Mahatma Gandhi is neither an alien nor an enemy to Africans. Posterity will judge us if we do not demystify the perception some Africans have on Mahatma Gandhi
Sometime ago, I saw Mahatma Gandhi’s Statue on the campus of the University of Ghana, situated behind Balme Library. I understand that the Statue was unveiled as part of the President of Indian, H.E Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to the University last month. I applauded the leadership of this nation and the University management for giving absolute respect to Indians’ community by honouring their father Gandhi. Indians see Gandhi as the father of their nation, the person who played a pivotal role in their Independence, the creator of the concept of non-violent civil disobedience and so many more accolades that speak of character at every turn. He is celebrated by the Indian community always and even has his image on Indian’s Rupee.
A section of Ghanaians especially some students at University of Ghana nonetheless have antagonized the decision by our leaders and have questioned the purpose of a Gandhi Statue on UG campus and its relevance to Ghana and Africa at large citing that Gandhi was racist and was against Africa.
Let me go straight to my point, Personally, I think the relevance of the Statue is to strengthen the cooperation between Ghana and India as a way of appreciating the benefits we have gained from them over the years. Ghana and India’s relationship started way back in the days of colonial rule. We have the same colonial heritage with Britain as our colonial master. I think it was a snappy way to impress Indian President H.E Pranab Mukherjee and the Indian community at large which in the long run will attract more grants to Ghana and Africa.
Well, let me widen my argument here. I must say Africa needs Gandhi. Gandhi provided Africa with his ageless doctrine. It was not meant for the independence of India only. Nonviolence is itself normative. It applies to any situation. Gandhi’s nonviolence remains an authentic source of normative personalisation; meaning that it aims first of all to re-instate the dignity of the human person. He was a fearless advocate of the dignity of the human person. This involves recognising the unique endowments of the human person-in-community and providing a foundation for Human Rights. He is therefore called the emancipator of the oppressed. He helped millions of the discriminated poor to discover meaning in life and live a life worthy of the true human calling.
I’m not disputing the fact that he was a racist, but I think those antagonizing Gandhi for being racist are suffering from selective amnesia
They have refused to broaden their minds because they are reasoning from hypocritical point of view.
Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther king and some other African leaders used the ideas and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. Let me put it on record that if our own Nkrumah was successful, he owed part of his formation, directly or indirectly to Gandhi. Nkrumah became a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy of “Satyagraha”, which he coined as “Positive Action”. In South Africa Gandhi and Mandela are often mentioned together as giants of 20th-century anti-colonialism. South African leader Nelson Mandela described Mohandas Gandhi as “the archetypical anti-colonial revolutionary” and acknowledged the earlier leader’s influence on the independence movement in South Africa.
Mandela himself often cited Gandhi as an inspiration and claimed the Indian leader as a son of South Africa, stating that “India gave South Africa Gandhi the barrister and Africa gave India back Mahatma Gandhi the Great Soul. The leadership qualities of Nelson Mandela had at its base Gandhi’s Spirit. When Mandela spent 27 years of his life in Robben Island in the prison, the room was full of books of Gandhi and many other classics. The twenty seven years he spent in jail were spent in meditation and reflection and it is said that throughout the years, the bitterness left his soul and he provided the leadership to steer South Africa to be a multi ethnic state.
Martin Luther King also put Gandhian method of nonviolence as one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed black people in their struggle for freedom. What fascinated King most in Gandhi was The ‘turn-the-other-cheek’ philosophy and the ‘love-your-enemies’ philosophy which Gandhi drew from the Sermon on the Mount. He therefore came to realize that Gandhi was the first person in history to reinvent the Christian ethic of love as a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was a short journey thereafter to unreserved acceptance of the Gandhian technique of nonviolence as the only viable means to overcome the problems faced by his people. In Gandhi’s teaching he found the answer to a question that had long troubled him: How does one set about carrying out a social reform? He found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. King therefore advocated and practiced civil disobedience and nonviolence. Before he had read about Gandhi, he had almost concluded that the teaching of Jesus could only be put into practice as between individuals; but after making a study of Gandhi he realized that he had been mistaken.
Commenting on the relationship that existed between King and Gandhi, John Odey attests that King’s reverence for Gandhi was such that he “kept on reminding the blacks of the momentous need to conduct themselves in the spirit of Christ and that of Gandhi. It would therefore appear that he and Gandhi were the same in every bit of their conception of nonviolence and the application of its techniques. While there are many remarkable similarities between the two, they also differed slightly in some areas. But their objectives were the same, to free the oppressed. Most thinkers say that King remains one of those rare gems that tried to follow Gandhi to the latter. He died a real satyagrahi.
So are those antagonizing Gandhi trying to tell me that, these Leaders never knew Gandhi was a racist? They hailed him to a highest degree irrespective of the slight differences that exist among them which has become known to some people to oppose him.
As late as the end of the 1960s, the West African nationalist pioneer, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe wrote in the light of his own experience: “On Gandhi’s teachings of satyagraha, history has proved Gandhi right…” And we can add that Gandhi will continue to be proven right in Africa.
I do not have a problem if you criticize Gandhi for being a racist. But my problem is we have failed to balance our argument, hitting on the negative side of Gandhi but the positive influence has been side-lined. The real Gandhi is very different from the carefully orchestrated image of him that is spread around.
History may say otherwise, but then historical facts are always skewed and never present a full picture.
Let me put on record that the positive impact of Gandhi to Africa overweight the negative impact.
And remember that the entire world looks at Gandhi as one of the greatest human beings of modern times.
Let’s not be lame in our thinking, Gandhi deserves the best from Africans.
Nana Osei Asibey Gyabaah
Political Science and Archaeology
University of Ghana-Legon