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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise trouble

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will consume you ,” screams Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of orators enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and backings, some tossing their coin presents 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 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 raises 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 tiers after parties grumbled. He conceives those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who lists up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen 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 noise grumbles are about religions. Authorities and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-time, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structures- as the most prominent sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small 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 part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her compute, about 65% of her duration is expended dealing with noise ailments. 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 lawsuit 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 companionship of his family members and brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the local assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint actions 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 provides notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion invests in new material 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 add-on, it is 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 organisations 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 foremen in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local magnitude vigilantes to seize loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the government of racket in Accra is a public health concern, changing problems ranging from increased stress stages to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She determines beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling 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 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 sorcery you can even be punished by culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials generated 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 calls churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t realise excess interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t establish us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When churches do not regulate their racket, 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 sorenes and torment” 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 decree laid out a tale of complaints, letters, sees and miscarried territory courtroom war, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling discovered both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for induce a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet amusement of their belongings “.

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his disorders to local authorities- about a pastor who appears intent on keeping on with his sermon regardless of the complaints.

The noise manufactures Isaac feel like a bad parent and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents in their own families house in Madina.

When he moved in, 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 viewing 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 horror is that my baby 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 gave up grumbling, feeling his concern was being delivered 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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