Accepted paper:

#Gandhi for come down -The Gandhi statue controversy in Ghana. Implications for India's Africa Soft-Power strategy.


Simona Vittorini (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Gandhi has been a staple of India's soft-power, especially in Africa. By looking at Ghana's responses to the gifting of a Gandhi statue to the University of Legon in Accra and the controversy that it ensued this paper points to the challenges to India's Africa's policy and its soft-power strategy.

Paper long abstract:

In June 2016, the then Indian President Pranab Mukherjee unveiled a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Legon Campus of the University of Accra to symbolise the friendship between the two countries. However, a controversy quickly ensued, and the government of Ghana hastily removed the statue from campus.

Historical monuments are expressions of power and are often subject to contestations, but as diplomatic gifts go, the Gandhi statue was not an unconventional present. Statues of the Mahatma have regularly been gifted by the Indian government and have been staples of its soft-power strategy, especially in Africa. Yet, in this instance, the gifting of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was extremely significant and controversial.

This paper makes three main arguments. Foregrounding the importance of the politics of statues and commemorations in Indian politics, it places this event within a broader strategy by Hindutva - the Hindu nationalist ideology India Prime Minister Narendra Modi ascribes to - at reclaiming symbolic ownership of the Mahatma and his legacy in Africa.

Secondly, taking a constructivist approach, this paper argues that the gifting of the statue of Gandhi to the University of Legon was an attempt at reimagining, not simply India's national narrative, but ultimately, at rewriting the history of India-Africa relations and reshaping South-South discourse.

Lastly, and more importantly, in view of other more recent opposition to the construction of a Gandhi statue in Africa (Malawi, 2018), the paper considers the potential of Mahatma Gandhi as a soft-power tool to cement India-Africa relations.

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