Blantyre (Malawi) (AFP) - Over 3,000 people have signed a petition opposing a planned statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Malawi's commercial capital Blantyre, saying the Indian independence hero had done nothing for the southern African country.
Work on the statue began two months ago along a road named after Gandhi. The Malawi government says it is being erected as part of a deal that will see New Delhi construct a $10 million (8.6-million-euro) convention centre in Blantyre.
"Mahatma Gandhi has never contributed anything to Malawi’s struggle for independence and freedom," a statement from the "Gandhi Must Fall" group said.
"We therefore, feel that the statue is being forced upon the people of Malawi and is the work of a foreign power aiming at promoting its image and dominion on the unsuspecting people of Malawi."
The petitioners claim that Gandhi, who early in his career practised in South Africa and fought against apartheid-era segregation laws, was racist.
"We are not comfortable with imperialistic and neo-colonial ideologies that seek to impose... foreign influence which deprives us of honour," Wonderful Mkutche, a member of the group told AFP on Saturday.
"Now more than ever, our nation must rise above pettiness and weakness in international deals.... This must mean that we should only accept investments, partnerships... that are responsible, fair, equal, honourable, sustainable, efficient and transparent."
But Isaac Munlo, Principal Secretary in the foreign ministry, defended the project saying: "It should be recognised that Mahatma Gandhi promoted values of simplicity, fight against social evils, promoting human and civil rights as well as uplifting of social well-being of people.
"It is also worth noting that all African freedom fighters that fought against colonialism and oppression and thus demanded independence were influenced by what Mahatma Gandhi fought for. In other ways, Mahatma Gandhi is a role model of a human rights campaigner for both Africa and India," he said.
Malawi and India established diplomatic ties in 1964 and New Delhi is one of the country's biggest donors.