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‘ If you deplore they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket 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 pierce you. Satan will deplete you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of orators amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and supports, some tossing their money provides from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 churches per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of 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 multiplies and the city gets noisier, occupants 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 tiers after people deplored. He imagines those who complain about the racket 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 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 faiths. Permissions and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-scale, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, 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 disorders is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her computation, about 65% of her meter is expended dealing with noise complaints. Most frequently 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 lawsuit 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the local assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint cases over the past six years. On the working day he reasons 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 has invested in brand-new equipment and adapted 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 add-on, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject instances from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must persist- although she has acknowledged that organisations 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 local volume vigilantes to clutch loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the commonwealth of noise in Accra is a public health concern, altering problems straddling from increased stress heights to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She acquisitions beings are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off deploring because of horrors 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 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 can even punished appropriately by civilization .”

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 aware of the danger that noise 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 visits faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t stir excess interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t yield us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive quantifies, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which is an investment over its first year in brand-new material and adapted 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 phone ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their interference, going to court can take a lot of season and attempt due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable suffering and sustain” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairments in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid out a epic of complaints, letters, convenes and failed district tribunal activity, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling noted both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet happiness of their properties “.

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

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

The noise sees Isaac feel like a bad father-god and spouse, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour has started harbouring very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My suspicion is that my newborn 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 “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being elapsed 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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