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

One-man faiths armed 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 eat you ,” screams Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and boons, some tossing their fund presents from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 faiths 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- arising 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 levels after people grumbled. He imagines those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who situates up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 racket ailments are about churches. Authorities and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-minded, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structures- as the most important one culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on porches. And despite their tiny 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 ailments is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her suppose, about 65% of her day is invested 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 tribunal. One such client 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 firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint actions 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church has invested in brand-new gear 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 additive, it is not uncommon for Gbana to face pressure to reject examples from well-connected parties in the community.

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

One yearly respite from the racket 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 capacity vigilantes to abduct loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

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

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

Being tagged 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 be punished by culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials formed 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 noise poses, 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 see excess racket.” 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 faiths taking preemptive meters, 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 gathering had complained about too-loud works, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good audio ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a tale of complaints, notes, fulfills and failed territory courtroom war, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling spotted both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for stimulate a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless dismis” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet delight of their owneds “.

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

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

The noise attains Isaac feel like a bad father-god and partner, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour has started propping very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fright is that my child 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 “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being legislated between local and national bureaux. 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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