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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious interference difficulty

One-man churches 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 destroy 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 load of speakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and praises, some tossing their coin gives from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 churches per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of 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- ensuing 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 stages after people deplored. He guesses those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who adjusts up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors and their loudspeakers to spread the gospel. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Not everyone is 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 complaints are about churches. Authorities and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-minded, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on halls. And despite their small-scale 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 objections is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete role in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single period somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her hour is invested dealing with noise ailments. Most frequently the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in tribunal. One such client 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 fellowship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the local forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint subjects over the past six years. On the day he quarrels 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 acts notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church has invested in new equipment 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 add-on, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss actions from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- although she has acknowledged that arrangements 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 foremen in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood volume vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the commonwealth of racket in Accra is a public health concern, affecting concerns wandering from increased stress degrees to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She catches beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining because of panics 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 voodoo 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 can even punished appropriately by culture .”

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

There are some churches taking preemptive assess, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new equipment and accommodated 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 audio ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their interference, 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” unspeakable agony and endure” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded detriments in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid out a tale of complaints, words, rallies and miscarried district courtroom war, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

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

‘My dread 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 remaining on with his proclaim regardless of the complaints.

The noise shapes Isaac feel like a bad parent and spouse, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires in their own families house in Madina.

When he moved in, 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 deeming very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fright is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you complain 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 delivered 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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