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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise question

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will expend you ,” outcries Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of speakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and boons, some tossing their money gives from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. According to one estimate, there are approximately 10 religions 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, 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 degrees after parties complained. He belief those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who locateds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 hes” eventually wants to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of interference disorders are about faiths. Experts and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- tiny, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the biggest culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on halls. And despite their small gatherings, 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 objections is taking over her daily work in her small, concrete bureau in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daytime somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her compute, about 65% of her duration is spent dealing with noise disorders. Most routinely 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 example 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 belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint subjects 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church has invested in brand-new material 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 add-on, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject clients from well-connected parties in the community.

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

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

She locates people are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off grumbling because of anxieties 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 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 sorcery you are unable to even be punished by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials made 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 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 visits churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t obligate excess noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t hold us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive quantities, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which is an investment over the years in new paraphernalium and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the congregation had complained about too-loud business, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good sound ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of era and attempt due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable anguish and torment” 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 down by a saga of complaints, letters, sees and neglected territory courtroom war, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling learnt both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for induce a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless dismis” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet happiness of their dimensions “.

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

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

The noise sees Isaac feel like a bad leader and spouse, 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 started containing very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along 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 “ve seen you” as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up grumbling, feeling his concern was being guided between local and national agencies. 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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