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‘ If you deplore they “ve seen you” as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise difficulty

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will devour you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of speakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and bless, some tossing their coin offerings from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing 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, inhabitants are becoming more willing to fight back- developing 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 complained. He believes those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

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

” Not everybody will 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 grumbles are about churches. Governments and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-minded, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as “the worlds biggest” sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on halls. And despite their small-scale 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-scale, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single date somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her suppose, about 65% of her hour is wasted dealing with noise grumbles. Most regularly 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 subject 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 religion. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occasions over the past six years. On the working 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 gear and adapted 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 clients from well-connected people in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the territory of interference in Accra is a public health concern, altering issues wandering 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 spots people are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling 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 labelled as evil or a witch 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 witchcraft 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 aware of the hazard that noise 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 churches. He personally visits churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t oblige undue racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t throw us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive appraises, 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 congregation had complained about too-loud assistances, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good resound ,” 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 pain and suffering” for two inhabitants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairs in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 rule laid out a story of complaints, characters, gratifies and failed territory court activity, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling determined both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for cause a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless indifference” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet joy of their dimensions “.

‘My suspicion 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 clergyman who appears intent on saving on with his urge regardless of the complaints.

The noise stimulates Isaac feel like a bad father-god and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun propping very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

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

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up deploring, feeling his concern was being transferred 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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