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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will devour you ,” calls 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 enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and backings, some tossing their coin gives 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 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, inhabitants 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 grades after parties grumbled. He speculates those who complain about the noise 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 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 he eventually wants to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of racket grumbles are about religions. Governments and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- tiny, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the most prominent offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on porches. And despite their tiny parishes, 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 complaints is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daytime somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckon, about 65% of her age is expended dealing with noise disorders. Most regularly the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in court. One such occurrence involves a faith 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 fellowship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint subjects over the past six years. On the day he disagrees 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 helps notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith has invested in new paraphernalium 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 odd for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss occurrences from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- although she has acknowledged that plans 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 boss in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local publication vigilantes to abduct loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She experiences parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off deploring because of panics it will affect their honour 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 witch 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 sorcery you are able to even be punished 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 aware of the danger 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 religions. He personally inspects churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t obligate undue noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t commit us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

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

The January 2019 decree laid out a story of complaints, characters, satisfies and neglected region courtroom war, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling knew both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for cause a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless indifference” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet joy of their owneds “.

‘My dread 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 rector who appears intent on preserving on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise obligates Isaac feel like a bad father and spouse, he says in the living 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun regarding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My anxiety is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you deplore 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 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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