Their argument? The academics say that Gandhi, a leader best known for his promotion of nonviolent tactics and anti-colonialism, held shockingly racist views about Africans.
That argument has gained widespread attention in recent days. In a little over a week, almost 1,000 people have signed an online petition that calls for the statue's removal. The petition, written by five members of the faculty at the University of Ghana in Accra, points toward several writings of the Indian leader in which he described Africans as "savages" and made other insults.
"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's authors ask, arguing that it is "better to stand up for our dignity than to kowtow to the wishes of a burgeoning Eurasian super-power."
Since the statue was installed in June, many Ghanaians have used hashtags such as #GandhiMustComeDown, #GhandiForComeDown and #GandiMustFall to voice criticism of the statue on social media. In a blog post published after the statue was installed, University of Ghana student Israel Boafo Bansah had argued that Gandhi was an "unrepentant racist whose low and contemptuous view of blacks is well documented, both by himself and by historians."
Some critics, including the academics behind the petition, have referenced the #RhodesMustFall movement, which called for the removal of statues of Cecil Rhodes, a British imperialist now widely criticized for his exploits in southern Africa during the 19th century.
Gandhi lived in South Africa between 1893 and 1914, before he returned to India, where he eventually led the country's independence movement. He was widely respected by many on the African continent, including Nelson Mandela, the renowned South African anti-apartheid leader. However, there may have been a darker side to his time in Africa. According to "The South African Gandhi," a controversial book written by two South African professors and published last year, Gandhi had regularly "expressed disdain for Africans" during his time on the continent.
The book says that Gandhi had objected to Indians being classified as nonwhites in South Africa and that he had referred to native Africans by the derogatory term "kaffirs" and said that they wanted to live only in "indolence and nakedness." The book's authors argued that Gandhi later played down or omitted these views in his autobiography, "effectively rewriting his own history." Other biographers have noted that Gandhi came around to the black cause only as he left South Africa in 1914.
Ghana isn't the first African nation to see a recent backlash to Gandhi. In South Africa, white paint was splashed on a statue in Johannesburg last year while protesters held placards that read "Racist Gandhi must fall."
The University of Ghana's statue of Gandhi was unveiled June 14 by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee during a visit. As the statue was put up over the summer, many students did not know about it initially. Critics note that it is the only statue of a well-known figure on the campus, whereas there are no tributes to African figures. "Why should we uplift other people's 'heroes' at an African university when we haven’t lifted up our own?" the authors of the petition write.
The University of Ghana has said that the petition will be considered if it is presented to the university's council. However, some worry that the demolition of the statue might cause unnecessary strain on the relationship between India and Ghana, which have a long history as allies. A former Ghanaian commissioner to India, Mike Oquaye, was quoted as saying that the statue controversy could lead to a diplomatic rift between the two nations.
“It will be most unnecessary, most uncalled for and not in the supreme interest of Ghanaians and we must know what serves our interest best,” Oquaye said, according to the Hindustan Times.
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