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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will consume you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of speakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and praises, some tossing their fund gives from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 churches per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of public transport, in bus terminals or at street 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, occupants are becoming more willing to fight back- resulting 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 ranks after beings complained. He feels those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who locateds 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 racket ailments are about religions. Powers and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- tiny, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the biggest sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-scale 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 small-time, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

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

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in tribunal. One such event 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 fellowship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint events over the past six years. On the day he insists 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 acts notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion invests in new material and changed 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 add-on, “its not” peculiar for Gbana to face pressure to reject occurrences from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- although she acknowledges 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 premiers in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local publication vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the commonwealth of racket in Accra is a public health concern, feigning problems wandering from increased stress tiers to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She learns people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring 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 witch 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 culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials established 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 peril 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 visits religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t become undue racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t pass us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When churches do not regulate their racket, going to court can take a lot of time and struggle due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable ache and suffer” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded mars in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid out a saga of complaints, characters, finds and neglected region courtroom activity, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling knew both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet pleasure of their owneds “.

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

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

The noise draws Isaac feel like a bad father-god and husband, 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 maintaining very loud church services, bellowing into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My anxiety is that my baby will have a hearing problem 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 deploring, feeling his concern was being guided between local and national business. 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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