Three months after the University of Ghana was forced to pull down a Mahatma Gandhi statue from its Legon University campus following protests on campus, Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration last week announced that the statue would be relocated to the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in Accra.
The ministry and the Indian High Commission held an official ceremony to announce the shifting of statue.
What remains behind in the University of Ghana is a bare stone plinth with its plaque missing. There are no vestiges of the statue that once stood atop it. The country’s oldest and largest university, however, continues to witness frequent debates on whether Gandhi merits a place in the university, or even in Ghana’s public places.
The Gandhi sculpture, a gift from the Indian embassy to the University of Ghana, was unveiled on June 13, 2016, by former Indian president Pranab Mukherjee during his visit to the Ghanaian capital. The installation of the statue led to a #GandhiMustFall petition, which garnered 1,400 supporters in two weeks. In November 2018, the university quietly pulled the statue down, leaving a mix of cheer and disappointment on campus. The plaque stating: “Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), The Mahatma (Great soul)” was also removed.
“I have read books on Gandhi. If people knew who Gandhi was, they would not have allowed the statue to even pass through the university entrance,” says PhD student Nana Taki Mireku (30).
Senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, Dr Obadele Kambon (39), who was among the first to protest against the Gandhi statue, said the statue was “surreptitiously brought to the Ghana campus”. In 2016, Kambon sent a mail, marking all university staffers, with 52 “racist quotes” by Gandhi.
“Gandhi called us kafirs, one degree more than animals, and savages. He knew and understood the meaning of those terms, but still used them,” Kambon told The Indian Express, adding that such a leader’s statue should not be find place anywhere in Africa.
Student Pascal Tofa said the controversy blew up following Kambon’s e-mail. The university immediately banned the facility to mark e-mails to everyone after Kambon’s mail generated protests. “It was a small group of protesters, but everyone knew about Gandhi within weeks. On the campus here, some say Gandhi was racist, others say he was a great leader. Most are confused and driven by what others say,” Tofa said.
Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1915, working as a lawyer. In letters written in 1895 and 1896, Gandhi often referred to Africans as “kafirs”. Several African students have formed a network across Malawi, Ghana and South Africa, protesting against various statues of Gandhi. In Malawi, a plan for the installation of a Gandhi statue was called off following protests in 2018. South Africa has seen similar agitation.
Elsewhere in Accra, most do not know who Gandhi was. Not far from the university, Joshua Odoi (22), a waiter, does not know of a Gandhi statue or the protests around it. But his friend Abdul Ganiyu (22) nods at Gandhi’s mention. “I saw it on the news. I only knew that he was a leader. Through protests we came to know of his other side. Why should Africans have a statue of person who made racist comments?” Ganiyu asks.
Political science student Nanayaw Weboah, from the Institute of African Studies, said the protest against Gandhi was important to highlight oppression met by Africans. “We don’t have statues of our own leaders like Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana’s first president) or Yaa Asantewaa (who rebelled against the British) in the university, then why Gandhi?” he asked.
Professor Kambon pointed to the massive investment by the Indian government in Ghana as one of the reasons for the country’s soft stand towards Gandhi. “The President’s House was built by the Indian government,” he said.
“This is not Ghana versus India. My research is to show there are parallels between the struggles of Dalits and Adivasis in India, and the struggle of black people in Africa,” said Kambon
Another professor from the University of Education, Winneba, however, said such protests will hurt the Ghana’s interests. “A lot of intellectuals kept away from this controversy. There is a lot of Indian investment in Ghana,” he said.
Senior research professor Dr Kojo Opoku Aidoo, who is demanding the statue to be restored in the university, told The Indian Express: “If Gandhi made remarks against Africans while he stayed here, he didn’t know a lot then. Later, he changed, he supported our cause.” Aidoo is part of a counter petition that demands bringing Gandhi’s statue back.
The counter petition talks of Gandhi as a “universalist and non-racist” post the 1920s. “Meticulous research reveals that Gandhi was, in his later life, not the racist he’s made out to be. Admittedly certain earlier pronouncements of his were despicable, but he tidied up, indeed, changed with time,” the petition states.
The reporter was in Ghana on the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) fellowship