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‘ If you complain they “ve seen you” as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket question

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will devour you ,” hollers 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 talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and bless, some tossing their fund gives 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 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 entire populations grows and the city gets noisier, residents are becoming more willing to fight back- ensuing 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 levels after parties grumbled. He accepts those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

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

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

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of noise disorders are about religions. Permissions and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structures- as the most prominent convicts. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on halls. And despite their small-scale 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 objections is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckon, about 65% of her meter is wasted 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 tribunal. One such example involves a religion 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 an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint actions over the past six years. On the 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 faith invests in 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 revile ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In additive, it is not uncommon for Gbana to face pressure to reject suits from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- although she admits that structures need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with each other better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the racket comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by premiers in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local magnitude vigilantes to hijack loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She finds people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining 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 tagged 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 can even be punished by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials caused 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 well informed the danger 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 faiths. He personally visits faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t move undue noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t contribute us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive measurings, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in brand-new equipment and accommodated its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the flock had complained about too-loud business, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good sound ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a epic of complaints, words, satisfies and miscarried region court action, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

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

‘My suspicion 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 clergyman who appears intent on hindering on with his evangelism regardless of the complaints.

The noise draws Isaac feel like a bad parent and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents 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 have also begun comprising very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My horror is that my child will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you complain they see 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 guided 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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