EPRDF, Tesfaye Habisso and the 99.6 percent plagiarism By Abebe Gellaw
It is extremely unlikely for identical twins, let alone an Ethiopian ‘diplomat’ and a British born South African scholar who have never met in their entire lives, to write a 15-page long academic paper in exactly the same way, using the same language, words, sentences, paragraphs, data, titles…commas and full-stops. It may be a miracle but the impossible has happened.
A couple of days ago, someone sent out an email that suggested that Mr. Tesfaye Habisso, former high-ranking official and Ethiopian Ambassador to Uganda and South Africa under the Meles regime, may have committed plagiarism.
As a journalist, I decided to investigate the veracity of the allegation and get to the bottom of this bizarre incidence. Despite the fact that Mr. Habisso is widely known as one of the most dubious apologists of the tyrannical regime in Ethiopia, he always tried to hide behind intellectual sophistry. In the past few years, he has graced pro-tyranny websites such as Aigaforum, Tigray Online and Ethiopia First. Whatever the case may be, before claiming that anyone has committed such a despicable act of intellectual piracy, facts must be established. The first task is to compare the two papers word by word, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph. They are almost identical! There isn’t a shadow of doubt that Dr. Colin Darcch is the author of the scholarly paper entitled, “The Ethiopian Student Movement in the Struggle against Imperialism, 1960-1974.”
After thoroughly investigating the case, I contacted both authors who incidentally happened to write an identical academic paper on the Ethiopian student movement.
The first author, Dr. Colin Darch, was born and educated in England. According to his Linkedin profile, he got a Bachelor of Arts degree in English studies at Oxford University in 1965. In 1994 he went to the United States where he obtained the Associate of the Library Association (ALA) from Northwestern Polytechnic School of Librarianship. He received his Ph.D. from University of Bradford, England, in Social and Economic Analysis. Currently a senior information specialist at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a naturalized citizen; he describes himself as: “South African academic librarian, lecturer and researcher with extensive experience in African countries and in Brazil.” In addition to his mother tongue, English, he speaks Portuguese and Russian. He is interested in copyright, intellectual property and the sociology of information access rights in the South. He has written extensively on a variety of issues and authored a few books including A Soviet View of Africa.
I emailed Dr. Darch a brief note and the online links of both academic papers. I wanted to know whether the paper in question was authored by him or Ambassador Habisso. He replied quickly, in less than two hours. He wrote:
Dear Ato Abebe,
How fascinating. I am the only author of the paper. I worked in Ethiopia, at the then Haile Sellassie I University, as Associate University Librarian, from 1970 to 1974, and experienced the events on campus during that period. I then moved to the University of Dar es Salaam and wrote the paper in question for the East African Social Sciences conference, which in those years rotated around Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam. Somewhere I still have the original mimeo copy of the paper, which was hard to scan and full of typographical mistakes. Ato Tesfaye – who is completely unknown to me – is therefore guilty of plagiarism [emphasis mine]. Incidentally, I wonder if Ato Tesfaye knows Russian – I mention several Russian sources specifically, and am the author of the book A Soviet View of Africa, which is a study of Tsarist and Soviet writings on the Horn of Africa. I should be interested to hear what Ato Tesfaye has to say for himself.
Please keep in touch, and thanks for the heads-up.
Written in 1976, Dr. Colin Darch’s paper, “The Ethiopian Student Movement in the Struggle against Imperialism, 1960-1974” was based on his personal observation and the research he conducted. Dr. Darch presented his paper at the 12th Annual Social Science Conference of the East African Universities held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in December 1976. A book lover and writer, Dr. Darch re-edited and republished his paper in 2002 on his website, www.colindarch.info, which he uses as a repository for his writings. The paper is still accessible online at this url: http://www.colindarch.info/docs/19761222_Ethiopian_student_movement.pdf .
At the other end of the authorship scale perches Ambassador Habisso, who published his academic paper, “The Ethiopian Student Movement and the Struggle Against [sic] Feudal Monarchy and Imperialism, 1960-1974’” in 2009 on one of TPLF-sponsored websites, EPRDF-Supporters Forum, www.eprdf-sf.org. The forum is led by one of the loudest cheerleaders and apologists of the TPLF regime, a certain Mekonnen Kassa.
The note from the publisher reads: “This is a document that is written with a lot of love, care and it is based on references and facts. I suggest everyone to read it and remember how Ethiopia is freed from a feudal monarchy and imperialism. Read more and pass it over to friends.”
