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

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will spend you ,” shouts Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and approvals, some tossing their fund provides 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 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 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 heights after people deplored. He belief those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who mounts up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 interference complaints are about faiths. Powers and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-time, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structures- as the biggest sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-time 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 ailments is taking over her daily work in her small-scale, concrete role in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daylight somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her gues, about 65% of her season is expended dealing with noise ailments. Most often 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 event involves a church 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint specimen 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 church has invested in new paraphernalium and accommodated 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, it is not uncommon for Gbana to face pressure to reject subjects from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- although she has acknowledged 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 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 commonwealth of interference in Accra is a public health concern, altering topics straddling from increased stress grades to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She finds people are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling 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 witch or wizard 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 are able to 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 interference constitutes, so now individual 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 calls religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t realize undue interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t impart us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

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

The January 2019 decree laid down by a tale of complaints, letters, joins and neglected region tribunal activity, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling experienced both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for induce a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet relish of their belongings “.

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his complaints to local authorities- about a rector who appears intent on obstructing on with his urge regardless of the complaints.

The noise acquires Isaac feel like a bad father and husband, he says in the front 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 harbouring very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My suspicion is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you deplore they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” 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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