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‘ If you complain they see 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, tenants are fighting back

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will destroy you ,” outcries Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of orators amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and blessings, some tossing their money gives 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 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 increases 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 levels after parties complained. He conceives those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who determineds 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 noise complaints are about churches. Approvals and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small-time, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as the most prominent offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-scale flocks, 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-scale, concrete place in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single period somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her compute, about 65% of her age is invested 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 courtroom. One such example involves a religion 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint cases over the past six years. On the day he indicates 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 brand-new equipment 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, it is not unexpected for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss subjects from well-connected parties in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the state of interference in Accra is a public health concern, feigning problems arraying from increased stress levels to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She acquisitions beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off grumbling because of horrors it will affect their reputation 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 sorceres 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 magic you are able to even be punished by society .”

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 chance that racket poses, 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 religions. He personally inspects religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t oblige undue racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t cause us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive bars, 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 gathering had complained about too-loud assistances, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good sound ,” he says.

When religions do not regulate their interference, 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 hurting and sustain” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded shatters in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid out a saga of complaints, letters, meets and failed region court activity, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling acquired both churches 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 delight of their belongings “.

‘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 obstructing on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise constitutes Isaac feel like a bad father-god and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires in a family 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 has started viewing 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 newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you grumble they “ve seen 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 guided 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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