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‘ If you deplore they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise difficulty

One-man religions armed 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 down you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of orators enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and supports, some tossing their fund presents from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 faiths per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on 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 the population increases and the city gets noisier, residents 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 grades after people complained. He accepts those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who locateds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen 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 objections are about faiths. Dominions and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the biggest culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on halls. 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 complaints is taking over her daily work in her small, concrete bureau in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her computation, about 65% of her time is wasted dealing with noise complaints. Most often 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 speciman involves a faith 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 fellowship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint actions over the past six years. On the working day he argues 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 church invests 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 revile ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In additive, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject occurrences from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- although she admits that organisations 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 magnitude vigilantes to impound loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the position of racket in Accra is a public health concern, altering issues straying 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 meets people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling because of fears 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 sorceres 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 sorcery you are able to even punished appropriately 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 is conscious of the jeopardy 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 form excess noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t render us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When religions 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 endure” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairments in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid out a saga of complaints, notes, sees and failed district court act, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling obtained both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for induce a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disdain” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet delight of their dimensions “.

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

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

The noise realizes Isaac feel like a bad leader and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents 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 have also begun regarding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fear is that my baby will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you complain 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 legislated 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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