Indian merchants, skilled and unskilled workers have long been a part of the economic landscape in Liberia. At one point in time, Indian nationals accounted for the second largest non-African expatriate community in Liberia. They owned trading stores, worked in a range of occupations, including the medical profession, and even non-skilled store hands. In terms of economic clout, they ranked second to the Lebanese and perhaps still do so today.
One well known Indian national who has lived and worked in Liberia for decades and fathered a daughter by a Liberian is M.P. Dhaliwal, owner of the famous DITCO store on Randall Street. Another rising economic powerhouse is the Anadani clan, otherwise known as the Arun Brothers, who have now stamped their presence on the economic scene, dealing in household electronics, consumer items and pharmaceuticals. But perhaps best known Indian nationals are Sethi Brothers and Anwar Jeety Singh.
In addition to his very viable import trade in construction and building materials, including electrical equipment, Jeety Singh is also a diplomat representing India in Liberia. It is mainly through his initiative and drive that his country’s diplomatic relations with Liberia have been kept on a sure footing. And it is through his initiative, personal contacts and intimate knowledge of “working the ropes” that the project to edify and project Mathama Ghandhi as a new face in India’s relations with Africa and perhaps the rest of the world has taken root in Liberia.
In a few places around the world statutes immortalizing Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent philosophy have been erected. One of such places was the University of Ghana at Legon, where a statue of Gandhi was erected. The reasons underlying its erection have now come under intense public scrutiny in Ghana. Public debate over Gandhi’s legacy has been quite robust, inflamed passions and created conditions and support for the removal of the statue from that University’s campus.
Gandhi, according to history, lived in South Africa for a period of ten years and came face to face with racial inequality and oppression. According to historical accounts, Gandhi did not see himself as part of the struggle of African people for racial equality and social justice. He appeared seemingly incapable of accepting equal status with black Africans whom he described in his writings as Kaffirs. Neither did he, according to historical accounts, advocate for social equality for Dalits, Sikhs and others considered outcasts in Indian society.
For these and other reasons, Gandhi is being judged harshly by history which has so far not placed him in the pantheon of heroes, which the likes of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Fidel Castro, Bram Fisher, Thomas Sankara, etc. enjoy. Notwithstanding, India under the leadership of Hindu nationalist, Mohendra Modi, is sparing little effort to project India’s influence around the globe and Ghandhi, perhaps, is the face of this projection.
Whether this new drive is an attempt to play catch-up with China, considering the huge inroads that country has made in Africa recently is a matter of conjecture. China, on the one hand, has invested heavily in infrastructure in African countries, with Liberia being no exception. A new Ministerial complex, for example, is just being completed with planned road interchanges at the Ministerial complex and the Tubman Boulevard Junction well advanced in the pipeline.
Just how China’s drive will impact Indo-Liberian relations remains to be seen. In the perception of most Liberians, Indians are “cheap” meaning they are a miserly lot.. Generally, the wages they pay their Liberian employees rank far below what Indians pay their fellow Indians. In the real estate business, Indians are generally known to offer lower lease terms as compared to Lebanese, for example.
This view is widely held among Liberians of the propertied class and this probably explains why Lebanese continue to dominate the real estate industry. The Indians have proposed the erection of a Conference Center for Liberia. This is certainly a good idea although many disagree with the choice of the area selected for that construction. Some environmentalists are strongly agreed that such construction in an area classified as protected wetlands is certainly not a wise idea.
In the interest of environmental protection in Liberia, we urge the government to offer the Indian community an alternative site for the conference center. However, whether the Mahatma Gandhi statue, if and when erected, will eventually suffer the same fate as the Gandhi statue erected on the University of Ghana Legon campus may be a little too early to tell. There is, however,strong probability that the Conference Center could very well outlast the Gandhi statue; but the Center shall more likely than not remain the Gandhi Conference Center.