Page last updated at 00:14 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Jacksons star in Nigeria resort row

Andrew Walker
BBC News, Nigeria

The Paradise condominium block of the Badagry Project [photo courtesy TMG]
Visitors can contemplate the horror of slavery from their luxury rooms

One of pop superstar Michael Jackson's brothers, Marlon, is involved in a controversial plan to develop a $3.4bn (2.4bn) slavery memorial and luxury resort in Badagry, Nigeria.

The historic slave port is to be transformed through the bizarre combination of a slave history theme park and a museum dedicated to double Grammy-winning pop-soul group the Jackson Five.

The idea is that the band will help attract African-American tourists keen to trace their roots back to Nigeria.

The men behind the plan say it will honour the history of the transatlantic slave trade and provide employment opportunities for Nigerians.

But the plan has been condemned by Nigerian commentators.

Slave tourism

The African-American history trail is worth billions of dollars, the developers say.

Ghana and Senegal have successfully turned slave ports into tourist attractions.

The Jackson Five
The Jackson Five got discos moving in the 1970s and the 1980s
The developers say the Badagry Historical Resort will be marketed to African-American tourists as a mixture of luxury tourist attractions and historical education.

Visitors will be able to see the route their ancestors walked, shackled together as they were whipped toward the "point of no return".

They can then retire to their five-star hotel to drink cocktails by the pool.

Visitors will be able to pay their respects at the site of a mass grave for those who died before boarding ships across the Atlantic Ocean.

And then travel a few yards in a buggy to play a round of golf.

They can visit a replica slave ship to see the conditions Africans suffered, before visiting the world's only museum dedicated to the career of the Jackson Five.

Academics believe up to two million people died and at least 10 million transported to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th Centuries.

The Jacksons' upbeat tunes like ABC and Blame it on the Boogie enlivened US and UK discos throughout the 1970s.

On display at the museum will be animatronic vignettes of the band, memorabilia and "holographic displays" of the group that launched the career of Michael Jackson.

'The right place'

"The Badagry Historical Resort development project will certainly enhance the quality of life for millions of people across Nigeria," promotional material for the resort says.

It's like dancing on the graves of dead people and telling them you're honouring them
C Don Adinuba

But critics have dismissed the project as a cynical money-making scheme, inappropriate for the subject of such seriousness as the transatlantic slave trade.

The idea to bring together slavery and the Jackson Five came during a visit to Nigeria by US businessmen and former Jacksons singer Marlon Jackson.

"The Jackson Family had been looking for a place to site their memorabilia collection for some time," says Gary Loster, a former mayor of Saginaw, Michigan, and chief executive of The Motherland Group.

"We visited the site of the slave port in Badagry and Marlon turned to me and said: 'Let's put it here, this is right'.

"It's such an emotional place, and I think we all felt that it was the right place to have the Jackson family memorial."


But respected writer and historian Toyin Falola has condemned the project.

"It is not appropriate from a cultural or historical point of view. Those who are looking for money care about money and no other thing," he said.

Slave ship
Transatlantic slave trade ran between 1650 and 1866
About 10.2m slaves arrived in the Americas from Africa
35% came from the Niger River area
10-20% died on the journey
An estimated 4.5% died in slave ports like Badagry
The professor of history at the University of Texas and author of many books on the Nigerian diaspora and African-American history said the development was exploiting painful history.

"Money-making and historical memory are allies in the extension of capitalism. You cry with one eye and wipe it off with cold beer, leaving the other eye open for gambling," he said.

Writer, columnist and PR consultant C Don Adinuba said if the resort was being built by a company run by a white person, there would be uproar.

"This plan is morally reprehensible, it's like dancing on the graves of dead people and telling them you're honouring them."

The developers say they will treat the slave memorial with sensitivity.

They hope it will become a "historical destination" similar to the Holocaust museum in Berlin.

The luxury hotels near the site will provide jobs and development to the local economy, they say.


The developers, who include the creator of the hit TV series Power Rangers, have ambitious plans for the resort.

The Motherland Group says the resort alone will pull in 1.4m visitors in the first year, rising to 4.4m in five years.


But that would represent an incredible increase.

Mr Loster says they will have to work with the government to change some of the bureaucratic restrictions on tourists if their project is to attract the numbers it needs.

Currently fewer than 300,000 tourists a year visit Nigeria, they say.

It is impossible to get a visa without a letter of invitation.

Flights to Nigeria are expensive, and there is little tourist infrastructure to cater for European or American consumers when they get there.

And then there is the country's reputation as a chaotic and violent place.

Mr Loster admits their projected figures are "aggressive".

"We know the problems facing us, we have visited Nigeria several times," he said.

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