This is mos def good news to me, maybe we can plan a plane/bus trip here!
There is something in the sprawling history of black people, particularly when it comes to Africa, that defies the idea of Black History Month, and Ekwo Omakwu felt the limitations in his bones. About 10 years ago, living in Washington,he worked on a Black History Month project and came away wanting more. He was working at a bank and he and his friends on the project had the, not untypical, reaction that these efforts should not be confined to the 28 or 29 days of February.
But in one of the most lavish responses to that feeling of being constricted, Omakwu envisioned and is now developing a massive 17,000-acre, $50 million theme park in his native Nigeria which he hopes will present an ongoing and more comprehensive understanding of the sweep of black history. “We wanted to do something more permanent and something where the references were not just limited to slavery and colonialism,” Omakwu said.
To be built on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital,Abuja, on land granted by the government, Heritage City will also be known as the African Kingdoms and Empires Theme Parks and Resorts. Omakwu says his hope is that it will showcase Africa’s rich history, particularly Nigeria’s, and give young black people the world over a sense of Africa’s past majesty.
“This is a way to showcase part of our history that has not been highlighted over time,” Omakwu said by phone from Nigeria, where he was putting together the financing for the project. “A lot of kids growing up have no memory or any point of reference for Africa’s rich heritage. They don’t know about the kingdoms and the royalty that once existed. If they look at the media they think Africa is just about war and disease.”
Omakwu is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S.-Africa Technology Council, which is serving as the planners of the project. The council has been in the business of helping entrepreneurs on each side of the Atlantic do business on the other. “The US-Africa Technology Council was formed to bring leadership to private sector initiatives in health and education, particularly in technology, in Africa,” Omakwu said, “We were helping U.S-based companies seeking African business figure out how to do that, and the same for some in Africa. We are like a meeting point.”
On the Heritage City project, the council generated the research that will inform the historical elements of the theme park, like representations of the vanished African kingdoms in Oyo or Nubia or Ashanti or Songhai. The monarchs who ruled some of these empires — Nefertiti, King Jaja of Opobo, Shaka the great Zulu warrior, to name a few — are expected to be a big draw as well. A more contemporary Liberation Plaza will feature statutes of colonial and post-colonial leaders and heroes like Nelson Mandela andPatrice Lumumba. Omakwu said there was brief consideration of building the park in the U.S. but it was quickly decided that it should be in Africa. But, “I think it is very important that we go over there and learn about our history and learn about ourselves,” explained Shonda Washington, an assistant to Omakwu on the project.
But Heritage City won’t be just history and rides and safaris: It will include vacation homes, a movie production studio, a huge water park called and an amphitheater designed to incorporate elements of aNigerian yam festival. The vision is of a huge entertainment complex. Omakwu said that project will proceed in three phases, with the first phase opening in late 2007.
“We are thinking more generationally here,” Omakwu said. “We want to shape minds. My generation, for example, did not know that there was so much that had to do with royalty and so much that was glorious in their past.