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‘ If you deplore 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, occupants are fighting back

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will down you ,” shouts Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of orators enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and praises, 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 religions per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on 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, 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 levels after people deplored. He conceives those who complain about the interference 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 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 noise ailments are about faiths. Dominions and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as the biggest delinquents. 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 grievances is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daytime somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her compute, about 65% of her period 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 courtroom. One such subject 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 firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint instances over the past six years. On the day he indicates 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 faith has invested in brand-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 insult ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In addition, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss suits from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- although she has acknowledged that structures need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with each other better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the interference 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 loudnes vigilantes to seize loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She meets parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining because of anxieties it will affect their reputation 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 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 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 threat that noise constitutes, 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 faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t establish excess noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t commit us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When faiths 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 sting and agony” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded detriments in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid out a saga of complaints, characters, meets and failed territory court act, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling discovered 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 disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet relish of their dimensions “.

‘My horror 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 maintaining on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise acquires Isaac feel like a bad papa and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases 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 has started maintaining 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 anxiety is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you grumble 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 elapsed 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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