The recent removal of a statue of the hitherto revered Indian nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) from the grounds of the University of Ghana for his racist credentials refers. Dedicated in 2016 by Pranab Mukherjee, the then Indian president, it supposedly symbolised a ‘strengthening of ties between the two nations’. As well, it highlighted the esteem Gandhi commanded worldwide inclusive of Nigeria where not a few politicians appear to ape him.
Indeed, it was most reminiscent for it reminded the world of the removal of another statue elsewhere. Namely, that of apartheid founder Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Coincidentally, Gandhi lived and worked in South Africa between 1893 and 1915 and, thus, ought to know a little more about races. A development cited by the more than two thousand petitioners behind the call for the removal this time of the Gandhi statue.
Interestingly, unlike Rhodes, ruined by his apartheid credentials as the world came of age, before now, Gandhi had been riding on the crest of a wave. Ever since he established his country’s freedom through the nonviolent revolution codenamed satyagraha, he had become an international role model. He was noted for the possession of those firm principles for which integrity is idolised. So much that even the American dreamer Martin Luther King had to visit and drink from his well of knowledge.
According to the Ghanaian petitioners that had the staff as well as students of the university in its number, Gandhi, despite his eminent credentials was also an undiluted racist. Yes, they did not mince their words about it. According to them, to him blacks were no less than ‘savages and half-heathen natives’. In a noted aside, he was quoted as having once said that the sole ambition of the black race was ‘to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass life in indolence and nakedness.’
However, this removal of his statue in Ghana can only be said to have affirmed what many have long felt about Gandhi. Even in those hey days before his assassination, many, even within India, had called attention to the many discrepancies in his hypothetic, watertight claim to honour. Like his fellow independence activist Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949). The poetess nicknamed ‘The Nightingale of India’ for her sonorous lines had cause to pointedly ask Gandhi whether he knew how much it costs India everyday to keep him in poverty.
Anyway, when all is reconsidered, the attempt to impugn the supposedly upright did not start – and will not end – with Gandhi. Even Jesus of Nazareth, as can be recalled, suffered no less in his earthly bloom. Upon his stupendous frugality, he was often accosted by his people for observed intransigencies. Especially by that special group who had the ability to see from afar what those close by couldn’t. Like when He allowed his feet to be anointed with expensive perfume by no less than a woman of easy virtue.
Much more recently though, there was the case that featured the late Pope John Paul II. As the Pole arrived the Vatican to assume office, he was said to have ordered the construction of, well, an ‘expensive’ swimming pool in his living quarters. Are there really inexpensive pools, if I may ask? Nonetheless, asked about the assumedly unnecessary show of extravagance, the man who would become St. John Paul simply replied that the pool was put in place because he likes to swim!
Though slightly less ingenious than the reply Jesus gave to his own traducers in the afore-cited temptation, it was as honest as ought. Making one wonder what indeed Gandhi would have said to these Ghanaian petitioners had he been alive to confront them in return. Would he have, for instance, stuck to his guns a la Jesus and John Paul, or tried to wiggle out with a different sophistry of his manufacture?
Well, that is better left blowing in the wind. Not unlike the many questions Bob Dylan posed in his eponymous hit track, ‘I dare say’. Nevertheless, the scenario surely calls some recent-day spurious claims to integrity within and without our nation to mind. Take the case of our politicians for one. Though often dyed in the same wool of corruption, some in their number have managed to paint themselves as different; laying claim to a specious integrity that is, like a balloon, often prone to deflation by one prick of reason.
Yet most of them have never engaged in any other endeavour other than of the state. They have not only married wives on state accounts but have proceeded to train their bevy of children abroad while their mismanagement credentials have kept local schools on a perpetual lockdown. They have also afforded to buy these siblings of theirs all the expensive toys in town ranging from cars to power bikes. Of course, the nation has also borne all their health bills.
Their pasts also have nothing good written about them. Where they have not actively participated in the toppling of democratically elected governments while they served in the military, they often end up terrible dictators in civilian office. Not only do they flout court orders rampantly, but they have turned the other way while their countrymen and women are slaughtered like cows. O yes, the same herbivores Gandhi said we live and die for. I needn’t go on.
In fact, but for this episode in Ghana, one day they may have also had course to erect Gandhi’s statue here unchallenged. But for only that they appear to prefer those of their partners in crime. If anything, a pilgrimage to Owerri the Imo State capital will convince you.
To end on a literary note, please crave me the indulgence of paraphrasing the title of Ghanaian Ayi Kwei Armah’s epic novel by opining that indeed those of us blessed with even the slightest iota of integrity are not yet born!
- Isidore Emeka Uzoatu, author of Vision Impossible, writes from Onitsha.