Tak­ing leader off pedestal

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AN­OTHER marker has been felled in the in­tense ar­gu­ment over whether his­toric fig­ures with racist his­to­ries should be hon­oured. The Univer­sity of Ghana in Ac­cra no longer has a statue of In­dia in­de­pen­dence leader Mo­han­das K Gandhi.

To much of the world, Gandhi is re­mem­bered for his peace­ful protests in his ef­forts for In­dian sovereignty, but in Africa, where he worked as a lawyer for two decades, he is seen through a dif­fer­ent lens.

In 2016, the Ghana statue was ded­i­cated by then-In­dian Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee as a sym­bol of strength­en­ing ties be­tween the two na­tions.

But pro­fes­sors, stu­dents and Ghana­ians railed against the statue, call­ing it a homage to a racist who thought of Africans as naked sav­ages who were be­neath Bri­tons and In­di­ans, us­ing Gandhi’s early writ­ings from his two decades in Africa to bol­ster their ar­gu­ments.

Gandhi’s In­dian em­pow­er­ment ar­gu­ment, crit­ics said in a pe­ti­tion to re­move the statue, ap­peared to be that the Bri­tish colo­nial govern­ment treated In­di­ans a “lit­tle bet­ter, if at all, than the sav­ages or the Na­tives of Africa”.

He spoke of the “half-hea­then Na­tive” and said treat­ing In­di­ans like Africans would “de­grade us”.

The sole oc­cu­pa­tion of “raw” na­tives is hunt­ing, he said and their “sole am­bi­tion is to col­lect a cer­tain num­ber of cat­tle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in in­do­lence and naked­ness”.

He also made lib­eral use of the k-word, a ra­cial slur so of­fen­sive that it’s rarely spo­ken aloud in po­lite com­pany or writ­ten in print. Ut­ter­ing it in South Africa, where Gandhi lived and worked from 1893 to 1915, can be viewed as a hate crime.

The Ghana Univer­sity pe­ti­tion cited other protests against – and re­moval of – trib­utes to his­toric but con­tro­ver­sial fig­ures at univer­si­ties across the globe, in­clud­ing the for­mer slave-own­ing Royal fam­ily at Har­vard Univer­sity and apartheid founder Ce­cil Rhodes at the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

The protests against Gandhi are not lim­ited to Africa. In Davis, Cal­i­for­nia, a sim­i­lar statue has been protested against, and plans to hon­our Gandhi with a statue in Lon­don have also met op­po­si­tion.

His later writ­ings don’t in­clude the in­flam­ma­tory speech of his time in Africa, al­though schol­ars said Gandhi in­dulged in some “tidy­ing up” his own his­tory. And his lead­er­ship and peace­ful protests led to In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence.

But the Gandhi statue has raised an un­com­fort­able ques­tion: At what point does a per­son’s trans­gres­sion’s over­shadow the good he has ush­ered into the world?

In 2016, mem­bers of the Univer­sity of Ghana coun­cil started the pe­ti­tion that a statue to Gandhi had no place on cam­pus. To date, more than 2 200 peo­ple had signed it.

“We con­sider this to be a slap in the face that un­der­mines our strug­gles for au­ton­omy, recog­ni­tion and re­spect,” the pe­ti­tion states. – Wash­ing­ton Post


A statue of Mo­han­das Gandhi in Ac­cra, Ghana. Pro­fes­sors at a univer­sity in Ghana’s cap­i­tal are cam­paign­ing for the re­moval of a new statue of the In­dian in­de­pen­dence leader Mo­han­das Gandhi.

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