RDG on a mission to spark global movement to Africa
Ochuko Okitikpi is the Secretary of Reconnecting the Great Diaspora (RGD), a non-profit organisation that works in reconnecting African-Americans, that’s the blacks in America and the Caribbean to their roots through what is called ancestral DNA. He spoke to GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on the challenge so far.
So, what’s RGD mission and how far have you gone about this?
RGD means Reconnecting the Great Diaspora. Let me break it down — R (Reconnecting): Bridging and reconnecting Africans in diaspora to their countries of origin with help of Ancestral DNA test result. G– Great: The great mass involuntary dispersion took millions of people from Western and Central Africa to different regions throughout the Americas and the Caribbean and D– Diaspora: African diaspora is the term commonly used to describe the mass involuntary dispersion of peoples from the continent during the Transatlantic Slave Trades, from the 1500s to the 1800s.
African diaspora are drawn between the ‘historic’ and ‘contemporary’ or ‘new’ African diasporas, referring respectively to diasporas formed before and during the 20th century. RGD is the bridge to reconnect Africans in the great diaspora to their African country of origin with the help of DNA testing. The reconnection of people of African descent will help achieve a collective aspiration. This symbiotic relationship will not only be mutually beneficial, but also help renew the bonds between the diasporas and the motherland. The way we work is the DNA will narrow it to your community. What that means is, we have a benchmark of 25 per cent DNA and we narrow it down to your country and to your locality, including your state and your council area. We started this in 2017, and we want to ensure that we reconnect African-Americans in America and in the Caribbean to their countries of origin.
How many people have you been able to bring back home since you started in 2017?
Well, so far, we are still in the preliminary stages of getting ourselves established. Talking about bringing people home is actually the last in terms of hierarchy when you allocate timeline for various activities. First of all, we want to ensure that we make ourselves well known in the community we live, and of course, promote some legislation locally. There’s one that I’m going to play. It is on YouTube now and it was the bill proposed by Senator Ben Bruce before he was shut down. We’re not going to stop there. We’ll keep pushing until we achieve our goals. So, to answer your question in terms of people that we’ve brought back, I would say right now, we are not there yet. We are still in the process of getting things well and lined up, so, once we start, it will be a clean slate.
What are the activities lined up to achieve this?
As a matter of fact, we have five that we highlighted — Tourism, Education, Humanitarian and Social Services, Commerce and Pilgrimage — If we’re able to identify people that are from Nigeria, the tourism part of it will bring them to Nigeria to see the place where they’re from so that they can familiarise themselves with the place and once they do that, then on their own, subsequently, they can come and go on their own without any hindrance.
The second one is education. Our goal is to educate these people that we’ve been able to identify that whatever they hear about Africa is what BBC and CNN wants them to know but if you come here, what you see will be quite different. It will amaze you to know that most people still believe that in Africa, we live on trees and we show them photos on YouTube that this is Nigeria. Show me one person that lives on trees? So, these are part of the educational part that we play and we are also trying to educate the various government, African leaders, that these are Africans like us. If you see these guys, they are not different from us. These are Africans like us that were forced into slavery, involuntary dispersions of Africans to America and the Caribbean. Now, we want to bring them back. So they should recognise that fact that we are doing these humanitarian efforts so they can play their only role and that role is to provide citizenship to these people. If you give them citizenship, say Nigerian citizenship, then they don’t have to scramble to get visas to come here. If they have that leverage, then they will decide where they want to stay. And if at the end of the day, they decide to stay here, that would help a meaningful development that would always advocate for.
Another part is the humanitarian aspect of it, which is making sure these people have sense of belonging. If you don’t know where you are from, it makes you a miserable person. But if you do, it gives you that sense of belonging. Like me, I stay in the U.S. I can dust my passport and say, December, this year, I want to be back. It gives me that sense of belonging that I belong to a community. I can participate in the activities of that community in terms of development, education, so I don’t end up becoming a stranger in my homeland. So, these are all the things that we have lined-up that we intend to embark on.
Aside from what I just told you about our activities, we also help to provide reduced cost ancestry DNA testing so that many people would be interested in reconnecting with their African heritage.
How many people do you have currently who you’re trying to get acquainted to the Nigerian cultural environment? What is the difference between what you do and that of Ghana?
Well, like I said earlier, we don’t just go and bring people. What we do is quite different from what they do in Ghana. Right now, the Ghanaian government has been able to provide 216 people from America and the Caribbean citizenship. That is not what we are trying to do, because what they did is, if you want to come to Ghana, just come provided you have black colour. Ours is different. We are using the ancestral DNA. If a guy has, say 25 per cent Sierra Leone, from Freetown, that guy needs to go to Freetown. I will not bring that guy to Nigeria. So, in terms of number of people that we have to bring. We have people in the pipeline because this thing takes process. First of all, we need to do the DNA to know where they are from and it takes time to build. Once that is done, the educational part of it will come up. We need to educate them to say ‘hey, now we’ve been able to identify that you are from Nigeria and Delta State, Warri. This is what you need to know about where you are from.’ All these things need to be lined up before bringing them in. Bringing them in to us is the last.
Since 2017 that you’ve been doing this, what has been the challenge? In January of 2019, the Ghana Tourism Authority projected that “Year of Return” programming would bring 500,000 diasporans to visit the country over the course of the year. The actual number well exceeded expectations. Why are so many African countries finding it difficult to key into such effort?
Well, the major challenge is getting the local government, that’s the government of the various African countries to recognise what we do and we believe that we have to have a legislation passed round the houses so that they can move in motion and approve it for us grant these guys the path to citizenship. Like I rightly told you earlier, there was one that was promoted by Ben Bruce, which I have on YouTube here. The Ghanaian government is already doing this.
Are you partnering with the Ghanaian government?
That’s our goal: to partner with them and let them understand that we can work together. Because they are in the forefront and what we are trying to do with the Ghanaian government is to let them understand that what we are doing is to ensure that these guys go to their various communities and not someone from Sierra-Leone assigned to Ghana. At the end of the day, they realize that they’re from Sierra-Leone and all their efforts would have been wasted. So that’s what we’re trying to work with the Ghanaian government and we also have a proposal made right now to the Sierra-Leone government through their Ministry of Interior and once we go back now, we’ll follow up on that because these are the key port areas, talking about Ghana, the port in Kumasi, Freetown, Sierra-Leone and of course, Nigeria. These are the key areas where slaves were taken out of the West-African continent. So, we figured we should focus on these three countries first, then once we get them, we can now pursue other African countries including countries from central Africa.
What other cultural activities do you do once you get someone who is interested?
The key thing is tourism. Like I mentioned earlier, once we get them narrowed down to their area of locality, we teach them everything about that locality, and of course, it includes the cultural aspect and the educational part of it. Its also a big one to let these guys know that ‘look, I’m from Nigeria. I’m from this area in Nigeria and these are the people that you are going there to meet’. So, the educational part of it is a key one for us.
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