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‘ If you complain they “ve seen you” as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket question

One-man religions armed 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 eat you ,” calls 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 enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and boons, some tossing their fund 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 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, occupants 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 parties complained. He accepts those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who makes 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 interference grievances are about faiths. Governments and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structure- as the biggest wrongdoers. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-time 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 grumbles is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete role in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single date somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her figuring, about 65% of her era is spent dealing with noise disorders. Most regularly 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 occasion 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 companionship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint cases 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church invests in new equipment 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 suits from well-connected people in the community.

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

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

She hears beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off deploring because of dreads it will affect their honour 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 voodoo 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 sorcery you can even be punished by society .”

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 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 faiths. He personally visits religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t acquire excess racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t generate 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 brand-new material and adapted its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the flock had complained about too-loud services, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good music ,” he says.

When faiths 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” indescribable hurting and endure” for two inhabitants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairs in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid down by a story of complaints, notes, satisfies and failed territory courtroom war, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling felt 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 indifference” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet delight of their owneds “.

‘My dread 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 pastor who appears intent on impeding on with his urge regardless of the complaints.

The noise obliges Isaac feel like a bad father and husband, he says in the living 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun harbouring very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My horror is that my babe 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 complaining, feeling his concern was being extended 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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