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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise trouble

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will down you ,” outcries 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 speakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and bless, some tossing their money presents 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, occupants are becoming more willing to fight back- resulting 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 grumbled. He believes those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who defines up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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. Permissions and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-time, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structure- as the biggest sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on halls. And despite their tiny 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-time, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckon, about 65% of her meter 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 tribunal. One such client involves a religion 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, lawyer for the local meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occurrences over the past six years. On the working day he reasons 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 religion has invested in brand-new paraphernalium 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 reject clients from well-connected people in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the district of interference in Accra is a public health concern, altering issues straddling from increased stress grades to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She locates parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off grumbling because of dreads 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 labelled 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 magic you can even be punished by civilization .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials made 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 hazard that interference 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 sees faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t clear excessive noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t sacrifice us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When religions do not regulate their racket, 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” indescribable anguish and torment” for two inhabitants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded damages in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 rule laid down by a saga of complaints, notes, sees and failed territory tribunal activity, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling received both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for stimulate a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless indifference” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet amusement of their properties “.

‘My fear 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 maintaining on with his proclaim regardless of the complaints.

The noise forms Isaac feel like a bad father-god and spouse, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases in a family 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 has started harbouring 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 newborn 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” grumbling, feeling his concern was being passed between local and national bureaux. 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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