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‘ If you complain they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious interference question

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 exhaust you ,” shouts Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of orators amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and backings, some tossing their fund presents 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 public transport, in bus terminals or at superhighway 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- 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 grades after parties deplored. He imagines those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who specifies up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors 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 interference grievances are about churches. Experts and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- tiny, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structures- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on porches. And despite their small 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 objections is taking over her daily work in her small-scale, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daylight somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her epoch 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint cases over the past six years. On the working day he argues 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 suffices notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion has invested in brand-new gear 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 add-on, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject occasions from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- 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 interference 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 neighbourhood capacity vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the position of noise in Accra is a public health concern, affecting topics arraying from increased stress degrees to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She acquires beings are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring because of fears 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 voodoo 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 punished appropriately by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials established 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 chance that interference 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 faiths. He personally sees faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t attain excessive racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t impart us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When churches do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of time and endeavour due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable ache and agony” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairments in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid down by a saga of complaints, characters, convenes and failed district court activity, as well as a audaciou re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling determined 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 ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet relish of their belongings “.

‘My fright 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 sermon regardless of the complaints.

The noise constitutes Isaac feel like a bad father-god and partner, 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 comprising very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My panic is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you complain 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 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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