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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket trouble

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will exhaust 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 stack of orators amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and praises, 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 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 multiplies and the city gets noisier, tenants 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 heights after beings complained. He believes those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who locateds 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 interference grievances are about religions. Permissions and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the most prominent sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on foyers. And despite their tiny congregations, 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 grumbles is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her gues, about 65% of her time is invested 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 courtroom. One such subject involves a religion that has clearly 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint clients over the past six years. On the working 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 religion has invested in brand-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 insult ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In addition, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject actions from well-connected beings 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 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 hijack loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She experiences parties are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off deploring because of suspicions 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 labelled as evil or a sorceres 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 punished appropriately by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials established 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 racket 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 religions. He personally calls churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t prepare excessive noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t open us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some religions taking preemptive bars, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over its first year in new gear and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the congregation had complained about too-loud works, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good seem ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their interference, going to court can take a lot of epoch and struggle due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable anguish and suffering” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded detriments in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a tale of complaints, letters, satisfies and failed territory court act, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling learnt 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 ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet enjoyment of their dimensions “.

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

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

The noise clears Isaac feel like a bad father-god and partner, he says in the living 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun maintaining very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

Isaac only 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 complain they “ve seen you” as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up deploring, feeling his concern was being passed 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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