Isaac Adekeye Abiona

With the aid of two fables, the author shows that commmunity development can only succeed if all members of the community are involved and if each person contributes his or her own specific skills and abilities. Dr. Isaac Adekeye Abiona lectures and researches in Community Development at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria. His area of interest is the involvement of the grassroots in the developmental process.

Learning from the Animal Kingdom:

An Approach to Community Mobilization and Citizen Participation in Community Development

Mobilization in community development

Mobilization in community development denotes a process whereby people are prepared psychologically, mentally and attitudinally for change. It is a movement to galvanize people for action towards development. Mobilization is important to activate people in the right attitude towards programmes of development. This gears the community to effective utilization of human and material resources available.

Mobilization involves the pooling of available resources of a community for development purposes. It fosters the willingness of people to participate in community development. Once the people are mobilized, they involve themselves in planning and execution as well as monitoring and evaluation of programmes for the community. Mobilization should enlist the interest of the people in their own affairs. This is to achieve better health services, economic productivity, mass literacy, physical development etc.

Citizen participation involves the people taking part actively and freely in discussions and decisions affecting their welfare. It is a process in which the people identify existing resources in the community, plan and utilize the resources for the benefit of all members of the community.

Mobilization involves all groups in the community. All members and organizations are stakeholders in ensuring participation of the people in community development to address problems such as poverty, health, housing, and illiteracy.

Mobilization therefore creates awareness for the collective responsibility of the citizenry to tackle their problems. It brings about a change of attitude and behaviour through acquisition of new knowledge about specific problems, situation or tasks confronting a community. It stimulates acceptance of new values and innovation. It makes the people readily available to perform services in the production of goods and services for national development.

The agents for mobilization include the mass media (radio, television, print media and so on, religious organizations, schools, youth organizations, social clubs and others). In order to ensure adequate dissemination of information to the grassroots, the local language should be used. The message should be simple and clear, without ambiguity, should command people's attention and should be problem-solving oriented. In addition, the appropriate channels of communication that can reach the people effectively should be identified and utilized.

Why Learning from Indigenous Education?

One can observe that stories have been a vital strategy in education in most societies, especially in African communities. Story telling has been a great tool in transmitting communal values in Africa and elsewhere. Such stories are not just for entertainment but have moral lessons. Many of the stories are fables of the animal kingdom. If we examine these stories critically, they have a bearing on human actions and environment.

In this paper, two such stories that the author has used in many instances to mobilise communities to participate in community development programmes are presented. Moreover, these also teach students the importance of communication, self-help, citizen participation and cooperation in community development.

Citizen Participation and Cooperation

Once upon a time, the stream that provided animals with drinking water suddenly disappeared into a crack. The animals could not get water to drink after eating. All efforts to locate another good stream were in vain. The other stream that could have served the animal kingdom was so bitter and poisonous that no animal would go near it.

One day, King Lion called the animals to a meeting. The main objective was to find a solution to their prevailing need of water. He believed that the cooperative efforts and ideas of his subjects would solve the problem. Moreover, some animals were already grumbling about his poor leadership. The town crier, the parrot, went through nooks and crannies of the kingdom, announcing the important meeting. The communication network was very effective.

The identification of the need brought all animals together as a community. In attendance were all kinds of animals such as horned and non-horned of various types, birds, reptiles and insects. It was a well-attended meeting. The meeting was presided over by King Lion.

Animals came up with many suggestions to find a new source of drinking water; some even suggested finding the source of the crack from where the former water disappeared. Some suggested consulting spiritualists to change the poisonous water. Finally, it was agreed that they should dig a well near the former stream.

On the agreed day, all animals gathered and laboured to execute the community development project. It was well implemented and everyone participated actively in the self-help project. They all worked within their capability. It was, however, noted that one animal was missing. It was the tortoise. Everyone knew tortoise as a lazy and cunning animal. King Lion sent for him to join others but he refused, giving an excuse of a bad arm. Since he was known for his craftiness, no animal believed him. Hence, they decided to sanction him by disallowing him from drawing water from the well. After all, communities do have social sanctions through which order is maintained. They went further to post the dog to guard the well.

The animals drank water to their satisfaction and went home happily. The dog remained at his post, watching over the well. In the dead of the night, tortoise came to drink water. He had broken calabashes and other noisy objects tied together to cover himself. As he moved, these things made a loud frightening noise. He came down singing through a horn that changed his voice beyond recognition. The song went thus:

If an elephant guards the well kandu
If a hippopotamus guards the well kandu
/ will crush them both kandu
I will eat their flesh in my soup kandu

The dog did not wait for the warning to be repeated. He took to his heels and ran to King Lion's palace to report the incident. The next day, King Lion summoned his chiefs and later all the animals. The dog reported what he had gone through. He said that a monster mightier than all animals had come to drink water and sung with a voice of thunder that he had to flee. The animals decided to post two guards that were stronger and bigger than the dog. Hence, an elephant and a tiger were posted.

