Feature Article of Wednesday, 11 January 2017
Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis
“A wise man will always allow a fool to rob him of ideas without yelling ‘Thief.’ If he is wise he has not been impoverished. Nor has the fool been enriched. The thief flatters us by stealing. We flatter him by complaining” (Ben Hecht).
THIS FORM OF SHAMELESS NEW-AGE PLAGIARISM CONSTITUTES A MAJOR FALSE START FOR THE AKUFO-ADDO ADMINISTRATION
This scandalous plagiarism episode in our nation’s recent political history constitutes a huge embarrassment for Akufo-Addo, his government, Ghana, and Africa.
Of course plagiarism is a universal problem, perhaps more so in the Ghanaian educational system where in many an instance pre-university teachers and university instructors and professors alike, hardly take time to critically read, if at all, or pay close attention to end-of-term researched papers, theses, and dissertations assigned to students.
This untamed situation has therefore created a gullible graveyard of disturbing universal malaise of impunity, uncritical thinkers, copycats, chew-and-pour or learning-by-rote experts, and pathological cheats across the Ghanaian educational landscape.
Today, the plagiarism we associate with Akufo-Addo’s inaugural speech is a sheer exercise in unpardonable academic dishonesty, probably a direct outcome of the debilitating symptomatology of general decay in the Ghanaian educational system. It is even inexcusable if it were the direct or indirect culmination of intellectual oversight.
Yes, and with that said, we also hold it to be equally true that not every president is technically supposed to be a speech writer as a matter of course. In other words presidents are not necessarily expected to constitute themselves into authentic authors of their own speeches, but, at least, while this view is generally true, even incontestable, Akufo-Addo should have had prior intimate knowledge of the contents and topical layout of the draft or text of his inaugural speech.
This is because that would have given him an opportunity to raise serious objections, say, to the lack of authorship attribution in parts of his otherwise beautiful inaugural speech especially as regards the Muhammadu Buhari, the Bill Clinton, and the John F. Kennedy parts. The international and social media are feasting on this nauseating stench of sensational embarrassment from the gangrened carcass of the Ghanaian body politic, thus making our country a laughingstock in the international community. Ghana’s parliamentary minority has also alleged that Akufo-Addo, in 2013, lifted statements from an Al-Gore post-Supreme Court speech.
For that matter as part of the general conceptual framology of cultural appropriation, authorial or authorship attribution is such an indispensable idea. Even not every instance of paraphrasing goes without the courtesy of authorial attribution. Neither can sweeping in-text synonym swapping (or switching)—technically referred to as “rogeting,” a concept named after British lexicographer Peter M. Roget—utterly bury plagiarism from being eventually unearthed. Thus, “misappropriation” is intolerable and not such a noble idea after all in the intellectual world of originality, of creativity.
Accordingly, no one should tell us Akufo-Addo never read, proofread, or even practiced the said speech prior to its official delivery on January 7, 2017. That would have been tantamount to a breach of commonsense—or standard—protocol. As well, no competent, intelligent, and proactive leader does that. What Rev. Emmanuel Martey makes of this is only a matter of speculation!
Then again acquired skills from legal writing do not necessarily or readily transfer to the technical world of speech writing. We have in mind Akufo-Addo as a “lawyer” with some vast experience in the general technicalities of legal writing.
As a matter of fact, even more so Akufo-Addo should have closely read, proofread and practiced the text of his inaugural speech well in advance of the swearing-in occasion, to ascertain whether the speech’s broad outlook stood compatible with his political ideology and philosophy, with his vision for Ghana, and perhaps also, most significantly, with what he wanted Ghanaians and the international community to know about his intentions as regards the strategic and tactical particularity of his leadership style.
The important question is, is Akufo-Addo ever going to read documents thoroughly and with the benefit of proactive discernment and critical caution before signing them into law, say?
With that said, there is no doubt in our minds that Akufo-Addo does indeed possess a rhetorical charisma of fluid oratory, yet, though this flashy oratorical fluidity and fluency evolve from a boring idiosyncratic drawl, defined largely by his Locally Acquired Foreign Accent (LAFA), he nonetheless confidently sounds out in exquisite sartorial diction. That is, Akufo-Addo’s colorful dress of rhetoric gifts lacks moments of disfluency in that his speech pattern has neither been mechanical nor constrained.
A FEW QUESTIONS
“We also wish to remind President Nana Akufo-Addo that Ghana operates an Executive Presidency as clearly stipulated in Articles 57 and 58 of the Constitution and therefore the apology of his Communications Director notwithstanding, we expect him to take personal responsibility and assure the good people of Ghana that he will take concrete steps to ensure that this nation is spared any similar embarrassment in future.
