Skip to main content

Top African academic "questions" Ghana varsity decision to remove Gandhi statue

Gandhi's statue that was removed from Ghana varsity campus
Counterview Desk
In December 2018, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was removed from the University of Ghana’s campus in response to protests from students and staff. They argued that Gandhi was a racist who denigrated black Africans. Here, Professor Ernest Aryeetey, who was the university’s Vice-Chancellor when the statue was erected, he explains why the university under him made the decision to accept the statue, a gift from the Government of India in 2016.
Currently Professor of Economics, University of Ghana, Aryeetey suggests, in an article in a prominent US e-journal “The Conversation”, that though Gandhi, when in South Africa as a young lawyer, did make “very racist remarks” during his campaign, he significantly changed over time when he came face to face with the Indian caste system. Not without reason, Nelson Mandela as also Ghana’s own Kwame Nkrumah “learned” from Gandhi.

Prof Aryeetey’s reflections on the controversial decision:

I received a request in early 2016 through my secretary that the Indian High Commissioner would like to come and see me. We knew each other quite well from several events at which we’d met. When he came, he indicated that the President of India was going to pay a state visit to Ghana, and wanted to visit our university.
He also informed me that it was customary for the President to make a presentation to the people of any country he visited. Traditionally, this had been a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, world famous for his role as the father and architect of Indian independence in 1947. My first thought was, “Is the President going to carry a statue all the way from New Delhi to Accra?” The answer was “yes”.
The High Commissioner informed me that the visit and the gift had already been discussed and agreed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President of Ghana. We ended the meeting with me assuring him that we would think about it and get back to him.
I used the time to read quite a bit about Gandhi and came to understand better what he stood for.

Gandhi

I learned that he was 23 years old when he went to South Africa and lived there for many years. I read things attributed to him that were undoubtedly racist under any circumstance.
I read how he referred to blacks as “kaffirs” in some of his early writings and immediately remembered that derogatory expression from my reading of the Christian leader Prester John at school. It was obvious to me that in the early days, he saw his fight to liberate Indians from oppressive laws imposed by white men, as being different from that of the struggle of the black man.
I also read that he later joined hands with some black groups to resist white oppression. As I read more and more about him, I couldn’t help seeing that the Gandhi that came to the attention of the world in the 1930s and 1940s, and gave the British Empire so many headaches, was very different from the young lawyer who had arrived in South Africa a few years after leaving the UK.
I understood that Gandhi was celebrated for the things he taught the world in his later years, through his writings, ideas and lifestyle. He was celebrated for seeking peace for all the peoples of the world.
Having understood the context of Gandhi’s fame and renown, I had no difficulty in informing a meeting of the senior management of the university that I thought we should accept the request. There was some resistance, but ultimately the meeting decided that the statue was acceptable to the university. It was to be located at the recreational quadrangle behind the Balme Library.

Some dissent

A couple of weeks after the President’s visit and the statue’s unveiling, I saw an email on the university’s mail system questioning the appropriateness of having the statue of Gandhi on the campus. The main argument was that Gandhi was racist. A few others responded, echoing this belief.
Rather uncharacteristically, I decided to respond. I knew full well how such misinformation could get out of hand. I had also experienced first-hand at South Africa’s University of Cape Town how the “Rhodes must fall” campaign had been hijacked by self-seekers.
So I wrote a carefully crafted response on the intranet, and also indicated to the authors of the misinformation that I was ready to debate them. It was obvious that they were not used to debates, even though they were on a university campus. They were used to sending out poor opinions and no one questioning them. After my intervention the misinformation fizzled out.
I completed my term as Vice-Chancellor in July 2016. Weeks later, the issue flared up again and the statue was ultimately removed.
There is still no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the University of Ghana had the authority to take the decision it did to accept and erect the statue. The proper procedures were followed. And the country’s government fully endorsed our actions.

