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‘ If you deplore they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious interference question

One-man faiths forearmed 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 down you ,” shouts 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 orators enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and approvals, some tossing their money gives 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 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- 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 grades after parties deplored. He accepts those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who gives 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 churches. Governments and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the most important one culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on halls. 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 grievances is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daylight somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her suppose, about 65% of her period is expended 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 tribunal. One such subject involves a faith that has obviously 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint lawsuits 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 serves notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion invests in new equipment and changed 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” unique for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss specimen from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- 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 racket 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 neighbourhood capacity vigilantes to hijack loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the nation of racket in Accra is a public health concern, altering problems straddling 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 catches beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining 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 be punished by society .”

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 aware of the hazard 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 churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t shape excess interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t commit 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 paraphernalium and accommodated its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the parish had complained about too-loud assistances, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good chime ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 decree laid out a saga of complaints, words, gratifies and neglected region tribunal war, as well as a blatant 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 religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet gratification of their properties “.

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from espousing through on his complaints to local authorities- about a pastor who appears intent on hindering on with his proclaim regardless of the complaints.

The noise becomes Isaac feel like a bad father-god and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour has also begun to accommodating very loud church services, hollering into a microphone in the nights 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” complaining, feeling his concern was being delivered 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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