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‘ If you complain they “ve seen 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, inhabitants are fighting back

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will deplete you ,” calls Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and approvals, some tossing their money presents from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. According to one estimate, there are approximately 10 faiths per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of public transport, in bus terminals or at street 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 grows and the city gets noisier, occupants 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 people complained. He believes those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who determines 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 complaints are about faiths. Governments and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-scale, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the most prominent offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-time 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 ailments is taking over her daily work in her small-scale, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single period somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her era is spent dealing with noise complaints. Most regularly 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 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 fellowship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint cases 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 suffices notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion invests in new gear 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 additive, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss cases 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 interference comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by foremen in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local capacity vigilantes to grab loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She acquires people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining because of fears 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 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 magic you are unable to even be punished by civilization .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials developed 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 interference 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 faiths. He personally sees religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t acquire excessive interference.” 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 brand-new gear and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud works, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good sound ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their interference, 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” indefinable tendernes 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 rule laid out a saga of complaints, letters, satisfies and neglected region courtroom war, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling determined both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for stimulate a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet relish of their dimensions “.

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

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

The noise stimulates 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 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 harbouring very loud church services, screaming 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 babe 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 gave up complaining, 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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