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‘ If you deplore they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket problem

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will ingest you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and backings, some tossing their coin offerings from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. According 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 additions and the city gets noisier, residents 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 beings grumbled. He speculates those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who determines 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 racket grumbles are about churches. Approvals and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-minded, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the biggest culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-minded 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 disorders is taking over her daily work in her small-scale, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her age is invested dealing with noise objections. Most frequently 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 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 fellowship of his family members and brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint specimen 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion has invested in brand-new paraphernalium and adapted 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” peculiar for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss instances from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must persist- although she admits that arrangements 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 directors in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local publication vigilantes to impound loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She acquires people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring because of horrors it will affect their reputation 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 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 can even punished appropriately by culture .”

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 hazard 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 faiths. He personally inspects religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t see excessive racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t hand us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When churches do not regulate their racket, 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 hurting and woe” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairs in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a tale of complaints, notes, sees and failed region tribunal act, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling met both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for cause a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet joy of their dimensions “.

‘My suspicion 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 clergyman who appears intent on maintaining on with his proclaim regardless of the complaints.

The noise clears 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun bracing very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My suspicion is that my child 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” deploring, feeling his concern was being overtook between local and national business. 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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