Having been scorched for hours by the heat under a makeshift canopy at the Fendell campus of the University of Liberia (UL) while attending a graduation ceremony, President Weah is hopeful that the construction of a 4,000-capacity conference hall will be completed in 24 months by the Indian government, an Executive Mansion release has said.
According to the release, the Legislature put the final dot on a piece of legislation, changing the Island’s name from Bali to the Mahatma Gandhi International Conference Center after the iconic leader of India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Although a statue of Mahatma Gandhi has been pulled down from a university in Ghana after lecturers complained the celebrated Indian independence leader was “racist,” the Liberian government has gone ahead promising to name the Weah’s envisioned resort in his honor at Bali Island.
Academics at the University of Ghana in the capital, Accra, recently launched an online campaign against the effigy soon after it was erected in 2016.
The group pointed to Gandhi’s use of racial slurs, and argued the tribute was a “slap in the face” as there were no statues of African leaders on the university campus.
The university said the ministry of foreign affairs and regional integration was responsible for the decision to pull down the statue, “because he was a racist, who hated Africans.”
Law student Nana Adoma Asare Adei told BBC News: “Having his statue means that we stand for everything he stands for and if he stands for these things [alleged racism], I don’t think we should have his statue on campus.”
Gandhi became a symbol of non-violent political resistance around the world after he led India to independence from British colonial rule.
Yet his legacy on race relations has been challenged in recent years. In his early writings, while living in South Africa, he regularly used the denigrating term “Kaffir” …Nigger, a derogatory term for blacks in America. Gandhi also referred to black Africans as “savages.”
The lecturers objecting to the monument claimed Gandhi had been “uncharitable in his attitude to the black race” and questioned why the university chose to honor him over an African independence leader.
“If there should be statues on our campus, then, first and foremost, they should be of African heroes and heroines, who can serve as examples of who we are and what we have achieved as a people.”
The row over Gandhi statues and racism has erupted elsewhere in Africa since the memorial was first unveiled in Ghana in June, 2016 by India’s former president, Pranab Mukherjee.
Activists in South Africa have campaigned to have a Gandhi statue in Johannesburg removed using the hashtag #Gandhimustfall. Protesters in Malawi are also campaigning against plans to put up a Gandhi statue in the capital Blantyre over his writings.
Weah: “On Tuesday, we were at the UL Fendell Campus under a very uncomfortable condition only because there was not a place in Monrovia to take in thousands of graduates and others attending a graduation program,” President Weah said Wednesday as he commissioned the National Population Census Commission at the C. Cecil Dennis Conference Hall at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“That is why I am very anxious to see a new conference hall on the Bali Island completed soon so that we have a modern, cozy and spacious conference hall that can take in up to 4,000 persons at a time,” the President further said. “We are working towards this project and I am hopeful that at least in the next 24 months, we will have it turned over to the government, the people of Liberia and foreign friends who desire a nice place to assemble,” the President said.
President Weah said the Bali Island Project, one of his government’s flagship development initiatives, is alive and that he is exerting enormous efforts into realizing the monumental feat.
“Sitting in the sun for four hours at the commencement convocation of the University of Liberia was a tough one; this is why I am making sure that a conference hall at Bali Island is constructed so that people go there to relax and enjoy having programs and activities of all sorts,” President Weah said.
In the first two months of his presidency, the President toured the Island, which the government intends to transform, with funding from the Indian government, into the “new Monrovia City,” constructing a state-of-the-art conference hall, banks, shopping malls and other structures of national importance.
The idea of developing Bali Island as a municipal and commercial space has been met with some concern from environmentalists who fear that the development of the island might cause harm to the unique ecosystem out there. However the President, in one of his engagements with the Liberian media earlier this year, likened his vision for Bali Island to similar developments of wetlands around the world, including Fort Lauderdale, Florida (USA) and the United Arab Emirates, which have transformed those areas into sprawling business and tourism destinations.
President Weah also thanked officials of government for working so diligently and effectively to achieve deliverable goals. “I want to thank all of you ministers for an excellent job,” he said. “We are in our first year and I know the performance is not bad. I know that we were expecting a tough one when we came but with the young men and women we brought on board, we have done well.”
He also allayed fears that his officials might have harbored in the wake of speculations that there would be a reshuffle, adding, “That is just something in the media; perhaps to have you distracted from doing your job,” he said. “Once you are doing your job properly, there is no need to listen to weird perceptions and speculations outside there.”