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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will deplete you ,” shouts Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and approvals, some tossing their fund gives from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. According to one estimate, there are approximately 10 faiths per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of public transport, in bus terminals or at road 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- 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 ranks after parties complained. He accepts those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who fixeds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen 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 disorders are about faiths. Approvals and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-scale, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structure- as “the worlds biggest” crooks. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on porches. And despite their tiny 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 grievances is taking over her daily work in her small-time, concrete part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her gues, about 65% of her age is invested dealing with noise grumbles. Most often 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 instance 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 companionship of his family members and brands 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 cases over the past six years. On the day he insists 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 has invested 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 add-on, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject specimen from well-connected people in the community.

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

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

She detects parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring because of dreads 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 witchcraft you are able to even punished appropriately by civilization .”

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 is conscious of the jeopardy that racket 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 churches. He personally calls religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t acquire excess interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t demonstrate us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive quantifies, 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 administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good racket ,” he says.

When churches 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” indefinable ache and torment” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded detriments in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a epic of complaints, characters, fits and flunked 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 services despite the complaints.

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

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his disorders to local authorities- about a clergyman who appears intent on keeping on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise forms Isaac feel like a bad father and husband, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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 has started regarding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My suspicion is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you deplore they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being overtook 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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