Ghana's problem with 'racist' Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi statueImage source, Daniel Osei Tuffuor

Nelson Mandela said that the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi had helped to topple apartheid in South Africa. Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, was also an admirer. "Mahatma Gandhi will always be remembered as long as free men and those who love freedom and justice live," he said. Yet not all African leaders are inspired by the man known as the "Father of India".

An online petition, which has been signed by more than 1,000 people, has been started by professors at the University of Ghana. They call for the removal of a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from the campus grounds in Accra. The academics say that Gandhi, who has been praised by public figures for leading India's non-violent movement to freedom from British colonial rule during the mid 20th century, had a "racist identity".

The petition lists quotes from the writings of the Indian leader, in which he described Africans as "savages or the Natives of Africa" and "kaffirs" (an insulting racial slur for a black African).

One example comes from a letter written by Gandhi to the Natal parliament of South Africa in 1893, saying that a "general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are a little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa."

Image source,

All quotations are from Gandhi Serve, an online resource that has collated the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi.

"How will the historian teach and explain that Gandhi was uncharitable in his attitude towards the Black race and see that we're glorifying him by erecting a statue on our campus?" the petition goes on to say.

The statue is a gift to the Ghanaian government from the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, unveiled when he visited Accra in June.

Image source, Twitter

It drew criticism almost immediately. Some Ghanaians used hashtags such as #GandhiMustComeDown to echo the sentiments expressed by the professors.

Daniel Osei Tuffuor, a former student of the University of Ghana, has signed the petition. He told BBC Trending that "Ghanaians should be confident in themselves and seek to project our own heroes and heroines. There is nothing peaceful about the activities of Gandhi. Anyone who claims to uphold peace and tranquillity but promotes racism is a hypocrite."

The issue of Gandhi's attitudes to black Africans is not a new topic.

His biographer and grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, said that his grandfather had first travelled to Africa at the age of 24 to practice law. He was undoubtedly "at times ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa's blacks," says Rajmohan Gandhi.

He adds that, while "Gandhi too was an imperfect human being... the imperfect Gandhi was more radical and progressive than most contemporary compatriots."

Image source, Hulton Archive
Image caption,
A picture of Gandhi when he was practising as a lawyer in South Africa

Dr Obadele Kambon, who is one of creators of the petition, agrees. He told BBC Trending that "ideally, in its place or elsewhere, statues of classical, traditional and modern African heroes could be erected to enhance levels of self-knowledge, self-respect and self-love.

"In the long term, however, we would like to be part of the global movement towards self-respect and pride that we see in the removal of the Rhodes statue in Umzantsi (South Africa), Colin Kaepernick's protest against the National Anthem in the US, and the Black Lives Matter protests.

"At the end of the day, we need images of ourselves for our own psychosocial well-being and not images of those who called us savages... May Gandhi fall that Africa may rise!"

Blog by Megha Mohan

Image source, MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

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