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Published on: 03/10/2019

Raising flags for toilets

Leadership and commitments from the top are key

This month marks nearly two years since Hon. Samia Suluhu, the Vice President (VP) of the United Republic of Tanzania launched a nation-wide sanitation and hygiene Behavioural Change Communication (BCC) campaign called #NyumbaNiChoo. The VP set an ambitious goal to eliminate open defecation (OD) by 2021 and to ensure that every household in Tanzania uses ‘Choo Bora’ (an improved toilet) by 2025.

The call for action is inspired by the urgency to meet Tanzania’s long-term development plan, vision 2025, which seeks to transform the country from a least developed into a semi-industrialised middle-income country with a modernised economy and high-quality human capital. Yet, official statistics showed that while the majority of Tanzania has latrines, only 47 percent of households in Tanzania use improved toilets. In fact, a study conducted by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme in 2012 found that poor sanitation and hygiene costs Tanzania 301 billion Tanzanian Shillings each year, equivalent to US$ 5 per person per year in Tanzania.

So far, the implementation of the #NyumbaNiChoo campaign appears to be on track. It has mobilised high level political support from the Tanzania government, reached 12 million people (about 41% of the media consuming public) through mass media, digital platforms, and activation events in 10 regions. Official reports by the Ministry of Health, claim that within two years, the campaign has reduced OD from 12 to 3% and mobilised 2.5 million households to construct improved toilets (note that these results haven’t been independently verified).

Recently, I visited the three regions in the Lake Zone: Mwanza, Simiyu and Shinyanga to see for myselfexperience the implementation of the #NyumbaNiChoo campaign. I was struck by the high-level political support and excitement that the campaign has created amongst government officials, politicians and communities. This is surprising, because, in the past, people, and politicians in particular, were uncomfortable about associating themselves with pooh and toilets. So, what is so different about the #NyumbaNiChoo Campaign? Below is my personal reflection of what we have learnt so far from the implementation of the campaign.

Build on existing research and past programming experience

Prior to designing the campaign, we reviewed all the research and programming experiences so fare and found that the main drivers for sanitation and handwashing behaviour change globally. In Tanzania, they are status and comfort. However, we learnt that these drivers had not been explored in depth locally. We also found that, in previous campaigns, while mid-technical level coordination and local government engagement was high, unlike the Mtu ni Afya (‘Man is Health’) campaign in 1970s, senior management and highest political levels in government had not been widely engaged and mobilised.  In addition, the campaigns did not fully exploit other communication channels which are increasingly accessible by households beyond the traditional Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach which heavily focused on education, fear and disgust.

Aim to get insights into the problem

These issues helped us to adapt the design of the formative research, by moving away from a mere focus on understanding the sanitation and hygiene problems, to generating deeper insights and understanding on existing structures, profiles of local actors, influencers, and gaps in the drivers of change for sanitation and handwashing behaviours. The formative research brought two major insights;

  • First, the majority of people in rural Tanzania, regardless of their social, cultural and economic status, aspires to a modern life and looks to cities for trends.
  • Second, although people aspire to be modern, they place low value on toilets. The majority don’t perceive having an improved toilet as being modern. In fact, we were surprised to find out that many households are making home improvements, but do not upgrade their toilets. With limited financial resources and competing demands, they tend to prioritise other things for example TVs and mobile phones. These findings echo the 2017/18 Household Budget Survey findings which show that households  in Tanzania are more likely to have modern roofing materials (84.1%) than improved toilets (18%).

These insights helped to unveil the root cause of the problem, which is: people perceive toilets to be of low value, and as such they don’t prioritise toilet improvements. As a result, even when they get money, they are more likely to spend it on other things. To tackle this problem, we would have to design an intervention that would make people revalue and prioritise toilet upgrades above other competing needs. 

This is interesting because, in the past, there was a belief that the main barrier for toilet improvements in Tanzania were the lack of willingness to pay for toilets, inadequate supply chains, and higher costs associated with toilet construction.