Mr. Habisso came to public prominence in 1991. He was one of the ethnic party leaders that joined the fanfare of the TPLF-led transitional government. A founder of the Kenbata People’s Congress, he was appointed Secretary General of the Council of Representatives of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (1991-1994).
In an interview with a blog, Hambaricho, Mr. Tesfaye Habisso said that he was born and raised in Begedamo, Kembata, which is located in Southern Ethiopia. According to his own account, he was a student at the then Haile Selassie I University from 1965 to 1969.
By the time Dr. Darch got employed at the same university in 1971, Mr. Habisso had already left college and joined civil service. One of the most important sentences Mr. Habisso redacted from Dr. Darch’s paper says: “The present writer was employed at the university between February 1971 and March 1975, and was an eyewitness to many of the events described between these dates.”
I contacted both writers separately. The only thing I wanted from Mr. Habisso was a confirmation from him that he was indeed the author of the scholarly paper in question. I emailed him the following:
Dear Mr. Habisso, I read your fascinating paper, “The Ethiopian Student Movement and the Struggle against Feudal Monarchy and Imperialism.” It is wonderfully written and very engaging. I should thank you for preserving and capturing this momentous piece of our history. Thank you so much again.
I was certain that Mr. Habisso would not reply at all. But he proved me wrong with a quick reply.
Great thanks for your kind remarks. We cannot, and should not, forget the immense sacrifices of the Ethiopian students of the yesteryears who selflessly and relentlessly struggled to realize a better livable Ethiopia for succeeding generations. Thanks again. Stay well.
I wanted to stretch the conversation further before I posed the most difficult question. And yet, my second email was enough to indicate the pun in the content. I suggested to him that he should expand on his paper and make it a book.
Dear Mr. Tesfaye, Thank you so much for your reply. Your scholarly paper, Ethiopian Student Movement and the Struggle against Feudal Monarchy and Imperialism covers the time between 1960 to 1974. I wish you would also write the second sequel, from1974 to 1991. In fact, if you also write the third part from 1991 to date, it can definitely make a great book. What do you think?
Thank you so much again for this enlightening work.
To my surprise, Mr. Habisso tried not to sound suspicious given the fact that he only changed the name of the real author and took ownership of Dr. Darch’s work. He replied:
That is a great idea that requires a great research endeavour but worth taking the initiative. Let me reflect upon it for a while. Thanks for the novel idea and interest. Bye
What I was certain was the fact that Mr. Habisso has indeed contributed three words, “feudal monarchy and”, to the original title. That is the most noticeable contribution he has made to the entire academic paper, not to mention his name in the byline.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Habisso has also redacted three significant sentences that could have given clues to readers as to the identity of the real author. Another conspicuous feature of Mr. Habisso’s paper is that EPRDF-Supporters Forum has delightfully embraced and endorsed the stolen intellectual property. At the bottom of every page, it reads, “Copyright 2008-2009. All rights reserved.” By doing so, EPRDF has given copyright protection to Mr. Habisso’s “work”. Moreover, the flags of the nine ethnic “federal states” have been watermarked on the pages. As weird as the whole travesty, the nine federal states seem to have put their seal of approval by waving their flags on Mr. Habisso’s “intellectual property”.
Unlike the original copy, Mr. Habisso’s paper is not 15-page long but contains 21 pages. This is not because Mr. Habisso contributed a few more sentences, paragraphs or ideas. He added almost nothing, not a single sentence. He just took ownership of the whole thing without compromising its originality. To their credit, the publishers and the new author, His Excellency Mr. Ambassador Tesfaye Habisso, reformatted the paper and changed the font size, maybe to make it appear more visible and appealing to the eye.
Dr. Darch clearly stated right below the title when and where the academic paper was presented. Mr. Habisso thought that this sentence was totally unnecessary as he did not make an effort to travel all the way to Tanzania in 1979 to present and discuss his paper with other intellectuals from East Africa Universities. The smart diplomat got a tech-savvy shortcut, finished the hack job in a few minutes and sent his paper electronically to his masters at Aigaforum and EPRDF. Mr. Habisso performed his magic from the comfort of his armchair.
