Chief Mukobela is one of the first chiefs to attain open defecation free status (ODF) for his chiefdom in Zambia. Having attained ODF status in 2013 after the community led total sanitation program (CLTS) was introduced in 2012, His Royal Highness has gone further and has begun working on a sustainable approach to maintain adequate sanitation in his chiefdom. He has since begun partnering with the Government of Zambia and Akros in ensuring that sanitation marketing and school-led total sanitation is a reality in his chiefdom, an indication of his commitment towards stopping open defecation.
To many chiefs in Zambia, attaining ODF status in their chiefdom is seen as a challenging process. This has been attributed to the deep-rooted cultural behaviors that prevent them from defecating in a toilet which are said to take a process to unlearn. Some chiefs have even gone to the extent of putting up stringent measures aimed at ending open defecation, such as charging a fee to subjects who refuse to comply with building a latrine, as well as threatening them with the law. Though this has worked wonders as many people have built latrines out of fear, some have resisted, making sustainability a challenge. However, Chief Mukobela has turned the challenge into an opportunity to think outside the box. “You have to help people change their behaviours in order to end open defecation and make it sustainable,” he advised. “People in my chiefdom found it abnormal and taboo to have a toilet in the house, let alone be seen to enter it. When someone wanted to defecate, they would carry a hoe just to pretend they were going to the field but now they have embraced change and without forcing them, they have built latrines,” he stated.
In order to attain ODF status in one year, Chief Mukobela held chiefdom council meetings where he emphasised the importance of adequate sanitation and the necessary role that each of his constituents played. He later reached out to junior and senior head persons and notified them of the new development. Zambia being predominantly Christian, the chief decided to bring on board church leaders who he referred to as having large congregations and a lot of influence on their congregants. “I sat down with church leaders and went through Bible scriptures that emphasize the need to have adequate sanitation. I also rebuked them on why they were leading masses without tackling the issue of sanitation, which the Bible adequately addresses,” he stated.
During the introduction of CLTS programme, Akros trained nine community champions (local volunteers) to lead the process at the village level. “This was a great initiative, but the number was not adequate enough to manage the masses of people in my chiefdom who are about 6,000,” said Chief Mukobela. He added an additional 110 volunteers who played the role of champions but reported directly to him. They included head persons, church administrators, and ‘deviants’ from his chiefdom. Asked what initiated his move to include people termed deviants, rebels and stubborn from the chiefdom as local volunteers, he stated that these people usually have hierarchies of power within their networks and have strong influence on people. He therefore decided to use their power and influence to ensure his chiefdom was open defecation free.
Chief Mukobela’s chiefdom covers an area of approximately 10,000 square kilometres and his people engage mostly in cattle herding, fishing, hunting and subsistence farming. As other chiefdoms struggle to attain ODF, His Royal Highness calls for creativity, commitment and concerted efforts from various stakeholders to ensure adequate sanitation.
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