Charlatan or reckless?

For many Ethiopians, this is the season of the ultimate Dickensian Paradox. For some, it is the best of times, for others, it is the worst of times. Some are high in hopes, others are still shrugging their shoulders. Ultra-optimists are waving their, ‘a new leader for the new day’ placard, cautious souls are beeping their alarm lights. It’s a pandemonium par excellence. Until the dust settled and we start talking about things with certitude, better dealing with what we know.

One of my life creeds is to be less accusatory of fellow human beings. Right, we all have flaws and failures. However, when the stakes are high and to say it would do good — at least in my belief — than it damages, it’s better to spit-off what’s to be said. Of course, I’m writing about Ethiopia’s newly coronated Prime Minster, Abiy Ahmed.

Abiy Ahmed

First off, I’m glad that many in the elite orbit as well as in the general public are full of optimism about his ascent to the utmost political position in the troubled republic. I truly understand their worries and hope. Nonetheless, it’s my belief that we need to inquire leaders who will be mandated to behest us all to their will.

I’m not going far. This post is all about Abiy Ahmed’s notorious promotional staged twelve minutes ‘interview’ (also here), released on November 15, 2017.

As many people in my circle, my very first reaction after watching this interview was something blurry. He seems articulate, but somehow unintelligible. He talks about complex subjects, yet evasively putting aside the general question. Although I felt something eerie, I was not sure why it was so. Then, in a later removed/unavailable post, one facebooker pointed out about five cribbed lines, the interviewee was babbling as if they’re his own words, with no credit for where he got it, in a meticulously assembled, and in a very cheaty fashion.

Aha! I got it. Now, I start feeling the very cloud at the rear-back of my cranium clearing-up. That was the moment I decided to cross-check the interview in its entirety. Thanks to YouTube’s instant transcript generator, the whole interview — including the four voice synthesizer generated queries — is just a few words shy of 1,300. Or about 60 broken and ill-assembled lines. The result was astoundingly funny. Almost everything he said, as his own words, in the interview, was sourced elsewhere. Literally. Dr. Abiy goes a long way to assemble those lines by cribbing almost every line of the interview verbatim from various sources; books, interviews, policy briefs and so on and so forth. Since Abiy is now coronated as the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, it’s imperative to get through every line he cribbed and assembled.

Let’s go.

I.

Abiy started his interview in the following words:

[00:13] Well, currently the world is in chaos. There are lots of [inaudible] here and there. Fundamental upheavals are occurring in many parts of the world governed by contrasting principles [00:28]

It was a great start, except it’s directly taken from Henry Kissinger’s November 2016 interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg. Answering Jeffery’s “What would you advise the 45th president to do first?” question, Kissinger says:

The world is in chaos. Fundamental upheavals are occurring in many parts of the world simultaneously, most of which are governed by disparate principles. We are therefore faced with two problems: first, how to reduce regional chaos; second, how to create a coherent world order based on agreed-upon principles that are necessary for the operation of the entire system.

II.

Speaking about wealth disparity and income inequality, Dr. Abiy said:

[02:42] Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just 1% of the world population. Hence income disparity is a global crisis and shakes up the well-being of communities worldwide […] There is a massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of few people presenting a significant threat. This disparity in access to economic power undermines social peace, hinders a fair and inclusive economic progress and instigate political turmoil [03:47]

Alarming facts! However, this was aptly and verbatimly spelled at the January 2014 Oxfam International briefing paper [PDF]entitled ‘WORKING FOR THE FEW: Political capture and economic inequality’. The briefing paper — on page 2 and 3 — states:

Given the scale of rising wealth concentrations, opportunity capture and unequal political representation are a serious and worrying trend. For instance: Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population […] This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems. Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.

III.

Bouncing out of global income inequality, Dr, Abiy’s next focus was inter-regional conflicts in the Horn of Africa. He continued saying:

[04:18] To have peace in East Africa and the Horn, we need to understand it as a very political dynamic region in the world. Almost nowhere else of geopolitical forces and regional ambitions combined to exhibit volatile time geopolitical contestation. Chaos in the region has the dire effect in the global affairs. Therefore, solving the conflict which encompasses national, regional and global dimensions requires courage, hope, and unshakable conviction. [04:38]

The Inter-Agency Regional Analysts Network in its ‘EAST AFRICA AND THE HORN IN 2022: An Outlook for Strategic Positioning in the Region’ Policy briefing [PDF]states — page 2— that:

East Africa and the Horn is one of the most politically dynamic regions in the world. Almost nowhere else have geopolitical forces and regional ambitions combined to produce such volatile results.

