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

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 deplete you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of speakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and supports, some tossing their coin offerings from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. 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 entire populations growths and the city gets noisier, residents 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 stages after people complained. He feels those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who prepares up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Not everyone is 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 hes” eventually wants to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of noise grumbles are about faiths. Approvals and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-minded, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the biggest sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on halls. 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 small, concrete part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her imagine, about 65% of her era is invested dealing with noise ailments. Most frequently the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in courtroom. One such suit 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occurrences over the past six years. On the day he indicates 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 faith invests in brand-new paraphernalium 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 add-on, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject events from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- although she has acknowledged that systems 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 managers in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood magnitude vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the territory of interference in Accra is a public health concern, changing editions straddling from increased stress degrees to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She hears beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling because of frights 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 labelled 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 magic you are unable to even be punished by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials generated 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 is conscious of the threat that noise poses, so now individual 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 shape excessive noise.” 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 appraises, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new material and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the parish had complained about too-loud business, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good reverberate ,” he says.

When religions do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of meter and effort due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable tendernes and suffering” for two inhabitants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairs in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid down by a tale of complaints, notes, gathers and flunked district court action, as well as a audaciou re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

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

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his ailments to local authorities- about a rector who appears intent on preserving on with his preaching irrespective of the complaints.

The noise obligates Isaac feel like a bad papa and partner, he says in the front 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has started comprising very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My horror is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you grumble they “ve seen 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 legislated between local and national organizations. 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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