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‘ If you complain they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket problem

One-man religions armed with loudspeakers proliferate in Ghanas fast-growing capital. But as the city gets noisier, residents are fighting back

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will eat 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 prayers and favors, some tossing their fund provides from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 religions per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of public transport, in bus terminals or at road intersections, is commonplace.

The population of Greater Accra was about 4 million in 2010, but the city’s rapid growth means that number is expected to reach nearly 10 million by 2037. And as the population increases and the city gets noisier, inhabitants are becoming more willing to fight back- ensuing in a rise in noise 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 tiers after beings grumbled. He accepts those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who placeds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors and their loudspeakers to spread the gospel. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Not everybody will like what we are doing here- not all know Christ ,” he says.” That is why we are 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 noise grumbles are about churches. Powers and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structures- as the biggest culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on halls. And despite their small flocks, they often use loudspeakers and musical instruments during worship.

Noise annoys

For Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation unit at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, dealing with noise grumbles is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single date somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her figuring, about 65% of her epoch is wasted dealing with noise disorders. Most regularly the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate where possible, cases often end up in court. One such lawsuit involves a church that had apparently been set up inside a family home in a new development on the city’s outskirts.

The pastor says his church was simply a companionship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint subjects over the past six years. On the day he reasons this particular complaint, he has 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
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church invests in brand-new paraphernalium and accommodated its interior design to reduce noise levels. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Some of the pastors will not take it kindly, some will revile ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In addition, “its not” uncommon for Gbana to face pressure to reject occasions from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must reign- although she admits that arrangements need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with each other better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the interference comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by honchoes in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood capacity vigilantes to abduct loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She detects parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off complaining because of fears it will affect their reputation or standing in the community.

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

Being labelled as evil or a voodoo or wizard can be a serious insult, 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 are seen as doing witchcraft you can even prosecuted and punished by civilization .”

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

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

” People have become very interested and was mindful of the danger that interference 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 churches. He personally sees religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t oblige undue racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t give us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive measurings, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new equipment and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the flock had complained about too-loud services, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good clang ,” he says.

When religions do not regulate their racket, going to court can take a lot of time and attempt due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable sorenes and endure” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairments in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid down by a story of complaints, characters, gathers and flunked territory court war, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling determined both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for cause a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disdain” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet joy of their dimensions “.

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from complying through on his objections to local authorities- about a pastor who appears intent on stopping on with his sermon regardless of the complaints.

The noise induces Isaac feel like a bad papa and husband, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases in their own families house in Madina.

When he moved here, in mid-2 016, he saw no problem with the small prayer service held by his neighbour. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has also begun to comprising very loud church services, hollering into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

Isaac exclusively began to complain when his son was born in early 2018.

” My dread is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you grumble they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up grumbling, feeling his concern was being elapsed between local and national organizations. With his tenancy lease ending in April, he and his family are counting down the weeks until they move out.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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