The issue of racism

I have come to view the experiences of Gandhi as very similar to the transformation of Saul into Paul in the Bible. Once I accept the conversion of Paul, I can very easily forgive the early Gandhi. There are no explicit accounts of a transformation like Saul’s, but the tone of Gandhi’s writings changed significantly over time.
The young lawyer made what I would easily describe as very racist remarks in his campaign to gain more rights for the Indian in South Africa. He showed very little interest in the affliction of the black man and believed that the black man’s fight was different from that of Indians.
When he left South Africa and returned to India, and came face to face with the Indian caste system, he saw it as being as dehumanising as what Indians and black people went through in South Africa. He found the poor Indian to be not any better off than the Indians in South Africa.
In his writings about self-government and independence, he emphasised peaceful coexistence with all races. He spent time teaching people how to resist oppression in a peaceful way. It is this pursuit of peaceful coexistence of the races that caught the world’s respect and attention. This is what attracted Martin Luther King to his ideas. It is this same ideal that he shared with Nelson Mandela. Indeed, this is what inspired Ghana’s own Kwame Nkrumah to speak about what he learned from Gandhi.

Comments

TRENDING

Young environmentalist's arrest 'sinister', even parents not told of her whereabouts

By Our Representative  The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India (CEJI), a civil society network, has said that it is “highly disturbing” that Disha Ravi, a young woman climate activist from Bengaluru was “picked up” in what is referred to as a “closely guarded operation” of the Delhi police. Disha, 21, has been remanded to police custody for five days after she was taken from Bengaluru to Delhi.

Mukesh Ambani's earnings during Covid 'can lift' 40% informal workers out of poverty

By Dr Gian Singh*  The Inequality Virus Report released by Oxfam, a non-profit organization, on January 25, 2021 on the growing inequalities in different parts of the world, sheds light on the growing economic, educational, healthcare and gender inequalities in India. The report has revealed that the wealth of billionaires has increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown period in the country.

US forensic revelation enough evidence to release Sudha Bharadwaj, others: Civicus

Counterview Desk  Civicus, a Johannesburg-based global alliance of civil society organisations and activists claiming to have presence in 175 countries with 9,000 members and working for strengthening citizen action, has sought immediate release of Sudha Bharadwaj, arrested in 2018 under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

'These people shouldn't be in jail': UN official seeks release of 16 human rights defenders

By Our Representative A United Nations human rights official has called upon the Government of India (GoI) to “immediately release" 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the Bhima-Koregaon Case, insisting, “These people should not be in jail. They are our modern-day heroes and we should all be looking to them and supporting them and demanding their release.”  

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

Evolution of Sardar Patel's understanding of those 'involved' in Gandhi's assassination

By Shamsul Islam*  As the world mourns the 73rd anniversary of MK Gandhi's assassination by Hindutva terrorists on January 30, 1948, RSS, the most prominent flag-bearer of Hindutva politics, whose cadres rule India today, is found reacting angrily to the reality – that the criminals who assassinated Gandhiji were not only part of the ideological world-view of Hindu Mahasabha (led by VD Savarkar) and RSS brand of Hindu nationalism but were also connected with these. 

No Election Commission safeguard against electromagnetic hacking of EVM: Study

Counterview Desk  Releasing a new study simultaneously in Chennai and Kolkata in view of the forthcoming elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE) – a civil society initiative – has regretted “lack of integrity of EVM voting”, pointing out, the Election Commission of India (ECI) does not appear to safeguard against the possibilities of ‘side-channel attacks’, i.e, hacking electronic devices through electromagnetic and other methods.

20% of FIRs against journalists in 2020 alone, targeted attacks in 2021 'too many to count'

Counterview Desk  Condemning what it calls “alarming rise in state repression and clampdown on news outlets and journalists” that “expose” the anti-people nature of the establishment, India's top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has demanded “immediate release of arrested journalists, withdrawal of arbitrary charges and protection of media persons facing threats.”

Top academic claims he warned farmer leaders of Hindutva plot on Jan 26 morning

By Shamsul Islam* The photographs here show a Hindutva protagonist, Deep Sidhu, with his real masters. He is said to be the culprit who tried to derail the historic farmers' struggle by putting up a religious flag at Red Fort on January 26, with no Delhi police which works under the Indian home minister Amit Shah, a senior RSS cadre who is often described 'Iron Man' by Hindutva camp-followers.