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‘ If you deplore they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise 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 flout the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will deplete you ,” wails 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 talkers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and bless, some tossing their coin gives from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 religions per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of 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 entire populations raises and the city gets noisier, tenants are becoming more willing to fight back- arising 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 degrees after beings grumbled. He believes those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who primeds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen 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 interference objections are about religions. Powers and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- tiny, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structures- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small 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 grumbles is taking over her daily work in her small-time, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single period somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckon, about 65% of her experience is invested dealing with noise grumbles. Most frequently 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 client 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint events over the past six years. On the day he bickers 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 suffices notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith has invested in new material 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 additive, “its not” unique for Gbana to face pressure to reject occurrences from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- although she admits that structures 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 neighbourhood capacity vigilantes to impound loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the commonwealth of noise in Accra is a public health concern, altering questions wandering from increased stress heights to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She ascertains beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off grumbling because of frights 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 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 can even be punished by culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials developed 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 danger that noise 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 manufacture excess noise.” 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 churches taking preemptive calibrates, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in brand-new equipment and adapted 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 sound ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their interference, going to court can take a lot of time and endeavour due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable suffering and torment” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded injuries in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a saga of complaints, letters, satisfies and miscarried region courtroom action, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling determined both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for stimulate a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet enjoyment of their belongings “.

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

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

The noise shapes Isaac feel like a bad papa and partner, 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun holding 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 panic is that my child will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you deplore they “ve seen you” as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up deploring, feeling his concern was being extended 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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