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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket trouble

One-man churches forearmed with loudspeakers proliferate in Ghanas fast-growing capital. But as the city goes noisier, occupants are fighting back

” If you disobey the statutes of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will destroy you ,” shouts Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and boons, some flinging their coin provides from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far away from religious sermons. According to one approximation, there are approximately 10 religions per sq km, and open-air evangelism, whether on forms of public transport, in bus terminals or at superhighway intersections, is commonplace.

The population of Greater Accra was about 4 million in 2010, but the city’s rapid growth has meant that amount is expected to reach nearly 10 million by 2037. And as the population increases and the city goes noisier, inhabitants are becoming more willing to fight back- ensuing in a rise in interference complaints.

Sarfo has been preaching at this intersection with his speaker system for the past four years. He says he used to be a lot louder but lowered his degrees after people complained. He imagines all the persons who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle Michael Sarfo, who mounts up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. Image: Stacey Knott

” Not everybody will like what we are doing here- not all know Christ ,” he says.” That is why “were here” .”

While he considers his roadside preaching a church, he says he eventually wants to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of interference ailments are about religions. Authorities and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-minded, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structure- as the biggest wrongdoers. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on halls. And despite their small-scale flocks, they often use loudspeakers and musical instruments during worship.

Noise annoys

For Gifty Gbana, zonal is chairman of the environmental health and sanitation unit at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, dealing with interference objections is taking over her daily work in her small-time, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaints about racket ,” says Gbana. By her think, about 65% of her season is invested dealing with noise complaints. Most often the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or liaise wherever possible, cases often end up in courtroom. One such lawsuit involves a church that had apparently been set up inside their own families home in a new development on the city’s outskirts.

The pastor says his faith was simply a fellowship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local meeting, says there has been an increase in interference objection occasions over the past six years. On the working day he reasons this specific objection, “hes having” two others to prosecute.

Gbana is often on the frontline in these cases. She says things can quickly turn ugly when she provides notices.

Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith has invested in new equipment and changed its interior design to reduce noise levels. Photo: Stacey Knott

” Some of the pastors will not take it kindly, some will insult ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In add-on, it is not unique for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss actions from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- although she admits that structures need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with one another better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the interference comes during the course of its month-long banning on noise-making imposed by leaders in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood magnitude vigilantes to grab loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But apart from this annual break, the regime of noise in Accra is a public health concern, feigning issues ranging from increased stress stages to sounding loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She finds parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining because of dreads it will affect their reputation or stand in the community.

” You may end up being labelled as having an evil affect ,” Yirenya-Tawiah says.

Being labelled as misery or a voodoo or wizard can be a serious offend, says Dr Cyril Fayose, general secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana.” Witchcraft accusations are very serious matters in Africa ,” he says,” and sometimes “if you il” sees as doing magic you are able to even be punished by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials developed a taskforce to engagement to Accra’s increasing noise levels, concentrate on education and enforcement.

Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation force at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, Accra. Photo: Stacey Knott

” People have become very interested and aware of the danger that noise constitutes, so now the complaints are coming ,” says John Tettey, a taskforce member and head of the education department at the EPA.

Samuel Teye Doku was at the August taskforce meeting representing independent religions. He personally sees religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t become undue noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t give us the opportunity to ill-use God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive weighs, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over its first year in new paraphernalium and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud services, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good sound ,” he says.

When religions do not govern their racket, going to see tribunal can take a lot of time and struggle due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable sting and woe” for two inhabitants in the suburbs of Accra to be awarded shatterings in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a tale of complaints, words, fits and miscarried region tribunal war, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling met both faiths in breach of structure rules and regulations. They were penalty for effecting a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for negligent ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet delight of their belongings “.

‘My fear is my baby will have a discovering problem’

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his objections to local authorities- about a rector who appears intent on retaining on with his proclaiming regardless of the complaints.

The noise realizes Isaac feel like a bad parent and partner, he says in the living room of the smaller one-bedroom plain he hires in their own families house in Madina.

When he moved in, in mid-2 016, he saw no problem with the small prayer service held by his neighbour. However, since then, he says his neighbour has started impounding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

Isaac merely began to complain when his son was endure in early 2018.

” My suspicion is that my babe will have a discovering trouble in the future …[ but] when you deplore they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up complaining, feeling its deep concern was being elapsed between local and national organizations. With his tenancy lease culminating in April, he and members of their families are weighing down the weeks until they move out.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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