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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007, 23:40 GMT
African hearts return to start firms
By Orla Ryan
Accra, Ghana

Marie Claire Rimpel and her family
Marie Claire's daughter wanted to bring the family back to Africa

Haitian cook Marie Claire Rimpel is tired after a long day at her new restaurant, The Caribbean.

Serving the best of Caribbean food, the light and modern restaurant - in the heart of Ghana's capital - is a long way from her native Haiti.

Nearly three years in Accra, she is one of several people of African origin who have returned to the continent of their ancestors.

The stress of opening a restaurant may be taking its toll on Marie Claire, 68, but the move has clearly been worth it.

"It is a wonderful place to live, I feel at home here," she says.

Long journey

Marie Claire's journey to Africa has its roots in her daughter Jennifer Pierre's decision to study and work in the continent, first in Senegal and then in Ghana.

As her consultancy work grew, Jennifer, 28, decided to move her son Tamsir and her mother there in late 2004 while she completed her studies at Harvard.

"I always knew I was going to move to Africa, it was just a matter of when," says Jennifer, who was born in America and spent most of her childhood in Miami.

"The link with Africa is very deep and almost astounding. Although I was born in America, I feel more at home in Ghana than in America. I truly feel I am an African."

Slave trade

There are no figures on how many African Americans live in Ghana or the size of their investments.

Independence Square in Accra
Ghana has been working hard to celebrate its Jubilee year

But the journey home is one the Ghanaian government hopes many people of will make this year, which marks the 50th birthday of the country and the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the UK.

As part of a tourism push, members of the Diaspora will be encouraged to buy land and invest.

Implicit in the gesture is an apology for the role played by many living in what is now Ghana in selling their fellow Africans into the slave trade.

Millions of West Africans were shipped from whitewashed slave forts on the Ghanaian coastline to a life of slavery in Brazil, America and the Caribbean.

"We are saying we should forgive and forget and move forward," says Victoria Sarpong, from the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations.

"Once we get to know each other, investment is next."

Business sense

The colour of Jennifer's skin makes Ghana an easier place to live and to do business in, she says.

"My mother has done the best to expose me to the best education, but I have never ever felt totally accepted or comfortable [in the US] despite the fact I was born in America," she says.

Facing no judgements made about the colour of her skin, doing business in Ghana can be much more straightforward than in America.

"Being black is like breathing in Ghana. In the business deal, it is not about the glass ceiling. There are other factors," she says.

"It reduces a lot of tension and stress. You can really begin to do business."

Culture differences

But Jennifer's move to Ghana also served to accentuate the differences between the country of her birth and the continent she now lives in.

Marie Claire Rimpel's restaurant, The Caribbean
Marie Claire believes opening her retaurant was worth the hard work

Chief among these, she says, is the approach to work.

"Americans are very time oriented and your work defines you," says Jennifer.

"Here work is something you do to get paid."

But for her mother, it isn't always easy to do business - especially when you are juggling customers and suppliers.

"It is very difficult, you cannot trust everybody," she says. "They offer but they don't always deliver."

Romantic picture

The extremes of racism experienced in the US make it easy to romanticise a return to Africa, says Renee Neblett, a returned African American who now runs a cultural exchange centre in the seaside town of Kokrobitey.

"We had such a miserable time in America. Nobody can imagine what it was like to be black in America. It is easy to romanticise a past you don't know" the 59-year-old says.

Many bear different hopes and expectations of the visit to the continent of their ancestors.

For Jennifer, it is clear that Ghana is and will remain her home.

"Ghana can be my base for my family and generations to come," she says.

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