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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will eat you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of speakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and praises, some tossing their coin 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 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, residents are becoming more willing to fight back- developing 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 people complained. He belief those who complain about the noise 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 everyone 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 interference ailments are about religions. Governments and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-minded, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structures- as the biggest convicts. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-minded congregations, 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, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

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

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in court. One such example involves a religion 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 religion. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the local meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint cases 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith has invested in brand-new equipment 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, it is not rare for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss occurrences from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- 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 noise comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by managers in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood publication vigilantes to impound loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the territory of noise in Accra is a public health concern, affecting editions wandering from increased stress grades to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She acquires people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off deploring 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 tagged 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 jeopardy that racket constitutes, so now the number of 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 calls faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t clear excess noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t dedicate us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When religions do not regulate their racket, 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” indescribable suffering and suffer” 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 down by a epic of complaints, notes, rallies and neglected territory tribunal act, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

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

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from obeying through on his grumbles to local authorities- about a pastor who appears intent on saving on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise obligates Isaac feel like a bad parent and partner, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents in a family 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 impounding very loud church services, calling into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

Isaac simply 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 grumble they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being legislated 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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