Two Anne Arundel County representatives on a coming Maryland trade mission to Ghana say the trip occurs at a time when the county is poised to boost trade, tourism and cultural ties with the nation and the rest of West Africa.
Local telecommunications firms want to help wire Ghana for telephone and Internet - and reap profits in the process, said Robert McGlotten Jr., senior vice president of the quasi-public Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.
And with Ghana Airways' recent launch of regular nonstop service between Ghana's capital, Accra, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, tourism should grow in both directions, he said. The Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area is home to the largest concentrations of Ghanaians in the United States, he said.
There is a longstanding connection between local African-Americans and West Africa, said Carl O. Snowden, special assistant to County Executive Janet S. Owens. Snowden and McGlotten were invited for the Ghana leg of the three-nation mission led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Snowden said that many slaves were born in that region of Africa, including Kunta Kinte, a Gambian who arrived shackled in Annapolis in 1767 and whose saga was chronicled in Alex Haley's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Roots.
The Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial today marks the spot of the African's arrival on the city's waterfront and is one element of the county's "ethnic tourism" offerings, McGlotten said. He said it complements slavery-related sites in Ghana, such as oceanfront fortresses where slaves were held before the passage across the Atlantic Ocean.
"There is an opportunity for people who want to explore those cultural ties to make trips to Ghana and other parts of Africa," said Snowden. "There is obviously an excellent opportunity for Africans to come and visit Anne Arundel County and to see some of the sites here."
In addition to the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial, several buildings in Annapolis' historic district are highlighted by the city's historic preservation commission for their links to African-American heritage. One of those is the Maynard-Burgess House, where two black families lived between 1847 and 1900. The property is being restored and will house a museum depicting 19th-century African-American life.
Glendening will lead a delegation of about 40 government officials, business people and residents on the two-week mission to three African countries starting Saturday. The cost to taxpayers for the state officials' travel is estimated at $180,000. The group will visit South Africa, Ghana and Senegal.
Snowden and McGlotten will meet the group in Ghana from Oct. 8 to 14. Their expenses will be paid by the economic development corporation, which draws about $850,000 of its nearly $3 million annual budget from the county. McGlotten said he did not know how much their expenses would total but said airfare will cost about $900 apiece.
He said no one has estimated the potential impact to Anne Arundel County of increased trade with Ghana, but he suggested the benefits could be significant.
He noted that the number of phone lines in Ghana is growing at an explosive rate, with a total cost estimated at $20 billion, and that Ghana has the highest level of Internet use on the continent. Local companies intend to vie for a share of that business.
"If we could get just a piece of that, that would be a real coup," McGlotten said.