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Was alleged plagiarism in President’s speech on inauguration day a national embarrassment as some would like us to believe?


Barely three days after President Akuffo Addo’s inaugural speech was lampooned and ridiculed for plagiarism by almost anyone who could muster a sentence, it looks like the global media hasn’t had enough; they continue to pile on.

On Tuesday morning, National Public Radio, America’s most progressive radio station, laced into the issue with its Africa based correspondent, ironically, a Ghanaian, recounting how the episode had marred what was otherwise a wonderful and insightful speech by the new president.

Initially, I did not want to wade into the fray because it had become politicized . The president and his speechwriters instantly became targets of angry taunts and abuse. But on second thought, I deemed it appropriate to weigh in. You see, long before I was a radio head, I was a journalism professor.

I taught news writing and reporting, in addition to public relations. My students were eager to learn and I obliged. I told them to quote liberally to bring their sources alive to readers. In the same vein, I sternly instructed them to attribute every quote with a name, identify their sources.

In other words,  I told my students in plain language to avoid the dreaded P word —plagiarism at all cost if they were to remain true to their profession and if they wanted to keep their  jobs in the real world. Plagiarism, I insisted, is unethical and defeatist. Which brings me to the dismal performance of Mr. Addo’s speechwriters. They had a whole month before the inauguration to write a speech for the ages and yet came up short.

Not only did they fail miserably to do due diligence, they also thrust into the hands of the new president a speech bursting at the seams with unattributed quotes lifted from former American presidents, ultimately rendering him the laughing stock of the world. And all this happened on a day Mr. Addo was riding high and felt on top of the world.

It was deliberate and a gross miscalculation on the part of the speechwriters; they thought inserting quotes without acknowledging the sources was something they could get away with it without anyone noticing.

But in their zeal to please the president, they forgot one important dynamic; the world is now a completely transformed place. It is not your grandfather’s world anymore. What you do in private one moment can be in the public domain the next moment. It is as simple as day, and it is called technology.

In the aftermath of what is now being described as a national embarrassment, many have called for the heads of the speechwriters to roll; they want them sacked immediately, their profuse apologies notwithstanding. But the decision to get rid of the writers is left entirely to the new president, it is his prerogative.  After all, he brought them in and he is the only one who can decide their fate.

There are a few lessons to be drawn from this sad episode; one, the president henceforth, before he goes prime time, that is give a speech, any speech, should sit down with his speechwriters and go over the contents of the speeches line by line to check for plagiarism and strange quotes.

Two, Mr. Addo should on occasion write his own speeches (Obama did that for eight years though he had good speechwriters). And if Mr. Addo so desires. he can confer with his speechwriters and see where to make adjustments.

Look, we Ghanaians pride ourselves on being the most progressive group of Africans on the continent, but if we continue to be lazy and cannot do simple things like attributing quotes to their original owners, we are in big trouble.


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