Traditional rulers in the Upper East region, where open defecation freely practised by 75% of residents has become so ‘fashionable’ that some offenders can even afford to take a selfie whilst squatting in public, have likened themselves to “toothless bulldogs” in the fight against the “appalling norm”.
The disturbed-looking chiefs, backed by queen mothers, said they could have put a stop to people turning to a bush or an open drain to answer the call of nature had democracy not stripped them of their powers.
This concern came up strongly as the Government of Ghana, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Government of Canada, as part of a joint “Social Norms Campaign”, launched a crusade dubbed “Open Defecation-free Ghana Campaign” Thursday in the region’s capital, Bolgatanga.
“We say democracy. Freedom of everything. Freedom to the extent that we have to [defecate] even in front of our homes and nobody can talk. The chiefs had the power to deal with anybody for committing a crime like that. Today, let a chief sanction anybody for [open defecation]. He (the wrongdoer) would send you (the chief) to court and take a lawyer and the lawyer would begin ‘putting unto’ the chief,” remarked the Vice President of the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs, Naba Baba Salifu Atamale Lemyaruum, who is also the Paramount Chief of Bongo.
Participants, hosted in a Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) hall wreathed everywhere in stop-open-defecation banners, took turns to sign on a broad white sheet their pledge to help actualise by 2019 a region and a Ghana where people no longer defecate irresponsibly.
“It is we who have caused all this issue. The powers that the chiefs had have been taken away from the chiefs and the chiefs now look like toothless bulldogs. We are no longer as strong as we used to be. But [trust] me, if they had restored those powers to us, we [would not] need to sit here to pledge that nobody should defecate [openly]. I would make sure that if you defecate and you are caught in Bongo I know what I would do to you.
“But we don’t have the backing; so that’s why we are also [recoiling]. I’m standing here on behalf of my colleagues to plead with the President that he should give the chiefs the legal backing so that if we get anybody committing such a crime, we can take sanctions,” added Naba Lemyaruum.
Failing Districts and Proposed Embargo
A Community-Led Total Sanitation (CTLS) programme, introduced by the Government of Ghana and UNICEF under the Rural Sanitation Model and Strategy, is being implemented in the region’s 3 municipalities and 10 districts to abolish open defecation through a demand for construction of household latrines.
A total of 47 settlements in the region, which has 1,990 communities, were declared open-defecation-free (ODF) under the programme in 2016. And a total of 134 communities in the same region, since the beginning of 2017, have been certified as free of the practice.
Highlights of the CLTS performances of the various municipalities and districts shown at Thursday’s launch left a sour taste in the mouths of the audience as three areas, including the regional capital, scored “zero percent”. The “zero percent” means there is not a single community in that district or municipality that has stopped defecating openly. The Nabdam District and the Kassena-Nankana Municipality also scored 0%.
Whilst the Builsa North and the Builsa South attained 18% and 20% respectively, only 41% of the communities in the Garu-Tempane District and 13% of the areas in the Bawku Municipality are said to be open-defecation-free today. The Talensi District reached 5%; the Pusiga District, 4%; the Bawku West District, 39%; the Kassena-Nankana West District, 12% and the Binduri District, 20%.
A disappointed Paramount Chief of Bongo, who bowed his head and held it in his hands after the Bongo District was mentioned to have scored only 8%, returned to the podium with a strong word for underperforming municipalities and districts.
“The sanctions we can issue against nonperforming districts is to place embargo on their Common Fund. The one million Ghana cedis hasn’t come in. The Common Fund is always available. If the districts are not enforcing the byelaws against open defecation, place embargo on their Common Fund,” he told government.
Landlords Converting Latrines into Rooms
Acting Upper East Regional Chief Director, Alhaji Mahamadu A. Azonko, who represented the Upper East Regional Minister, Rockson Ayine Bukari, at the event sighed with grief as the region failed to cross a 50% mark in the CLTS assessment.
“Even the cat buries its faeces. So, why should a human display his own faeces? I think the power to deal with this issue rests squarely with the assemblies. Nobody is supposed to be given approval for a plan to put up any structure or infrastructure if there is not incorporated into it a sanitary facility. But we go ahead to grant approval.
“And the owners of such facilities also go ahead to even convert household latrines into rooms because they want to rent out more rooms to make more money. It looks like Ghanaians, we are gradually selling our own birthrights, our own dignity just because we want to line our pockets with money,” he observed.
The Regional Minister, in a speech read by the Chief Director, acknowledged the inroads made so far through the CLTS, saying the rise in the number of ODF communities in the region called for commendations and that more needed to be done.
Charles Nachinab, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) officer who delivered a speech at the event on behalf of UNICEF, urged the region to be the first in the country to attain ODF status.
“I know you can because this year you have been the only region that has achieved your ODF target under the GoG-UNICEF WASH Programme. Indeed, you have even gone beyond the required 100% to achieve 134 ODFs against a target of 127,” said UNICEF.