Opinion: why Ghanaians shouldn't ignore plagiarism row

The new president Nana Akufo-Addo waving a Ghanian traditional gold sword during the inauguration in Independence Square in capital Accra last Saturday.

Story highlights

  • Communications Director, Eugene Arhin, allegedly took to Facebook to "unreservedly apologize."
  • Akufo-Addo promised that he will eliminate mediocrity from Ghana's government

Natasha Nyanin is Ghanaian writer and creative consultant who lives in New York City. She writes about the arts and culture, fashion, travel with an interest in various modalities of creativity and their intersectionality. She was previously a health scientist for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She writes a blog at The Ecstatic Flash.

(CNN)On Saturday, Ghana swore in her fifth president Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in a ceremony filled with symbolism of the country's pride and culture. But a day that rang with hope was marred when it became clear that two sections of the president's inaugural speech were carbon copies of the words of two former US Presidents.

In response to the accusation, the incoming administration's Communications Director, Eugene Arhin, is said to have taken to Facebook to state that he "unreservedly apologize[d] for the non-acknowledgement of [the] quote to the original author."He called the error a "complete oversight" and noted that there had been other quotes in the speech that had been attributed to their original sources.
    The presidential inauguration was attended by more than 6,000 guests.
    By dismissing the lack of citation as an "oversight" and noting other quotes that were attributed Arhin is inferring the act is forgivable. It's like he's saying, this was just a bit of plagiarism, so it's okay. The problem is there's no such thing as a little bit of plagiarism, just like there's no such thing as being a little bit pregnant. You either are or you aren't. Any amount of plagiarism is plagiarism.
      The fact other sources were acknowledged and these two were not might bolster the argument that there was a deliberate attempt to pass off the speech as an original work. So, we are faced with two versions of reality: at best an example of shoddy work by a presidential staffer and at worst the unequivocal theft of intellectual property, neither of which bode well.
      In discussing the incident on a radio interview, a former speechwriter for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, Lisa Muscatine, said, "the language was so specific, and the idea was so specific, the prose itself was just identical. You can't really escape the conclusion that it was borrowed if not intentionally, certainly extremely irresponsibly and recklessly".
      Reckless is the word indeed. In 2017 when information lives in the palm of our hands, it's almost incredulous that the speechwriter would have the temerity, the lack of diligence, or the confluence of the two sins to make such a mistake.
      Parts of Akufo-Addo's inauguration speech were taken from the words of two former US Presidents.
      To be handed such a privilege and to produce such unmetered unoriginality is an insult to the position and an affront to the audience.
      Justifications have also been made by members of the public that the statement taken from President Bush's speech was originally uttered by Woodrow Wilson, many other prominent politicians have borrowed the language of others without acknowledgment, and lastly, that the country has bigger fish to fry than the pilfering of a few letters and the commas that glue them together. These reactions are just as, if not more, troubling then the plagiarism itself.
      The argument that the blunders of others make our own missteps permissible is one that we must have more pride in ourselves than to which to resort. We must resist the temptation to hold ourselves to a false standard as this only breeds the very mediocrity president Akufo-Addo promised to exorcise from government and encourages us to eschew as a nation.
      As for the notion that we must not be distracted by a thing as small as the "borrowing" of a few words, we must remember that the theft of any property, no matter how intangible the property, is still theft. To ignore the deplorable act of plagiarism is to condone an incarnation of corruption that may seem harmless but sets an insidious precedent for disingenuity and carelessness to go unpoliced.
      The episode of plagiarism is an unfortunate note upon which President Akufo-Addo begins his term. The president himself was likely unaware that the remarks, prepared on his behalf, contained plagiarized language, however the onus of reaction is now on him.
      He got off on the right foot on his first day in office, praised widely for the non-partisan move of naming his predecessor and former opponent, John Dramani Mahama, as his representative at the ECOWAS mini-summit on Gambia's current crisis. This controversy, however, presents him with an early opportunity to show us all that beyond Ghana being, in his words, "open for business," he too means business when he says there will be no place for mediocrity in his government.