Yet again, the last part of his statement is directly taken from Bertrand Russel eminent essay, ‘If we are to survive this Dark Times’. In the essay, Russel said:

Courage, hope, and unshakable conviction will be necessary if we are to emerge from the dark time spiritually undamaged.

IV.

Similarly, Dr. Abiy recites another statement verbatim from the aforementioned policy briefing by The Inter-Agency Regional Analysts Network by saying:

[05:20] Horn of Africa is not only vulnerable to resource and ethnic conflicts but has been vulnerable to disruptions related to changing climate. Our nation’s long history of alternating drought and flood cycle and erratic climate change resulted in a decline in soil fertility a loss of biodiversity and deforestation [05:48]

The policy briefing on page 5 states:

East Africa is particularly vulnerable to disruptions related to a changing climate.The region’s long history of alternating drought/flood cycles as well as the region’s geography mean it hosts innumerable pastoral groups who have for centuries moved and adapted to climate variability.

V.

We’re in the middle of the interview, and again, Dr. Abiy echoed Kissinger’s words from the above mentioned, November 2016 The Atlantic Magazine conversation. Abiy utters:

[06:26] Generally speaking, every society that has ever existed in human history has to some point [inaudible] its decline. We cannot be arrogant enough to believe that it cannot happen to us. However we need to exercise humility and to recognize the limitations of human foresight. That said, we have faith in our society on and Constitution. [06:56]

Speaking about The American Exceptionalism and the need for being alarmed, Kissinger told Jeffery:

A society has to have a vision of its own future — and it cannot be based on guilt primarily. Every society that has ever existed in human history has at some point declined. You can be arrogant enough to believe that it cannot happen to you, but you need the humility to recognize the limitations of human foresight. That said, you must have some faith in yourself. Lack of faith in a society is an early symptom of decline.

VI.

In a major bounce, Dr. Abiy finalize his statement by moving from Kissinger to Russel Brand, by literally taking a paragraph from Brand’s 2013, 4,500 words essay, on the New Statesman Magazine that he wrote as a guest editor of it. Dr. Abiy said:

[06:57] We have faith in continued transformation we need to go above and beyond the narrow prescriptive parameters of the current debates outside the fortress of our current system. A system predicated on our natural aspects of greed, selfishness and fear is dangerous. These are all and their ideas an appropriate adoption in the principal tasks of our party. [07:34]

In an essay entitled, ‘We no longer have the luxury of tradition’, Russel Brand rants:

We require a change that is beyond the narrow, prescriptive parameters of the current debate, outside the fortress of our current system. A system predicated on aspects of our nature that are dangerous when systemic: greed, selfishness and fear. These are old, dead ideas.

VII.

At minute 8 of the interview, Dr. Abiy digressed from the talk of conflict and conflict resolution and start talking about communication technologies:

[08:20] For instance, increased communication gadget do not mean increased communication and understanding. [08:26]

That statement is beautiful, except, as many of the interview lines, this one was also a paraphrased statement from an already existing resource. Quoting other researchers, in one of his papers [PDF] — page 3 — Oluwole Durodolu said:

Ability to use modern information gadget does not mean being information literate.

VIII.

Talking about the problem of research focuses, Dr Abiy said:

[08:28] Research agendas often disregarded the hardships faced by billions of impoverished people around the globe. [08:36]

However, this is another line that verbatimly taken from a 2005 joint report by ICSU-ISTS-TWAS, titled ‘Harnessing science, technology and innovation for sustainable development’. The report [PDF], under page 7, states:

Research agendas that often do not address the hardships faced by billions of impoverished people around the world.

IX.

Asked to share his worldview, in lieu of sharing his own, Dr. Abiy highly relied on others people worldview. At one point he said:

[09:22] Fear and desire are the twin engines of human survival [09:26]

This again is another line taken from the aforementioned 2013 Russel Brand’s New Statesman article. In the essay, Brand stated:

These problems that threaten to bring on global destruction are the result of legitimate human instincts gone awry, exploited by a dead ideology derived from dead desert myths. Fear and desire are the twin engines of human survival but with most of our basic needs met these instincts are being engaged to imprison us in an obsolete fragment of our consciousness. Our materialistic consumer culture relentlessly stimulates our desire.

X.

