With a resume that includes executive roles at Spike DBB, Uber, Apple Music & iTunes, PepsiCo and Netflix, marketing guru and badass bosswoman Bozoma Saint John can claim many titles, but dual citizen may be her favorite. “I was born in the U.S. so I'm technically an American, but last year I became a Ghanaian citizen as well.” Saint John, who spent her childhood years growing up in the motherland and visits the country often, is spreading the word that Ghana is now offering citizenship to anyone of the African diaspora. “[Ghana’s President] Nana Akufo-Addo and I agree that if you are of African descent, you belong here. You don't have to prove anything, your skin tells enough.”
Saint John, who is releasing her memoir, The Urgent Life: My Story of Love, Loss, and Survival on February 21, 2023, shares with EBONY her stories of African excellence and the many incredible experiences the country has to offer. She also reveals how she had to start changing perspectives about Africa at a young age, a mission she’s still committed to today.
EBONY: You grew up in Africa as a child.
Bozoma Saint John: When I was a kid, I lived in Accra, Ghana, and Nairobi, Kenya, interspersed between stints in the U.S. We settled in Colorado Springs, Colorado, when I was 12. That was such a harsh environment, not just from the weather standpoint, but culturally. The society was very white, as you can assume. It was tough for a young, Black, dark-skinned girl who knew her truth, even at 12.
How much of a culture shock was it for you moving from Ghana to the States?
The things I saw on TV about the kids in Africa with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes were not my reality. But that's the only thing other people saw and so they judged me on that. One of the biggest disservices I've seen as a marketer, but also as a person, is those old commercials that associated $0.01 with a child's life. People would get the picture of the kid and they stick it on their fridge and every time they went to the fridge they'd think that little Black face is worth $0.01. That's how they assumed value for me when I showed up and that my value was so much less than everybody else's. But it meant that I had to rise even bigger. I had to show up in my fullness. I was determined to let them know how dope the Continent is. I was like, “Y'all been lied to and bamboozled.” Even at 12, I was indignant about it. "Wait, think we run around naked? Do you know that we created fabric? What are you talking about?” It was just the wildest thing to me.
How is Africa changing the way the rest of the world sees it?
As a marketer, I've worked for some really big companies and ran a lot of big marketing campaigns. But when I met the current president of Ghana and he said, “So how have you been marketing Africa and your experiences here?” It was an “Oh shoot, let me just clutch my pearls” moment. I didn’t know how to answer. That led us to the “Year of Return” back in 2019 which marked 400 years since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade. And it’s been announced that Ghana is essentially extending citizenship to anybody of African descent. At the end of last year, we swore in 139 Black people from all over the diaspora to be Ghanaian citizens. It was one of the most moving ceremonies I've ever participated in. It was really, really beautiful.
Where are some of your favorite places in Africa?
My favorite place is definitely Nairobi, Kenya, and more specifically, Mombasa. Mombasa is a beach town in Kenya that is just like the Garden of Eden. It's got every animal, there’s the beach and you can see the mountains with snow. You wouldn’t think a place like this would exist on the planet, but it does. Marrakech in Morocco is one of my favorite cities in the world. God actually formed Nairobi with her hands—the mountains and the sea. But Marrakech was built by people, the design and the intricacies. When you are standing in an archway and look a little bit to the left, it's a different view from the right. It's all architecturally beautiful. And there’s the Seychelles Island—beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Those are my top picks with Accra, obviously.
What are your favorite Ghanaian hotspots?
When I come to Ghana, I only eat at Ghanaian restaurants, you know what I'm saying? There's a restaurant called Buka which is divine. They have some Nigerian specialties on the menu, too. I love The Republic Bar & Grill in Accra. It’s very rustic. It's literally in the middle of the street and the seats are tires and cans, but they serve authentic Akpteshie cocktails. There's one called Kokrokoo, which is essentially like the rooster crowing in the morning because when you drink that joint, you will be up until the morning. Skybar25, which its name hints at, is a rooftop bar 50 floors in the air where you can see the entire city. The Kempinski Gold Coast City hotel is one of my favorites because the pool area is always jumping and people seem to just naturally gather in the lobby. There are just so many great places to eat and stay in Ghana.
And it’s easier to visit Ghana than ever before?
The tourism minister and minister of the interior just signed a bill that allows people to visit without having prior visas. They can land here and get a visa on arrival.
You actually celebrated the holiday season in Ghana.
I did a New Year's Eve event at Treasure Island Hotels & Resort in Ada, Ghana. It's about two hours from the city of Accra. It started as a family home and now has 70 rooms. They've got camels and horses and ostriches. They've got all the water sports, and they just built a helipad so people can fly from Accra. Our Treasure Island party was incredibly successful and people are already asking how to get on the list for next year! I went on a morning boat ride and got to see dawn rise over the horizon. It was a tranquil and quiet space for my family and me for the Christmas celebration, and we spent it sitting at the pool and eating fried fish.
What’s your motto for 2023?
Funny enough, I've been talking to my cousin Tina that I want 2023 to feel like a refresh. Next year will mark ten years since my husband passed away. And it’s okay for it to be time for "what's next?" I don't know if I'm retired yet from corporate America, but I certainly haven't been in it for the last ten months, and that's felt really good. I’m ready to figure out what's next for me.