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Global Gandhi: Mahatma remained a source of inspiration for African nations

Recently, I came across a newspaper report with a photograph of a city of Germany where people were protesting against the government’s restrictions on Corona pandemic. The fact that astonished me was that young protesters were carrying big-sized photos of Mahatma Gandhi. It led me to ponder if Mahatma Gandhi is still relevant to the new generation and that too in the most industrialized nation of Europe? Reference to this event seems to be in conformity that global Gandhi is still alive and relevent to the world while other world icons are gradually fading away.    

In my career as a correspondent of All India Radio and otherwise also, I may have visited more than 50 countries across all continents. All countries had at least one statue of Mahatma Gandhi at a vantage point in one of their prominent cities. Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi had become a global figure much more before becoming a Mahatma Gandhi due to his peaceful protest in South Africa and a long freedom struggle in India. He may have become a lonely man taking peace march in riot struck Noakhali but the world was seeing, following him and admiring his way of protests without any fear.

Recently I happened to see a documentary by Romesh Sharma where, in an interview, a Czech scholar said that underground protests had started against communist rule in the then Czechoslovakia with disintegration of the Soviet Union. The regime there made a foolish mistake by releasing Richard Attenborough’s much acclaimed film Gandhi.  Soon after, protests opened up widely and people took to  streets.  My Indian origin evoked respect among people on my visits abroad who often greeted me by saying: “Oh you are from the land of Gandhi.’’  Successive British regimes hated Gandhi as they knew that Gandhian movement will free India from their clutches but it would inspire other countries under their colonial regime also. The cascading effect was obvious and the British lost many countries which slipped away from their stranglehold.  

Gandhi began his protest journey in South Africa making an indelible mark on the times and the world history. Many great African countries such as South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, Kenya and Ghana got freedom from apartheid tyrant European colonial regimes after a long struggle and freedom  movements which followed the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi.

Julius Nyerere led a long movement against British colonial rule by founding Tangayanika African National Union to achieve the aim of freedom. After Zanzibar revolution both lands joined together to emerge as Tanzania on world map. While writing this, I am also reminded of my Tanzanian Friend John Hangoo who was head of Swahili broadcast in All India Radio and lived in Delhi for 30 years.

In South Africa, the British regime was forced to give power to aboriginals after a long freedom movement led by the iconic figure Nelson Mandela who spent nearly three decades in jail. He stands tall as Mahatma Gandhi.

In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta led the masses for years in freedom movement against British. After freedom, the country was named as Kenya that was earlier known as British East India.

Zambia was another British ruled colony which went by the name of Northern Rhodesia. Son of the soil, Kenneth Kaunda formed Zambian National African Congress and led the freedom movement there.

Sam Nujoma is also a respected icon of freedom movement in the African continent who led freedom movement in Namibia against South Africa’s White Colonial regime. Nujoma led the Southwest African People’s Organization (SWAPO) from exile for almost 30 years. The freedom struggle went on from 1962 to 1989. The country which was earlier known as South West Africa was renamed Namibia. This revolutionary led a guerrilla war against apartheid. I got an opportunity to cover his press conferences during NAM and CHOGM Summits in New Delhi. I also happened to visit the Namibian Capital Windhoek in 1994 famous for its Kalahari desert.

Robert Mugabe led the long civil Revolution against apartheid colonial regime in Southern Rhodesia which is now known as Zimbabwe.  Mugabe played a very active role in NAM. A travel to Zimbabwean capital Harare was a lovely experience for me. We saw their vibrant markets, business centers and  temples constructed and managed by Gujaratis who had landed there 150 years ago. Though Mugabe became controversial in his last days but his contribution as the leader of freedom movement cannot be forgotten.

Kwame Nkrumah led people’s movement freedom in his country called Golf Coast against white Colonial regime. After independence Gold Coast came to be known as Ghana on west coast of African Continent. Nkrumah was a tall figure remained associated actively with the affairs of NAM at par with Nehru and  Marshal Tito.

One would wonder as to what was the common factor among all these revolutionary African leaders! All of them were educated in the UK or European Universities, returned to their native lands and launched freedom movements like Mahatma Gandhi did after his return from South Africa.

 In all these African countries people honoured them with Father of The Nation title. They all were elected rulers of their respective countries and remained Presidents or Prime Ministers for long years whereas Mahatma Gandhi shunned all trappings of power till his last breath. They all became world icons against racial discrimination and apartheid. Lastly, all of them were influenced and inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his non violent freedom movement. Gandhian ways had steeped deeply among them and percolated down to the people in these African countries which attained freedom by following in the steps of Mahatma Gandhi. A time to remember our Father of the Nation as India celebrates yet another Independence Day.

 (Writer is a senior journalist and broadcaster) 

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