In the first paragraph, Dr. Darch wrote:
“Until 1974 radical commentators did not generally regard Ethiopia as an important arena in the struggle against repression, backwardness and neo-colonialism. For one thing, the old regime was very successful at projecting a progressive image abroad. The Emperor’s self-assumed role as heroic resister against Fascism, supporter of liberation movements, patron of the OAU and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and benevolent ruler of his people was shown to have been an anomaly only by the popular revolt of 1974. The attempted cover-up of the famine in Wollo Province at a time when the old regime was prepared to spend millions of Ethiopian dollars on the showcase celebrations of the OAU’s tenth anniversary revealed the bankruptcy of the Ethiopian political system to the world, and contributed to the overthrow of the imperial Ethiopian government in a step-by-step army coup that lasted from February to September. The degeneracy of the Ethiopian land-owning and capitalist class was so advanced that the Provisional Military Administrative Council (the Dergue) was able to edge Haile Sellassie from his throne with startling ease, and with virtually no organized opposition. Much of the credit for the anti-monarchic and anti-feudal popular mood that made this coup possible must go to the Ethiopian student movement, which had been in the vanguard of the struggle for a progressive Ethiopia for fifteen years.”
There is no need of repeating what the second scholar, H.E Mr. Tesfaye Habisso, has written in his academic paper simply because it is the same thing from start to finish. Let us, however, examine a very interesting bibliographic note Mr. Habisso wrote:
“Most of the economic data in this study have been drwan [sic] from Assefa Bequele and Eshetu Chole (A profile of the Ethiopian economy [Addis Ababa: Oxford University Press, 1969]), which paints a bleak picture of the situation in the early 1960s. Data on education have also been taken from the Ministry of Information pamphlet Ethiopia today: education (Addis Ababa, 1973). It is fair to assume that the Ministry’s enrolment figures were exaggerated for propaganda purposes, but they were still so low that comment is superfluous.
“I have in addition used several documents issued by the former Haile Sellassie I University, including A forward look: a special report from the president (Addis Ababa, 1969); Office of the Registrar, Student data 1963/4-1973/4 (Addis Ababa, s.d.); The President’s Report (Addis Ababa, annual); and a series of circulars, memoranda and resolutions issued by the university authorities, by various faculty bodies, and by USUAA from 1969 to 1974. My descriptions of events from 1971 to 1974 are also based on personal observation and on conversations with eye-witnesses.”
That is exactly what Dr. Darch also penned in his paper. That means the two authors were doing the same thing at Haile Sellassie I University in the 1970s despite the fact that Mr. Habisso left the university in 1969. Here is what Dr. Darch’s paper says: “Most of the economic data in this study have been drwan from Assefa Bequele and Eshetu Chole (A profile of the Ethiopian economy [Addis Ababa: Oxford University Press, 1969]), which paints a bleak picture of the situation in the early 1960s….” Everything is the same including the spelling mistake. Both of them have spelt drawn as “drwan.” Bekele is not also spelt in the usual Ethiopian way. It is a truly amazing coincidence!
After examining the two papers, I have concluded that H.E. Mr. Tesfaye Habisso did not properly read Dr. Darch’s paper, let alone taking part in the researching and writing process, which is obviously a daunting task. What Mr. Habisso did was recklessly and willfully copied the whole write-up, just like a photocopy machine, and then changed the byline from “Colin Darch” to “Tesfaye Habisso”. He should have done a much smarter job than stealing an honest account of the Ethiopian student movement by a foreign scholar.
When Hambaricho blog pressed Mr. Habisso to give an honest answer on the dubious death of his Kembata People’s Congress, he was very incensed. “What I mentioned to you regarding the KPC is what I know and only what I know, no politicking, no diplomatic niceties. If you have any other more reliable source of information, then, you stick to it but never question my integrity and honesty, please. OK?”
Ok! But H.E Mr. Ambassador Tesfaye Habisso should now stand up to defend his scholarly thesis, which he boldly and shamelessly posted on the World Wide Web as his own. What is at stake is his integrity and honesty.
When the TPLF declared 99.6 percent election victory last year, Mr. Habisso came out to endorse the election result in its entirety despite the fact that honest foreign observers rejected it as a tyrannical farce. Despite all that, Mr. Habisso wrote: “The victory was comprehensive and decisive resulting in the largest electoral margin in Ethiopia’s election history since its transition to a democratic political system in 1991.”
Mr. Habisso’s 99.6 percent plagiarism is certainly as fraudulent as EPRDF’s 99.6 election victory. As the old African adage goes – the witness of a rat is another rat.
Tesfaye Habisso, The Ethiopian Student Movement and the Struggle Against the Feudal Monarchy and Imperialism, 1960-1974.
or a republished copy on Addis Voice
Dr. Colin Darch, The Ethiopian Student Movement in the Struggle against Imperialism, 1960-1974
Hambaricho, Interview with Ambassador Tesfaye Habisso
Colin Darch, Linkedin profile