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‘ If you deplore they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise difficulty

One-man churches forearmed 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 pierce you. Satan will destroy you ,” calls Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of talkers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and backings, some tossing their fund gives from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. 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 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, residents 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 levels after people grumbled. He belief 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 clergymen and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 noise objections are about faiths. Experts and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-minded, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structure- as the biggest wrongdoers. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on foyers. 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 complaints is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckoning, about 65% of her era is invested dealing with noise objections. Most routinely 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 instance 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 companionship 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 meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint specimen 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 serves notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion has invested in 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 insult ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In additive, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss specimen from well-connected parties 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 racket 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 abduct loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She experiences parties are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring because of frights 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 sorcery you are able to even punished appropriately by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials created 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 danger 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 religions. He personally inspects religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t establish excessive interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t pass us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When religions 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” unspeakable ache and bear” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded shatters in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 rule laid down by a tale of complaints, words, gathers and miscarried district courtroom war, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

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

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

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

The noise induces Isaac feel like a bad leader and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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 harbouring very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fright is that my child 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 gave up grumbling, feeling his concern was being legislated 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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