"By any means necessary"

Roseleen Nzioka

According to Wikipedia, the phrase "By any means necessary" is a translation of a sentence first used in French playwright Jean Paul Sartre’s play Dirty Hands.

The phrase entered the popular culture through a speech given by American civil rights leader Malcolm X in the last year of his life.

When Malcolm X popularised the words "by any means necessary", in 1965, he was mobilising the oppressed black citizens of America to emancipate themselves by using whatever means they could.

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However, 46 years later a German aristocrat has taken the phrase a notch further to encompass conquering in the academic world.

For those of you who have recently followed the story on the immediate former German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, you may agree that it reads like a soap opera minus the comic effect.

Guttenberg may have been a popular politician in Germany, but he came to global limelight for all the wrong reasons. There are many embarrassing reasons why a man of Guttenberg’s status would fall from grace with such a thud. But out of all of them, I doubt that anything could be more embarrassing than being stripped of a Doctorate degree for the simple but deadly reason of plagiarism! The man fraudulently acquired his PhD!

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What gets one is that even as Guttenberg admitted guilt to enormous plagiarism (chunks of his thesis were direct lifts from other peoples’ works, including newspaper articles!), Guttenberg never quite apologized but instead chose to explain why he cheated. As if that would placate him. And as if he was not aware that the process of acquiring a PhD is one of the most grueling academic pursuits a scholar can ever undertake.

Just ask Kenyan dons, why only a handful of them have PhDs. A report last year revealed that very few Kenyans lecturing in local universities actually have PhDs. Who can blame them? With the dearth of academic environment required for such pursuits locally, most of our lecturers settle for double masters degrees and opt to instead register for a PhD. Some of them remain in this state of being "registered" for a number of years.

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The Guttenberg case shows that the desire for a human being to succeed drives him to employ any means necessary regardless of his status in life.

Media reported that at first Guttenberg rejected the charges as "fanciful". Later, after scores more copied passages were discovered, he acknowledged having copied sections but said this had been unintended, an oversight caused by pressure of work, and never deliberate.

A university don once told our class that the process of acquiring a PhD was one lonesome, pressure-packed, isolating experience that should only be undertaken after very serious thought. He said that according to a study on post-graduate education, it had been shown that 70 percent of those who begin post-grad studies at Masters and PhD levels never get to complete them!

There are many lessons to be learnt from the Guttenberg experience but the most important is that "by any means necessary" does not work in the academic arena.

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