“Ghanaians expect of their leaders to, at all times, defend the good image of Ghana, therefore, it is our hope that we will all take steps to mitigate and rescue Ghana - the black star of Africa from the web of ridicule that our nation is being subjected to all over the world and we must not fail them…” (James Klutse Avedzi, “Withdraw President’s ‘Plagiarized’ Speech—Minority In Parliament,” Ghanaweb, January 9, 2017)
One however wonders why these gifts did not directly translate into a perfect inaugural speech! What does this plagiarism incident teach Akufo-Addo about the importance of academic rigor and intellectual honesty, about the falling standards of Ghanaian education generally, and about what his administration intend to do about this, the latter particularly? Are there not competent prose stylists in Ghana? Are there also not professional staff writers, editors and proofreaders in Ghana?
Wasn’t Akufo-Addo’s speech writer(s) in the know that plagiarism detection software abounds? Or it was Akufo-Addo himself who authored the speech? Is Eugene’s apology enough to assuage public anger over NPP’s hypocrisy? Why will anybody in this age and time underestimate the power of social media?
Would it have made any difference if Akufo-Addo had delivered the speech extemporaneously? Who actually wrote the speech? Was it Eugene Arhin? Can the tool of stylometry be helpful in unraveling the true writer’s voice identity of the anonymous writer (ghostwriter) behind the plagiarized speech?
Well, when all is said and done, could it be possible that Arhin was merely taking the heat for his boss—Akufo-Addo? We need to know the answer to this question before anyone can properly apportion blame.
All the same, we should learn to avoid the emotional and psychological trauma of political equalization as far as explaining away this shameful act of plagiarism is concerned. Political equalization, if we understand the concept well, is good only to the extent that it offers practical, teachable precedents for corrective measures to be taken against entrenched impunity and moral decay in the Ghanaian body politic.
In fine, those NPP folks who are doing everything in their power to explain away this shameful act as intellectual oversight and therefore it should be ignored—for what’s worth—are merely reinforcing our pessimistic view of this new administration that it will never move away or free itself from the tightening grips of mediocrity and institutional corruption and bad leadership. White-color crime is in the office. This is probably how the new administration is going to rule Ghana.
SOME CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES
We may recall the international ignominy the so-called Independence Brochure Saga under ex-President Mahama brought to Ghana and Africa.
We may also recall fake sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie and the paralyzing shame he brought to South Africa and Africa during Nelsen Mandela’s memorial service.
Zimbabwe and Africa became an international object of scorn when Robert Mugabe read out the wrong speech to the Zimbabwean parliament.
And, finally, we can probably understand why a spelling error involving Ama Ata Aidoo’s name became a national disgrace.
What is happening?
It was not long ago when the New Patriotic Party (NPP) was all over the place accusing Hassan Ayariga’s All People’s Congress (APC) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of plagiarizing its manifesto.
So, why is the angelic or saintly NPP doing the same, if we may ask? Is it the case that what is good for the goose is no longer equally good for the gander?
These strains of Orwellian sanctimony and double standards smack of moral stupidity of the part of the NPP.
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism” (William R. Inge).
We come to the greatest and saddest irony of all, that is Akufo-Addo’s plagiarized swearing-in speech which, though it gives hope to Ghanaians, initiates a false start for his administration nonetheless, but which also at the same time exposes his party’s egregious sanctimonious posturing.
That hope was instantly dashed with his plagiarized speech. No one can be deemed or taken serious as when he or she plagiarizes dyslexic George Bush’s speech. Perhaps unbeknownst to him, Akufo-Addo is an accomplice to a serious intellectual crime—simply academic dishonesty.
It is indeed unpardonably egregious, and Akufo-Addo must be allowed to swear in again, and then compelled to give the same speech again, but this time a holistically revised or edited one with proper attributions. In fact Akufo-Addo has to start all over again. This is the right thing to do.
Otherwise the false start puts the country in an ethically and morally slumberous coma. Ex-President Kufuor’s advice that Ghanaians “treat words of new President seriously” should be taken with a grain of salt. Kufuor can never be taken serious. This man promised zero tolerance for corruption yet his government turned out to be one of the most corrupt in Ghana’s political history.
Still, which “words” were Kufuor referring to? The plagiarized ones? Whoever authored the speech may probably have wanted to bamboozle the audience by courting audience members to come to terms that Akufu-Addo, Ghana’s newest president was more than capable of extravagant philosophical sophistication, even of florid rhetoric, but this strategy may have backfired as the plagiarism accusations rather than textual exegesis of the swearing-in speech took center stage.
Akufo-Addo’s presidency is unoriginal. It is a plagiarized presidency when Rev. Owusu Bempah revealed that angels came down from heaven to vote him. Angels who condone plagiarism! What?
We shall return…