In the dead of the night, tortoise repeated his visit to the well. He sang and danced as he did the previous day. The elephant was the first to run away, while frightened tiger only had a peep at the monster covered with many things before he too howled and took to his heels.

The incident was again reported to the animals. At the meeting, there were suggestions, and some of the animals argued that no monster could match the strength of all animals put together. At last, the animals agreed to the services of Sokoti, a powerful medicine man.

After Sokoti was briefed, he prepared an effigy, plastered with sticky glue. During the evening time, after all the animals had left the well, he placed the effigy beside the well. The effigy carried a huge club to destroy any intruder.

As usual, tortoise arrived and sang more terribly than before. He thought the animals must have fled but was surprised to see the effigy standing still with the club unmoved by his noise and song. Tortoise firstly warned it of the danger of remaining motionless. When the effigy ignored this warning, tortoise moved closer and slapped it with his right hand. The hand glued to it. He again warned it to release his right hand, otherwise he would slap it with his left hand. He did this and the hand also glued to it. Eventually, he got annoyed and kicked the effigy with both legs and they got stuck.

In the morning, all the animals came round to find tortoise glued to the body of the effigy. The tortoise was embarrassed and humiliated. The community punished him for non-participation and cheating on the community development project. Henceforth he joined others in Community development and activities.

Lesson One: Community development denotes that all members of the community should be involved. Its scope covers all members of the community in that everyone has something to contribute. The young, old, men, women are all involved in the process of community development.

Communication and Participation of all Members

There is also a story of how a community suffered because a member of the community was left out, uninvited to participate in the development of his community. This story emphasizes the need for all citizens to participate, no matter the status. Also, there should be a good communication network in the community.

In the kingdom of birds, the Ostrich was the king. He invited all birds to come together to provide a befitting palace for their king. The special invitation got to all birds but left out Tintin, the finest and smallest bird. He got the information that the king had a communal project and all birds except him were invited.

On the agreed day, all birds came to build the palace. They came to the site with various implements. On the first day of labour, they succeeded in clearing the building site.

In the night, Tintin came to the site and surveyed all that his compatriots had done, during the daytime. Now, Tintin was endowed with a natural gift of soothsaying and charm-making. Most birds were not aware of this secret power. He brought out his magical charms and sang thus:

King Ostrich invited the birds for a communal project: Tintin
But he left me out, thinking I'm useless: Tintin
Let all cut down bush arise again: Tintin
Let all cut down trees arise again: Tintin
Let all dance to my music Tintin
And let everyone remain standing Tintin


All the labour of the birds was in vain with the pronouncement. All the bush and trees that had been cut down in the morning rose up. The forest was as thick as it was in the morning and Tintin flew away as if nothing had happened.

In the morning, the birds came to continue the work which they had started on the previous day but they found it difficult to locate the site because of the thick forest. It was unbelievable.

The birds worked the whole day again, and the land was well prepared for the building of the palace. Tintin visited the site in the night again and the forest obeyed his command. The birds inevitably decided to find out what was responsible for the waste of labour. Tintin finally owned up to the crime.

King Ostrich was annoyed. He blamed him for the problem which he had caused. Tintin, however, pleaded not guilty because it was the fault of the community. He accused the community of looking down on his ability and possible contribution. Hence, he had to show his ability. He stressed the need for everyone to participate in community development.

Lesson Two: All members of the community should be involved because they can contribute in one way or the other. The principle of communication should be stressed so that every member should be aware of community programmes.

These stories have had a great impact on many communities and students of community development. We can still gain a lot from our indigenous education.

Implications for Adult Education and Community Development

Traditional methods of community development are still very relevant to effecting social change. They ensure people participate at the grassroots. There are values which people still cherish in their customs. An understanding of customs as learned behaviour that governs attitudes towards adult education and community development will enhance individual and community overall development

The importance of cooperation and citizen participation should be stressed. Success is assured when all members of the community willingly participate in programmes of community development. It is such participation that makes the people develop a sense of belonging and pride of ownership of facilities completed through communal efforts.

In order to ensure the involvement of the people, there should be good and adequate communication in the community. It is through an effective communication network that awareness of the programme is created. This will lead to citizen participation in the development programme.

Self-help, self-growth and self-reliance can develop a stable and responsive community. The community is capable of mobilizing local resources to satisfy the needs of the community.

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