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Opinions of Saturday, 22 September 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

National Sanitation and Traditional Institutions

Emefa Mohammed, writing at in response to the commencement of Ghana’s National Sanitation Week on September 13, said that “sanitation should be a daily affair not some one week photo ops/political point scoring agenda.” That exposed faults in national sanitation policies and captures the lack of holistic policy that informs the designing of the national sanitation policy. While the National Sanitation Week may be a public relations blurb to raise awareness for the acute sanitation problems facing Ghana, the content of the campaign is not fuller enough – a serious gap for a life-and-death matter, most Ghanaians die from malaria-related diseases, which are basically due to poor sanitation practices.

While there may be new attempts to resolve the perennial sanitation problems such as the re-institution of “sama sama,” a local parlance for sanitary inspectors that was the case during the colonial times and early periods after independence, and the broadening of public health education campaigns to include the National Youth Employment Programme, key traditional institutions to maintain the sanitation campaigns are missing, making the venture unsustainable in the long term. The lack of input of traditional institutions such as Kings, Queens, Paramount Chiefs, traditional healers/herbalists, shrines and oracles, traditional midwives, village heads, ethnic associations, among others, reveal that the sanitary regulations driving the new sanitation campaigns are not realistic, not holistic, unGhanaian, and do not reflect the true sanitation challenges facing Ghana today.

This makes the ensuing waste management policies and the resources invested to push it unsustainable in the long term, thus making the possibility of Ghana returning to the current appalling sanitation situation it is trying to deal with. For while Ghanaians were convinced that the historical sanitary inspectors should be brought back to help contain the worsening sanitation situation, it remains to be seen whether the same Ghanaians, whose sanitation life-style brought about the inexcusable sanitary situation, will accord them the necessary respect, more accurately, the necessary co-operation, like their traditional institutions, to carry out the enforcement of public sanitary regulations. “Poor sanitation is our own making. Because of indiscipline, waste, especially plastic waste, is choking our gutters while weeds are taking over our surroundings,” Vice President Aliu Mahama correctly said. Mr. Mahama, ever confident, is right. But being right is one thing and seeing the results on the ground another. The suspicion results from lack of broader input of traditional institutions that are to back-up and sustain the sanitation inspectors, who are to not only to mount public education but also enter citizens’ homes to check whether they are undertaking sound sanitary practices.
The missing input of traditional institutions into the national sanitation campaign was seen at the semi-rural Konongo in the Asante Akim District of the Ashanti Region, where traditional institutions hold sway. Here, Mr. Mahama and the entire national sanitation policy, as part of the Fifth National Sanitation Week dubbed, "Clean Environment, Healthy People,” for the cultural and historical settings of Konongo, failed to involve traditional institutions, openly, symbolically and substantially, in the catching "Clean Environment, Healthy People.” Change of sanitation attitude in the long run necessary to propel Ghanaians’ advance will not be achieved from one-sided policy and one-sided enforcement. The other missing side is the traditional institutions as the last bastion of progress. For the monitoring and evaluation of public sanitation will not occur only from Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies but also the traditional institutions in their respective areas. It is attempts to balance such unbalanced situation that many a national policy, consultation and bureaucratization that in June this year the newly installed Ga Mantse (King of the Ga ethnic group of the Greater Accra Region), Nii Tackie Tawiah III, described the City of Accra’s horrendous sanitation situation as exhibiting the “pain” of the degradation “of the city of his ancestors.” Like what is expected of the new national sanitation policy, the Ga Mantse, drawing from Ghanaian/African communalism and trust, is appropriating “his subordinate chiefs to support the Accra Metropolitan Assembly in salvaging the face of the city which today is anything but decent.”
Like other city managers of Ghanaian cities and their sanitation policies, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly hasn’t reflected authentically the traditional environment it operates in, for long blinded from the huge traditional human resources waiting to be tapped for development. King Nii Tackie Tawiah III's new approach indicates a new turn in the development process of not only the Greater Accra Region but also the entire country, where traditional institutions, with its rich potency and experiences, are yet to be appropriated fully in the larger progress of Ghana. Despite these seeming traditional resources waiting to be tapped, national policies, such as sanitation regulations, are yet to mix or juggle correctly with traditional institutions in order to enforce sanitation bylaws.

After all, despite its globally praised positive sanitation practices and the increasing use of mechanized cleansing of the public, Singapore is still highly dependent on manual labour to sweep and clean public areas, drains and pavements. And there can be a Ghanaian way, like the Singaporeans, by mixing or juggling its traditional institutions with its sanitation bylaws in order to sustain public sanitation practices in the long term.

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