Rally support behind a ‘Big Idea’

We then used these insights to come up with a unifying theme for the campaign, which centred around one big idea - ‘modernity’. This is because, given the diversity in Tanzania, the desire for modern lifestyle cuts across socio-cultural and age difference aspects as well as geographical boundaries (rural vs urban) and, so it is easy to mobilise households, government officials, politicians, influencers and private sector around the theme.

Also, we know that Tanzania has a young population, and thus ‘modernity’ as a theme appeals more to them, particularly the 15-39-year-old homemakers and heads of households who are starting their own lives and families.  This group constitutes about 40% of the population, is open to new ideas, aspires to look modern and is more likely to want an improved toilet. Their actions and influence on their families will determine the trajectory of sanitation and hygiene improvements in Tanzania.   

Brand the problem (in our case toilet):  Make it ‘cool and sexy’

Based on the insights and the theme, we then worked with a creative team to come up with a campaign brand namely #NyumbaNiChoo, which simply means ‘a house is a toilet’.

For easy communication, we developed a Swahili tagline namely:  Usichukulie Poa – Nyumba ni Choo, which roughly means “Don’t take it lightly, a house is not complete without a toilet.” The Swahili formulation is informal, modern and connects with youths and others in both rural and urban areas.

The campaign brand and communications seek to convey that the heart of the house is the toilet and that to live a completely modern life one needs to improve their toilet now (and by implication, a toilet is not completely improved without handwashing facilities). With this, we link a toilet with modernity and launch a call for action for households (specifically young homeowners) to change their perceived value about toilets and over time, to prioritise toilet construction/upgrade in line with household improvements above anything else.

Create a brand,that everyone wants to be associated with

We then deployed several strategies to promote the #NyumbaNiChoo brand to look big, modern and cool. The philosophy behind this is that, by making a toilet look cool, you inspire people to take action to do something about their toilets, which is completely different from the past CLTS approaches which heavily emphasised DO NOTS, DEATHS and DISEASES.

In line with this, we launched our mass media campaign through Clouds Media Group (CMG), a leading media house in Tanzania mainly targeting the young. CMG has a combined reach of around seven million people in media assets and social media platforms and runs popular local platforms such Malkia wa Nguvu (on women empowerment), Fursa (on youth entrepreneurship) and Tigo Fiesta (the largest and popular local music concerts targeting youths). CMG also hosts the most influential media and TV personalities that the majority of people in Tanzania, including politicians, look up to for trends in imagination, aspiration, and innovation.  

These strategies have started to pay off. Recently a survey by Geopoll showed that 92 percent of head of households agree that the improved toilet ‘choo bora’ and handwashing make one a modern person. In addition, it is opening up opportunities for partnering with the private sector which proved to be difficult in the past.  For example, last year the Japanese toilet manufacturing company LIXIL partnered with #NyumbaNiChoo to promote sales of the SATO toilets in Tanzania. This year, Unilever in Tanzania joined the campaign’s activation events to promote their products: Demestos and Vim in 10 regions. Recently, the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF), became a partner through #football for toilets to raise awareness on sanitation and hygiene issues, and is exploring avenues for long-term partnerships with the campaign.

Overall, the endorsement of the #NyumbaNiChoo brand by influencers and through different platforms has helped portray the toilet as a cool and valuable product, to the extent that everyone including politicians want to be associated with it.

Raising the flag for the #NyumbaNiChoo campaign

Mobilise and align the incentives of political actors in support of the campaign

We knew from the beginning that civil servants and politicians need to be mobilised to support the implementation of the campaign. This would ensure the campaign is cost-effectively delivered at scale with sustained improvements to household sanitation facilities and practice. We do this by:

Gathering commitments from the top. In every region, we involve the most influential and respected figure (in our case the poet Mrisho Mpoto) to engage the regional and district commissioners. He works with them and helps them understand the sanitation and hygiene situation in their respective areas. As part of the process, we ensure they develop ambitious targets and publicly commit to delivering them within a specific timeframe. We use two tactics to achieve this;

  • The #NyumbaNiChoo flag:  The campaign has a white flag which portrays purity, not shame (to spur energy and positivity). During events in a district, Mpoto mobilises the crowds and publicly facilitates the discussions about the sanitation and hygiene situation in their locality. In this process, communities together with civil servants and politicians (in this case the district health officers and district commissioner) agree on toilet coverage, the target for improvements and specific timeline to achieving them. In the end, the district commissioner is asked (in the presence of the crowd) to raise the flag to the top, and then lower it to a level which corresponds to the toilet coverage in the district. They all commit that the flag will only be raised if the targets on coverage in the district are reached. A mechanism to follow up on the implementation of the commitments is also agreed by all parties.