Continuing on his vision, Dr. Abiy again extract another statement from none other than one of the godfathers of neoliberalism, Joseph Samuel Nye, Jr. Dr. Abiy said:

[09:37] The effectiveness of any power sources depends primarily on a context and we know that our current context requires soft power and not the hard power that exerts carrot and sticks. [09:55]

Joseph S. Nye, Jr, on his book — page 12 — Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics, argues:

This is not to deny that popular culture is often a resource that produces soft power, but as we saw earlier, the effectiveness of any power resource depends on the context.

XI.

Dwelling with the works of Joseph S. Nye, Jr, Dr Abiy again taken a whole paragraph from another policy briefing. In the interview, Abiy argues:

[10:32] If our objectives are legitimate, we are more likely to persuade other people to follow our lead without using threats and bribes. Militaries could be well suited to defeating States, but they are often poor instrument to fight conflicting ideas floating around intangibly. [10:55]

This paragraph depicts Dr. Abiy as a dove who detests war and military might. Regrettably, the whole paragraph was taken from a 2007 report [PDF], by the US policy think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, entitled ‘CSIS COMMISSION ON SMART POWER: A smarter, more secure America’. The report on page 6 states:

If a people or nation believes American objectives to be legitimate, we are more likely to persuade them to follow our lead without using threats and bribes […] Militaries are well suited to defeating states, but they are often poor instruments to fight ideas.

XII.

Around minute 11 of the interview, Abiy utterly declares:

[10:56] Today, in many instance, we bear witness to power becoming less tangible and the use of forces less effective. [11:06]

Yet again, the 2008 The Oxford Handbook of International Relations, on page 723, states:

Power is probably becoming less tangible and maximization becoming more long term. Military force is less effective in these circumstances because short-term victories do not produce long-term gains.

XII.

The interview is almost over. However, Dr. Abiy continued to take statements from other writers and presenting them as his own. Speaking about democracy, he argues:

[11:09] To sum up, It is easier to attract people to democracy than to coerce them to be democratic. [11:18]

This’s a beautiful statement, except it’s not credited where it dues. Dr. Abiy get this catchy statement from the aforementioned book ‘Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics’, by Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Nye, Jr. Under page 17 of the book it’s stated that:

But soft power is particularly relevant to the realization of “milieu goals.” It has a crucial role to play in promoting democracy, human rights, and open markets. It is easier to attract people to democracy than to coerce them to be democratic.

XIV.

In the closing remark, Dr Abiy injected another assertive statement by saying:

[11:19] Time may only be a human concept and therefore ultimately unreal, but what is irrefutably is that this is the time for us to wake up. [11:32]

For the third time, he took this whole statement from Russel Brand. Brand, in his 2013 essay, regarding the political left, argues:

Now is the time to continue the great legacy of the left, in harmony with its implicit spiritual principles. Time may only be a human concept and therefore ultimately unreal, but what is irrefutably real is that this is the time for us to wake up.

XV.

Jumping from Russel Brand to Bertrand Russel, Dr. Abiy again took another statement and uttered it as his own. He said:

[11:34] We need to be resilient. We need to collect our thoughts, to marshal our hopes into plant in our hearts a firm believe in our ideals. [11:46]

The eminent British Philosopher and Mathematician, Bertrand Russel in his essay ‘If we are to survive this Dark Times’ suggests:

It is worth while, before the actual danger is upon us, to collect our thoughts, to marshal our hopes, and to plant in our hearts a firm belief in our ideals

XVI.

Dr. Abiy finalized his interview by speaking about change. Aptly he said:

[11:47] To genuinely make a difference, we must become different; make the tiny, longitudinal shift. Meditate, direct our life indiscriminately and our condemnation exclusively at those with responsibility. [12:07]

Bad that even his closing statement is not his own. With no credit at all, Dr Abiy took this statement from Russel Brand. In the repetitively mentioned 2013 essay, Brand pronounced his manifesto as follows:

To genuinely make a difference, we must become different; make the tiny, longitudinal shift. Meditate, direct our love indiscriminately and our condemnation exclusively at those with power.

However, this is, by no means, an exhaustive list of all the cribbed statements/paragraphs. Probably, there are much more statements that are unacknowledged, yet invoked by Abiy as own.

Here is a short musing for now:

Abiy released this line-by-line cribbed interview five months before his parliamentary acclamation to the helm of power, as Ethiopian Prime Minister. Obviously, that shows his long-planned dream of power, if not, power-mongering.

The fact that his reliance on western policy papers and figures as resources do only tell as whom he wants to appeal and address. He was appealing for favorability by powerful western power broker states.

And finally, but most importantly, how would he explain this grossly unethical action? Is this not deception par excellence? Above all: why he did this?