A Mahatma Gandhi statue has been removed from the campus of the University of Ghana after protests from students and faculty who argue the Indian independence leader considered Africans “inferior”.
The statue was unveiled at the university in the Ghanian capital Accra two years ago but has been the subject of controversy and was removed in the middle of the night on Tuesday, leaving just an empty plinth.
Scholars have highlighted evidence in past years showing the revered freedom-fighter, whose theories of civil resistance helped India throw off British colonialism and inspired generations of activists including Martin Luther King Jr, held derogatory views towards native communities in South Africa.
A 2015 book by two South African writers pointed to instances where Gandhi complained that Indians were being forced to use the same separate entrances as Africans, meaning “their civilised habits … would be degraded to the habits of aboriginal natives”.
“About the mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly,” he wrote in a letter in 1904.
More sympathetic students of Gandhi’s life say his views were ignorant and prejudiced but a product of their time, and that his campaigns for social justice hold universal resonance and have fuelled some civil rights activism in Africa.
Students at the university welcomed the decision to remove the statue. “It’s a massive win for all Ghanaians because it was constantly reminding us of how inferior we are,” Benjamin Mensah told Agence France-Presse.
The head of language, literature and drama at the Institute of African Studies, Obadele Kambon, said the removal was an issue of “self-respect”.
“If we show that we have no respect for ourselves and look down on our own heroes and praise others who had no respect for us, then there is an issue,” he said.
“If we indeed don’t show any self-respect for our heroes, how can the world respect us? This is victory for black dignity and self-respect. The campaign has paid off.”
Ghana’s former government had said the statue would be relocated to prevent the controversy from “becoming a distraction from our strong ties of friendship” with India. But two years later the statue had still not been relocated.
Campaigners in Malawi are trying to stop another Gandhi statue from being erected in the capital Blantyre.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report by The Guardian.