The act of flag raising has proved to be powerful and steers a sense of urgency amongst communities, civil servants and politicians to drive change. At one of the events in Mwabuzo ward, when the councillor lowered the flag to symbolise the 14 percent toilet coverage in his ward, I saw him embarrassed - as people felt agitated, pleading with him to take action to take the flag to the top. For them, the act of raising a flag indicates pride, success, and ability to conquer the world, whilst lowering it indicates sadness and defeat. It is important to note that traditionally in Tanzania people i) respect a flag: normally they stand still during flag raising); ii)  see a flag as a symbol of identity: it indicates the presence of government and government offices); and iii) relate a flag with aspiration and independency: the Tanganyika flag was erected on top of Mount Kilimanjaro on the eve of the country's independence 58 years ago. 

  • The power of the camera: all these acts and commitments are recorded and broadcast live on TV, radio and social media. We know politicians love visibility and are more likely to commit on camera as they want to be associated with influential figures (Mrisho Mpoto) and a big brand with many followers (in our case #NyumbaNiChoo). They are also likely to do that as they know their story will feature in the next news broadcast of the leading media house in Tanzania (Clouds Radio, TV and digital platforms). 

Amplify the commitments. The commitments solicited through activation are produced and packaged in the form of short audio and video clips. They are then amplified nationally through TV, radio and social media to reach larger audiences. As the commitments stay online, they are reposted frequently to spark conversations about the commitments. They are scrutinized by the general public, thereby creating urgency for politicians to act and follow up the implementation of their commitments for example on construction of school latrines.

Use government monitoring and reporting systems. We ensure that commitments and targets set rely on government data and reporting systems. At this point we are not worried about the quality of data as our goal is to spark the conversation about toilets and to make a stand about toilets to politicians. In fact, using the government system has helped to improve the level of reporting (currently all 185 local government authorities report progress quarterly through the online national sanitation information management system), drive a culture of accountability on delivery of results and create an incentive for civil servants to improve the quality of data reported.

The high-level political support of the #NyumbaNiChoo has created an enabling environment for regional and district officials to use existing government structures and systems to push for follow up and accelerated implementation of the national sanitation campaign with relative ease compared to previous campaigns. In Mwanza region for example, I noticed that, following the commitments of the regional commissioner, the regional health officer included sanitation and hygiene as outstanding issues in the weekly management meetings.  In Magu district, officials cascaded the targets to ward and village level and instituted a clear mechanism to follow up on implementation through existing structures with the support of the district commissioner. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these actions are happening in Mbeya, Songwe and Dodoma regions.

Overall, it is still too early to ascertain the results reported to date or attribute any improvements for sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania to the #NyumbaNiChoo campaign. However, it is safe to say that the campaign has mobilised political support and normalised public conversations about pooh and toilets in social media, public transport (dala dala) or football stadiums.

The main issue going forward will be for key stakeholders (Civil Society, NGOs and Private sector) at national and local level to take advantage of the political and public support created by the #NyumbaNiChoo campaign to push for development and implementation of clear action plans to improve sanitation and hygiene in their areas. It is essential to ensure there is follow-up on the implementation of the commitments made alongside regular verification and feedback on the reported results to regional and district commissioners. This will sustain the agenda and drive accountability across the delivery chain.

Credit: Kaposo Boniface Mwambuli of PROJECT CLEAR for providing data and information for this blog.

Disclaimer: Lukas Kwezi currently works for the UK Department for International Development (DFID) as Water and Sanitation Adviser, based in Dar es Salaam. He writes blog posts in his spare time. Though he may talk about the work he does in the sector, this is neither a corporate nor a political blog and the opinions and ideas expressed here are solely his own, not those of his employers.


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

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