Political Plagiarism Is Embarrassing but Quite Common – By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

The President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo
The President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

Reports that President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s inaugural speech had been plagiarized in several parts, left some of us aficionados of the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice a bit disappointed but not the least bit horrified, nonetheless, because this intellectual property crime is more common and widespread and global in scope than it may seem to be (See “Government Apologizes for ‘Plagiarized’ Portions of Akufo-Addo’s Speech” Classfmonline.com / Ghanaweb.com 1/8/16).

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In this, Nana Akufo-Addo joins the distinguished and jolly company of President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady-Elect Melania Trump, among quite a slew of others. During the late 1980s, for example, the now-outgoing Vice-President of the United States, Mr. Joseph Robinette Biden, was forced to drop out of a Democratic Party presidential-primary race when it came to light that he had been appropriating some memorable quotes from then-British Labor Party Leader Neil Kinnock without giving the requisite credit to the originator of those ideas. At about the same time, the Associate Dean of the Harvard University of School of Psychiatry was forced to resign, after an academic paper that he had published in a refereed journal was found to have been plagiarized from an 18th-century German scholar or intellectual, I forget which.

And then quite recently, the wife of U.S. President-Elect, Mrs. Melania Trump, was brought up on charges of having plagiarized a remarkable portion of her Republican National Convention speech from First Lady Michelle Robinson Obama. Then not long after the latter scandal surfaced, Mrs. Obama was herself reported to have plagiarized some of the quotes allegedly plagiarized by Mrs. Trump. And so the intellectually disdained act of plagiarism appears to be having some domino-effect or the impact of a chain reaction these days. And, oh, I almost forgot – not very, very long ago, lame-duck President Barack Obama was also accused of having plagiarized some memorable lines from a previous speech delivered by the First African-American Governor of the State of Massachusetts, Mr. Deval Patrick.

In the latter instance, Governor Patrick promptly came public to say that contrary to what the shark-like media had made its audiences believe, Mr. Obama, his Harvard Law School mate had, in fact, personally phoned him for permission to use the concerned quote or quotes in his speech. But, of course, the rest of the listening public had absolutely no way of knowing this beforehand.

And now we learn that portions of the introduction of Nana Akufo-Addo’s presidential inaugural address, and a few other parts of the speech, had been lifted directly from previous speeches delivered by U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and William “Bill” Jefferson Clinton.

As has been the case with other instances of plagiarism, I examined the lines alleged to have been plagiarized by President Akufo-Addo’s speechwriters and found absolutely nothing remarkable or out of the ordinary about the same. Which simply means that the Ghanaian leader’s speechwriters could well have avoided these quotes altogether and still crafted a very captivating and equally effective and imaginative speech.

But that this was the “Signature Speech” of President Akufo-Addo’s, made the situation all the more disappointing. For even as one deeply miffed party supporter bitterly complained to yours truly, this blunder was all too avoidable because Nana Akufo-Addo has had quite an eventful life. And at the mature age of 72, the former Foreign Minister has more than enough reserve of fascinating and morally and civically exemplary stories to fill up several volumes of political biographies and autobiographies, let alone a dozen or so speeches.

The brighter side of this faux-pas, however, is the prompt decision by Akufo-Addo Press Secretary Eugene Arhin to apologize and take responsibility for this patent act of intellectual dishonesty, as well as deftly execute a quite effective assay at damage control by suavely observing that it had all been “a complete oversight.” Mr. Arhin plausibly notes that all other quotes appropriated in the speech, including memorable quotes from the luminary likes of Drs. J. B. Danquah, K. A. Busia and Kwame Nkrumah, and even the Bible, had all been “duly attributed and acknowledged.”

But that the two globally renowned former American presidents whose intellectual property rights were clearly violated had their quotes kick-starting President Akufo-Addo’s inaugural address, makes Mr. Arhin’s defense all the more difficult to accept. But it cannot be gainsaid that his is, nevertheless, a rather bold, laudable and courageous acceptance of responsibility. The key phrase here, of course, is “Never Again!” Another brazen act of unattributed “phrasal plagiarism,” of course.

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