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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: The lies we tell ourselves

Sometimes, I feel that Ghanaians are amongst the most dishonest people on the planet. We lie to ourselves every day and we, in fact, like to be told lies. Tell the average Ghanaian the hard truth and he wouldn’t like to be friends with you again. A journalist friend of mine felt very offended when he read a story by an American reporter who characterised Ghana as an “impoverished nation”.

That was in 2006. Till this day, my colleague refuses to accept the fact that we are an impoverished lot and continues to accuse the American of racism. For another example of how we hate to be told the truth cast your mind back to when the government wanted to declare Ghana a highly indebted poor country (HIPC).

When the plans to go HIPC were announced, it generated so much controversy because many Ghanaians felt we were neither highly indebted nor poor. Government officials were therefore compelled to use every platform to explain why we needed to go HIPC. If a referendum had been held to decide whether HIPC was the way to go, I’m sure there would have been a resounding ‘NO’. People felt we had gold and cocoa and several other natural resources so we can’t call ourselves poor. Part of the reason why so many people were against HIPC was because they actually didn’t know what it was about. But I believe the most important reason was that instead of facing up to the truth, many felt that going HIPC constituted an insult to our national pride.

It seems our leaders have realised that we don’t like honesty and that, in fact, we feel good when we are told lies. They know that there are certain things we like to hear. We like to be praised when we don’t deserve any. We like to be told we are doing well even when the facts show that we are in fact going backwards. So our leaders have made a habit of feeding our delusions with blatant lies.

One blatant lie we heard recently was the claim that we have the best health insurance scheme in the world. It was made by the Chief Executive of the National Health Insurance Secretariat, Rans Boateng. According to Mr. Boateng, our scheme is better than that of Canada, Sweden, the US, Norway, South Africa and France even though not everyone in the country is covered yet.

It would be naive for anyone to expect someone like Mr. Boateng to say anything less complimentary of himself and the organisation he heads. I expect Mr. Boateng to lie every now and then but not to the extent that he would stake such a wild claim for a scheme that covers just about 50 percent of the national population (if the figures they’ve been given us are not cooked up). If the figures are dependable, it means that one in two Ghanaians is covered. But just get on the streets anywhere in this country and ask people at random whether they have health insurance coverage. You will most definitely get more nays than yeahs. In his Independence Day speech, President Kufuor quoted Mr. Boateng and reinforced the claim that we’ve got the best health insurance scheme in the world. This means he’s either bought into the lie or has no qualms about it repeating it.

You can’t blame Mr. Boateng and President Kufuor. They both know that Ghanaians like to be told that they are the best in almost everything. They also know that in this country you can make any claim and get away with it because we like the lies and we won’t ask any questions. Moreover, they also know that they are not the first to throw dust into the eyes of the Ghanaian public.

The late Prof. Kwesi Andam once said that the KNUST was the third best science and technology university in the world. This was after some students had ‘built’ a car with the body of a VW Beetle and the engine of a Daewoo Tico. Shortly after Prof. Andam made that claim, an international ‘league table’ of the best universities in the world was released by the world association of universities. KNUST was not even in the top 200. No Ghanaian university was. We have been told that we have one of the best school feeding programmes in the world, even though the programme feeds less than a tenth of school children in the country.

How many times have we been told that we have the best chocolate in the world? Yeah, according to the so-called experts, our chocolate is second to none. But just this week, we are hearing that ‘Kingsbite’ and all the other Made-in-Ghana chocolates are full of dangerous chemicals and only just about 35% cocoa.

Even our army is said to be one of the best in the world, even though our navy cannot adequately patrol the high seas without a donation of boats from the American government and our airforce hasn’t got a single fighter jet. And lest I forget, Accra is said to be amongst the neatest cities on the planet. Yeah. Just ask the guys at the AMA and they will be glad to tell you why in spite of the mountains of garbage all over the city, we should not despair because there are other cities worse off than Accra.

I understand that we wish to be either the best or with the best. But we cannot be the best just by wishing it. We cannot be the best by claiming it with our lips. Who are we kidding? In the global scheme of things, we are amongst the lowliest of the low. We need to accept this fact and start working at getting ourselves out of this lowly pit. Delusions will only compound our problems and, possibly, speed up our retrogression. We don’t need people like Rans Boateng lying to us. We should all feel insulted when people tell us that we are the best when we know we are amongst the worst. Lies will take us nowhere. We need to start being honest with ourselves and be prepared to face the truth. It hurts sometimes. But it can also set us free.