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How Ghana paid tribute to George Floyd

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In our series of letters from African writers, Ghana’s Elizabeth Ohene writes that George Floyd, whose killing has sparked a global debate about race relations, has been immortalised in the West African state that was central to the transatlantic slave trade.

We do funerals well here in Ghana. When it comes to the rituals, music, clothes and ceremonies that accompany them, I can safely say that nobody does them better.

As I watched the funeral of George Floyd on television, I needed no reminding that most African-Americans can trace their origins to West Africa and grand funerals come easily to them. Or they have had to organise these painful funerals of their people so regularly that they have become well practised.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption George Floyd’s death in police custody has galvanised the Black Lives Matter movement

During the Houston funeral on Tuesday, there was a reference to the message of condolence sent to Mr Floyd’s family by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo.

It was also mentioned that Mr Floyd’s name had been permanently mounted on the wall of the Diasporan African Forum at the W.E.B. Du Bois Centre in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

This was done at a moving ceremony, organised by the Ghana Tourism Authority last week, in memory of Mr Floyd, who was killed on a street in Minnesota when a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Ghana marked in spectacular scale the year 2019, the 400th anniversary of the start of the transatlantic slave trade.

President Akufo-Addo declared 2019 the Year of Return, with a special invitation to all Africans in the diaspora, especially the descendants of slaves, to come to Ghana, either to visit or even to live permanently.

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Many of the forts and castles through which the slaves were transported are still standing in Ghana and they remain a source of trauma and emotional distress for visiting black people.

When the Floyd murder story broke, many people took it personally here.

Before the outbreak of coronavirus, we had been looking forward to a big influx of visitors from the African-American community.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption A slave castle along Ghana’s coastline is now a major tourist attraction

Six black state attorneys general from the US had been in Ghana in March as part of the Beyond the Return initiative, and were guests at our Independence Day celebrations on 6 March.

Among that group was Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is now in charge of prosecuting the accused in the Floyd case.

When the GTA organised the memorial, it was personal and it showed.

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