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

One-man churches forearmed 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 expend you ,” hollers Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of orators amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and boons, some tossing their fund presents from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. 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 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 the population growths 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 ranks after people deplored. He feels those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who specifies up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 complaints are about religions. Approvals and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-scale, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as the biggest culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on halls. And despite their small-scale 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 grumbles is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete bureau in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single period somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her imagine, about 65% of her time is expended dealing with noise grumbles. 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 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 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 forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint subjects over the past six years. On the day he insists 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 faith has invested in new gear 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 add-on, “its not” extraordinary for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss clients from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- although she admits that organizations 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 chiefs in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local volume vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the nation of noise in Accra is a public health concern, feigning problems arraying 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 encounters beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off deploring 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 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 witchcraft you can even punished appropriately by civilization .”

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

There are some religions taking preemptive appraises, 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 congregation had complained about too-loud assistances, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good audio ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 rule laid down by a saga of complaints, notes, convenes and failed territory court act, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

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

‘My fear 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 pastor who appears intent on retaining on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise constitutes Isaac feel like a bad parent and spouse, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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 have also begun accommodating 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 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 complaining, feeling his concern was being overtook between local and national agencies. 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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