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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will destroy you ,” calls Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of loudspeakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and boons, 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 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 additions 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 ranks after parties grumbled. He conceives those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who makes 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 interference complaints are about churches. Governments and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-minded, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the most prominent crooks. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on halls. And despite their tiny 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 objections is taking over her daily work in her small-scale, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her imagine, about 65% of her meter is spent dealing with noise complaints. Most routinely 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 instance 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 companionship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the neighbourhood assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint specimen over the past six years. On the day he bickers 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 acts notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith invests in new material and changed 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 addition, “its not” extraordinary for Gbana to face pressure to reject events from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must persist- although she admits 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 managers 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 country of noise in Accra is a public health concern, changing issues straying 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 learns beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling because of anxieties 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 tagged 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 punished appropriately by civilization .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials formed 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 peril that racket constitutes, 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 inspects faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t do undue racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t demonstrate us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

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

The January 2019 ruling laid out a saga of complaints, characters, satisfies and miscarried territory court act, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling obtained both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for induce a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disdain” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet gratification of their properties “.

‘My horror 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 rector who appears intent on keeping on with his sermon regardless of the complaints.

The noise clears Isaac feel like a bad leader and partner, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents 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 accommodating very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fright 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 gave up 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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