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‘ If you complain they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious interference trouble

One-man faiths forearmed with loudspeakers proliferate in Ghanas fast-growing capital. But as the city gets noisier, inhabitants are fighting back

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will expend you ,” hollers Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and bless, some tossing their coin offerings from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 religions per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on 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 means that number is expected to reach nearly 10 million by 2037. And as the population increases and the city gets noisier, tenants 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 heights after parties grumbled. He feels those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who determines up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 racket complaints are about churches. Powers and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structures- as the biggest sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on halls. And despite their tiny parishes, 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 objections is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her imagine, about 65% of her era is invested dealing with noise objections. Most often the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate where possible, cases often end up in tribunal. One such client involves a faith 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 fellowship of his family members and brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint examples over the past six years. On the day he argues 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 helps notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion has invested in brand-new equipment and adapted its interior design to reduce noise levels. Photograph: 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 addition, “its not” peculiar for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss lawsuits from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must reign- although she admits that organizations 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 chiefs in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood loudnes vigilantes to abduct loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the regime of interference in Accra is a public health concern, feigning topics arraying from increased stress grades to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She knows parties is not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling because of fears it will affect their reputation or standing in the community.

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

Being labelled as evil or a sorceres 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 composed 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 aware of the threat 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 faiths. He personally sees faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t clear excess interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t yield us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive bars, 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 assistances, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good bang ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of time and exertion due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable anguish and endure” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded mars in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid out a tale of complaints, notes, gathers and flunked region court war, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling find both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for make a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet relish of their properties “.

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

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

The noise induces Isaac feel like a bad father-god and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has also begun to deeming very loud church services, bellowing into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

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

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up complaining, feeling his concern was being transferred 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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