Plagiarism in Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana and lessons for the Gambia

2017-01-12 07:28

A few days ago the president elect of Ghana gave his inaugural speech which I had no privilege to listen to; however I got to listen to the plagiarized lines. As an academic, it is inevitable to say that he ought to have credited Bill Clinton and George Bush. On the other hand, I do doubt that he was aware that part of the speech was not original. The president placed his trust on the team he works with, in this case the communication department of which he is reported to have fired its director. I must admit that firing an employee over a brutal blow to ones ego is quite disturbing especially in a region that has presidents notorious for firing, imprisoning or eliminating dissenting voices. However, plagiarism should have repercussions.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is not the only who has plagiarized before, according to BBC news, presidents around the world have plagiarized speeches. West-Africa has another president that recently quoted words from another source without acknowledgement. Nigeria's incumbent president, president Buhari was found quoting former president Obama's words without acknowledging him; the speech writer was also fired. Obama himself was also once caught plagiarizing "a 2006 speech by former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick". It is pivotal to highlight that Obama plagiarized another American, as did Melania Trump on Michelle Obama's speech unlike us and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny who also plagiarized an American president.

I am more concerned about the fact that imperial United States' presidents were plagiarized by a public servant on behalf of a president elect in Africa. This suggests perennial culture of looking to the West for modelling. I think president Akufo-Addo's speech writer is an epitome of a successful American soft power project. Many young Africans in the continent continue to afford the US the status of the messiah, and the YALI program, which is also a soft power tool, seems to consequently create more future leaders who are fixated and disillusioned by the West as a non problematic model of development. The concept of development is hereby used in its broadest sense.

The above makes me wonder how many others in the Ghanaian president elect's team think in the same manner. This evokes memories of those who advocated for linear stages of development which purport that economies such as those in Africa must follow the path of West's development model. How many of president Akufo-Addo's team members look to the West or East instead of internally for solutions or ideas? How will Ghanaian affairs be dealt with? I am worried about Ghana and the rest of our Africa if there are any more Western-centric copy cats serving and leading us.

In as much as plagiarism is bad, quoting a particular source signals epistemic allegiance. Where does our allegiance lie as Africans? Perhaps there should be a quicker proliferation of Afrocentricity and dcoloniality throughout the continent for all public officials and civil society in Africa, Senegal has a presence of Afrocentric thinkers and it should take the lead in advancing this project in West Africa.

One more thing on "plagiarism", I think the following speech deserves to be "plagiarized by ousted president of the Gambia. It is an excerpt from the speech by Ghana’s former president, Mr. John Mahama. Last year in December he said:

"Good evening, my fellow countrymen and women. A few minutes ago, I made the most difficult phone call I have made, and may ever make, in my life: I called President-elect Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party to congratulate him on his well-fought and well-deserved victory in Wednesday’s election.

The win has been emphatic. If anybody has reason to doubt the presidential results, the sheer magnitude of the defeat, which our parliamentary candidates have suffered, is the clearest indication that we have outlived our welcome.

Telling the world that I would graciously accept the outcome of the election was one thing, but confronting the stark reality of an electoral defeat is another harrowing experience altogether.

But I had no option. The people of Ghana have said emphatically that they are taking away the power they gave to me four years ago, and I have no power to say no. Besides, I love the country that has given me the opportunity to serve in various capacities for nearly two decades and I will not do anything to undermine our democracy or threaten the peace we enjoy…"

If former president Yahyah Jammeh is interested, he can hire me to write him another concession speech since he has no problem hiring non-Gambians for key vacancy posts in the Gambia. I must say I applaud Mr. Jammeh for his exemplary regionalization of African labour; he truly is far ahead of his time. Africans should be able to live and work anywhere they want in the continent. Moving back to the speech, I promise former president Jammeh that I will not charge him a cent for my service and I will not copy word for word of the above excerpt for his new concession speech. I will certainly make the following modifications for him;

"...I called President-elect Adama Barrow to congratulate him again on his well-fought and well-deserved victory in the national election. The win has been emphatic. If anybody has reason to doubt the presidential results, including myself, the sheer magnitude of the defeat, which APRC has suffered, is the clearest indication that we have outlived our welcome.

Telling my new president, HE Barrow, in December that I graciously accept the outcome of the election made confronting the stark reality of an electoral defeat a harrowing experience. I became afraid of losing all the authoritarian power I had amassed but now I realize I have no option. The people of the Gambia have said emphatically that they are taking away the power they gave to me decades ago, and I have no power to say no.

Besides, I sincerely wish to express my love for the country that has given me the opportunity to serve as a president for far too long and I will not do anything else to undermine our special democracy or threaten the peace we enjoy in our smiling coast." Speech by Former Gambian president, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh former Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa. One who is no longer the chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of the Gambia due to alleged continuous violation."

Unlike those who plagiarize the empire, the Gambian president would go down in history as one who quoted a speech originating from the land of Kwame Nkrumah, the legendary pan-Africanist. This decision would resurface the perception Mr. Jammeh had of himself, a pan-African president of the Gambia. I will end here and reiterate that my offer to write the new concession speech stands and we will acknowledge the source as Mr. Jammeh works towards a peaceful transition and mature acceptance of an electoral defeat.

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