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Chief Mukobela tells of how his chiefdom attained ODF status in a single year

`Maswabi Precious Matantilo December 16, 2014
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Chief Mukobela of the Illa speaking people in Zambia’s Namwala district

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 programme (CLTS) was introduced in 2012, His Royal Highness has gone beyond 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 great 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 behaviours that prevent them from defecating in a toilet. These behaviours 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.

A man uses a hand washing facility, one of the CLTS tools promoted by Chief Mukobela.

A man uses a hand washing facility, one of the CLTS tools promoted by Chief Mukobela.

Though this has worked wonders as many people have built latrines out of fear, some have still resisted building latrines, 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 inevitable role that each of his subjects had to play. 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 the congregants. “I sat down with church leaders and went through bible scriptures that emphasise 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.

An example of latrine construction

An example of latrine construction.

During the introduction of CLTS programme, Akros trained 9 community champions (local volunteers) to lead the process at 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 decided to add an additional 110 people who were playing the role of champions but reporting directly to him. They included headpersons, church administrators and “deviants” from his chiefdom.

Asked what initiated a move to include people termed as deviants, rebels and stubborn people from the chiefdom as champions, he stated that these people usually have hierarchies of power within their networks and have a 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 its 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.


About Maswabi Precious Matantilo

Precious Matantilo is an Advocacy and Communications Officer for Akros and is a Global Health Corps fellow for 2014/2015. Before joining Akros, Precious worked for the Commonwealth Youth Programme as programmes assistant. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies from the Zambian Open University.


1 comment

Rhoda Chabaputa - January 21, 2015 Reply

Wow! Thank you for this article Precious.
The successes that Chief Mukobela has attained through his efforts are so inspiring. It shows that many other areas can achieve ODF status in the near future. It shall be done!

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