The power of healing. This weekend’s Global Citizen Festival in Accra brought Black artists from Ghana, Nigeria, America and England to one stage to rock out, dance, sing, and entertain a live audience in Black Star Square. It was a stage, a sound and a story that reminded us of music as a healing balm that can bring us together as global Black people.
I think about racial healing and musical healing today as news emerged of some Ghanaian artists angry that headliner Usher had brought Nigerian artists to the stage of the Global Citizen Festival held in Ghana. The Ghanaian artists reminded us that Nigeria might not have done the same – and that such action is indicative of Ghana Music Industry’s failure to more effectively represent its own.
This deserves some unpacking. It also continues to remind me we need healing as a global Black people.
The Ghanaian artist is probably right that had the Festival been held in Nigeria, there would have been a requirement that headliners bring out only Nigerian artists. But it wasn’t held in Nigeria, it was held in Ghana. We must think about what Ghana, Black Star Square, and this history means in the context of this Continent, and throughout the Diaspora.
The healing we need among us as global Black people – here on the Continent and across the Diaspora – is complex and nuanced. That healing is Emotional Justice, a new racial healing model, a framework that considers and centers who we are as global Black people. It is one that honors our corners of the Continent, and also comes together in collectivity against a world that profits from our commitment to our corners, and not our collective. What I mean by that is yes, honor, love and revere Ghana, do the same for Nigeria; and come together as a collective for the benefit of the Continent.
Ghana is the gateway to the Continent. Ghana was Africa’s first nation to usher in political independence from colonial forces. Ghana’s first post-independence president is Kwame Nkrumah. Stormzy, the Black British rapper refers to Nkrumah in one of his lyrics during his Global Citizen Festival stage set. Nkrumah called for an economic independence to follow the 1957 political independence. This was about creating an economy that would harness Africa’s wealth in service to African people.
Emotional Justice expands Nkrumah’s call from the political and the economic, to the emotional, specifically, the emotional economy. The emotional economy continues to show up in ways that threaten our future as a Continent, unless we do our emotional work of healing it.
Let’s break this down.
Nkrumah’s vision of a united Africa was unrealized. Emotional Justice is not about resurrecting political fights or reimagining unrealized dreams – it is not a political framework. It invites us to identify how an emotional economy has been created, and to recognize how our identity – national, tribal and regional – has been shaped. Colonialism and its modern manifestations export ideals of human rights, democracy, fairness and justice, but entrench ideas of individualism within their own nations. Their exported ideals are preached but not practiced on their own soil towards people who look like us.
So racial healing for global Black people requires an emotional reckoning with who we became – and continue to become – as a global Black people dealing with colonialism’s legacy in our world. That means we must unpack and wrestle with the dual identities of Africa. There is the one that reduces Africa to a single story that negates the richness, breadth and depth of its culture. And there is the one that holds onto individual corners of our continent and identity while navigating the global economy, and its unabating storm of injustice, exploitation and extraction. We do not heal, or prosper this way.
Africa is a country has been an insult that has been about reducing 54 nations into one, and disregarding the specificities of who we are as African peoples. Diaspora also sees Africa as a country in a way that can infuriate, because it can disregard the intricacies of identity.
There is an additional issue. The West’s economy is served by an Africa of 54 nations, and this insistence of individuality. It goes back to the 1884 Berlin Conference that carved up Africa for colonization. That history’s legacy shapes an emotional economy on the Continent – that’s part of how it’s legacy works.
I am not suggesting a unity in Africa that is often idealized, I am talking about a collectivity – seeing ourselves as a collective with disparate skills, abilities and offerings that can transform our Continent’s economy, and that of the world.
This is hard ground to navigate, because the narrative disregarding our specificity as particular African nations, has contributed to our commitment to always specify our regionality.
I speak as a Ghanaian, who is proud of Ghana, and my Asante mum and Nzema dad. I write as a person who has worked in and visited South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Lesotho – and sees how Colonialism’s legacy shapes this emotional economy in ways that reveal how we cling to corners, and reject collectives that span the length and breadth of the Continent. We cannot heal this way. We do not heal this way.
We are indeed a global Black people in need of healing. There are different types of healing.
In Ghana, there is a healing that we have neglected, as we forge ahead in being seen and internationally revered as a stable haven where business prospers and the insecurity and instability of other parts of the Continent, are absent.
That neglected healing is our history of military coups. Ghana is still reeling from these military coups that interrupted civilian rule, created chaos and wreaked havoc. That needs healing – a national healing – between us as Ghanaians, one that might then shape our deeply partisan politics. That is part of our own racial healing.
When former president Jerry John Rawlings died in November 2020, the outpouring of pain, trauma, anger from the living loved ones for their lost loved ones – killed during Rawlings’ leadership – reminded us there are elements within our nation that need healing. Rawlings ascent to power by the bullet in 1979, and then by the ballot – made him the longest serving Ghanaian political leader from military man to twice-elected president. Within our nation, there are families navigating paths of trauma from the violence they witnessed against parents and grandparents, and that legacy manifests today.
Emotional Justice is a racial healing roadmap that identifies the legacy of untreated trauma that continues to shape how we see ourselves, and each other as global Black people here on the Continent, and across the Diaspora due to the oppressive systems that built our modern world.
Racial healing with Emotional Justice means that all of us are doing emotional work. This emotional labor connects to a national identity that separates rather than one that strategizes. This is emotional labor that helps us connect to our Continent as a collective that strengthens us, not a Continent of single, scattered communities unconnected to a greater story.
There can be no Emotional Justice without the equal division of emotional labor. It is emotional labor because our political landscape of policy and legislation was the way we moved from Colonialism to independence. To move from the legacy of Colonialism, we need a new racial healing model. That model is Emotional Justice. That serves our intra-racial healing, that builds our future.
Africa is not a country, but it can be, it must become a collective.