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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will consume you ,” shouts 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 loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and favors, some tossing their fund gives from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. According to one estimate, there are approximately 10 churches 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- 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 grades after people grumbled. He accepts those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who decides 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 racket objections are about faiths. Authorities and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small-minded, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the biggest sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small 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 complaints is taking over her daily work in her small-time, concrete part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckoning, about 65% of her era is expended dealing with noise grievances. Most frequently the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate where possible, cases often end up in courtroom. One such client involves a church 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint subjects over the past six years. On the day he bickers 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 paraphernalium and adapted 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 additive, “its not” unexpected for Gbana to face pressure to reject lawsuits from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must persist- although she acknowledges that arrangements 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 leaders in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood volume vigilantes to hijack loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She determines parties is not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off complaining 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 hotshot 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 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 chance 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 churches. He personally inspects churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t do undue interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t contribute us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive measures, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in brand-new gear and accommodated its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud assistances, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good reverberate ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their interference, 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 pain and agony” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded detriments in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid out a story of complaints, notes, joins and neglected region tribunal war, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling observed both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for make a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet enjoyment of their owneds “.

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

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

The noise forms Isaac feel like a bad father and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases in a family 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 also begun to bracing very loud church services, calling into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My panic is that my newborn 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” grumbling, feeling his concern was being passed 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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