August 2018: Making Ghana ODF – Focus on Chiefs

August 2018: Making Ghana ODF – Focus on Chiefs

In this edition…

With the current level of achievement in the fight against open defecation in Ghana, there is enough grounds to suggest that chiefs hold the key to a faster national progress. This edition of Toilet Agenda discusses the contribution of chiefs to the national struggle against open defecation. It suggests ways of targeting the chiefs through a national advocacy campaign for effective collaboration to make Ghana open defecation-free (ODF).

The paramount Chief of the Bongo Traditional Area, Bonaba Baba Alemeyaarum


Attainment of open defecation-free status by communities have mostly been achieved through three broad actions – triggering, regular monitoring and legislation.  When communities are believed to have been triggered, it implies they have been adequately convinced that there is need to stop open defecation and that key actions have been suggested or outlined to guide the exit from the old practice. Trained field facilitators then quickly follow up through regular monitoring and mentoring visits to see them through their outlined activities.

In most of the communities, locally initiated sanctions for non-compliance are clearly spelt out to deter recalcitrant or feet-dragging members from derailing the communal progress. Throughout all these activities, the chief either directly or indirectly plays an influential role of mobilization, sensitization, regulation and enforcement of sanctions. The influence of the chief in ridding communities of open defecation should therefore be fully explored and exploited more strategically in order to hasten the pace of progress.

The influence of a typical chief in Ghana includes the power to mobilize, the power to sensitize, the power to decree, and the power to sanction. These levels of influence have been made possible by the perceived sanctity of the skin or the stool that they occupy and the notion that when they speak, their subjects have no effrontery to challenge them. Within the national efforts to end open defecation, especially through the community-led total sanitation approach, these attributes of a typical chief have contributed unmeasurably to the attainment of ODF status by thousands of communities in parts of the country.

Power to mobilize

For an effective community mobilization for a change in sanitation behaviours, the first right step to take is seeking the approval of the chief. Once convinced of the idea, the chief always has a way of mobilizing his community to discuss and digest the issue at hand. In communities where the chief has demonstrated apathy, there is usually a failure or at best a very slow progress.

Power to sensitize

A typical chief is able to sensitize his community on important developmental issues such as safe sanitation and hygiene practices. Once a chief is adequately convinced of the dangers of poor sanitation, he is able to mobilize and sensitize his people for a change.

The paramount Chief of the Bongo Traditional Area, Bonaba Baba Alemeyaarum, is a typical example of influential chiefs who are keenly promoting safe environmental sanitation through sensitization. Through his efforts, the Upper East Regional Environmental Health team has found a breakthrough in getting several communities in the Bongo Area open defecation-free. Tobge Akpabe II of Dodome Teleafeaŋu in the Ho West District of the Volta Region is also a typical example of chiefs who have applied sensitization in getting their communities ODF.

Power to decree

In situations where there is stalemate with a communal decision, the chief, once convinced, is able to decree or make a strong declaration on the subject matter. Their declarations are usually binding and their subjects would have no choice but to obey. In eradicating open defecation in ‘difficult’ communities, it is sometimes helpful when the chief makes a favourable declaration. These declarations are sometimes documented to serve as community bye-laws to control the behaviour of the people. The paramount Chief of the Nandom Traditional Area in the Upper West Region is also a typical example of chiefs who have made declarations to promote a social norm of stopping open defecation and using a toilet. Naa Dr. Charles Puo-Uure Puobekyiir VII tasked all chiefs in his Traditional Area to ensure that every household constructs a latrine. He tied promotion of chiefs to performance in ending open defecation. Through his influential support to the on-going CLTS campaign, as at July 2018, about 92% of communities in the Nandom District had been declared ODF and Nandom is in the frontline of becoming the first ever ODF district in Ghana.

Power to sanction

A typical chief in Ghana has the power to sanction recalcitrance and abuses. In trying to enforce community bye-laws in their communities, chiefs are able to put task forces or committees in place to evoke various sanctions when people refuse to comply. In promoting safe sanitation, chiefs in several hundreds of communities have applied various sanctions including free labour, fines, ban from using certain community facilities, restricted access to certain public places, isolation, and sometimes banishment.

There is a case of a chief in the Tatale-Sanguli District in the Northern Region who evoked his power to banish to get a recalcitrant citizen to comply with the rule that every household must construct a latrine in order to ensure that his community is declared ODF. In the Kazugu Traditional Area in the Kassena Nankana West District of the Upper East Region, the chief, among other sanctions, restricted some households access to the water facility to force them to comply with the decision to construct and use household latrines and stop open defecation.

What needs to be done

In order to maximize the impacts of the power and ability of chiefs on the progress towards achieving an ODF country, there is need to strategically mobilize them from the lower to the top levels and trigger them. They should then be equipped with the necessary skills and logistics. They may also be challenged through a compact with the state and monitored for progress. Chiefs who excel should be celebrated publicly to motivate others to do same. The moment every chief in Ghana decides to make their communities clean, Ghana can be close to declaring a nationwide ODF.

By Emmanuel Addai