

In 2016 Professor Anthony I. Asiwaju, while speaking on Africa And Africa Diaspora: A Lived Experience of The Historical Connection, said there is a large population of Diaspora Africans willing to reconnect with their native homes across the globe. Citing Bashir Didi, who was able to trace his origin from Latin America to Ketu in Osun State, Nigeria, as an example, he noted that Didi was able to do this because of the various histories that were passed down to him by his parents and grandparents. He informed that colonialism and slave trade separated communities and families, a reason there are people from Ketu residing in Lagos, Ogun, Osun and even in Benin and Lome.

Scholars and experts on Diaspora studies since the inception of the Diaspora Festival in 1999, have made valuable submissions and suggestions on how to widen the scope which will translate into achieving the objectives under which the initiative was founded. Some of these suggestions include;  festival organizers to widen the scope of the festival and direct its searchlight to Latin America with special attention to popularise and possibly translate Didi’s writings to English language as well making public his other works,  the need to rekindle relationships with the Diaspora Africans in Brazil, India and other Asian countries of which little is known, government should renovate and maintain the Brazilian Quarters in Lagos Island and other parts of the state, to serve as part of the landmark site that would attract tourists and also tell some part of the history of the Diaspora Africans of Brazilian descent, the Federal and state governments should as a matter of urgency create the enabling environment for a synergy between the Diaspora Africans, Nigeria and if possibly the festival organizers should consider Bashir Didi as the programme’s iconic figure, the need for Lagos state to blaze the trail in harnessing the benefits associated with Diaspora engagement and reintegration into the state’s socio-economic make-up and how international tourism would flourish with the festival.

Other suggestions include; developing a tourism masterplan for Lagos State on divisional basis because the potentials vary; design a tourism policy that will foster continued tourism growth and motivate outbound tourism; stimulate human capital development in tourism training; designation of tourist destinations through identification and classification of tourism typologies according to the five divisions; designing, diversification and marketing of tourism products and events that will open up Lagos and make it attractive to both domestic and outbound tourists; development of tourism infrastructure and supper structures; strategic integration of private sectors to drive tourism in Lagos State and the inclusion of tourism in the state’s security planning

The yearly event is being organised by African Renaissance Foundation in collaboration with Nigerian Diaspora Commission under the care of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa with the support of Lagos State Government. The festival served as part of events to mark the International Day for the remembrance of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Its Abolition.  The Diaspora Festival 2019 has as its theme: “A Pilgrimage To The Motherland “.

The event started on Monday 14th to Saturday 19th October, 2019 with various cultural activities but the highpoint of it all were Conferment of Chieftaincy Titles & Adoption of African (Ogu) Names that took place at the palace of His Majesty, De Aholu Menu-Toyi 1, OFR, LLD, JP, the Akran of Badagry Kingdom and Serious Economic discussions between the Executive Chairman of Badagry Local Government, Hon Onilude Segun Adeniran on how their return to the motherland (Badagry) can be more symbolic beyond paparazzi. The economic forum briefly took place at Fams Embassy Hotel & Suites before moving to the venue of the grand finale.

Those at the Economic discussion include: Chief Timothy McPherson, Minister of Finance, Maroons, Jamaica; Rev. (Chief) Dr. David Anderson, leader Diaspora Delegation; Mr. Rabbi Kohain Holevi, Executive Director of PANAFEST Foundation, Ghana; Hon. Abike Dabiri, CEO, Nigerian Diaspora Commission and so many others. The leader of the Diaspora delegation appreciated the Executive Chairman for taking out time to receive them despite his tight schedule. He promised to make all their discussions achievable here in Badagry. According to the Founder of Bridge Leader Network (BLN) a Diversity Consulting Firm who also double as the Diaspora team leader, Chief David Anderson to facilitate a multimillion Dollar Diasporan Royal Palace and Resort in Badagry.

In the same vein, the Jamaican Minister of Finance, Chief Timothy (Whenayon) McPherson also vowed to throw his weight behind all Projects set for the growth of the Ancient Badagry by the Diaspora Group. In his response, the Executive Chairman Badagry Local Government, Hon. Onilude Segun Adeniran also appreciated the team and assured them of enabling environment by his Government to make their working relationship that has just been created more impactful. Another great event of the day was the public presentation and launching of the album titled: Wegbe Yon! (Home is Good) by the Badagry finest Saxophonist, Apata Moses Mautin, known as Daddysax and his tradojazz thrilled the audience with his percussions.


Daily Independent. “badagry glimpse lagos famous tourist site”. Kimberly Okonkwo. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 October 2015.

“World mayors hail Badagry festival”. Vanguard News. 26 August 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2015.


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