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

One-man faiths forearmed 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 pierce you. Satan will deplete you ,” outcries 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 loudspeakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and backings, some tossing their money presents 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, 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 levels after beings deplored. He imagines those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

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

” Not everyone 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 disorders are about churches. Dominions and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-scale, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as the biggest convicts. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on halls. And despite their small 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 grievances is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her period is spent dealing with noise grievances. Most regularly the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in court. One such event involves a religion that would certainly 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint suits over the past six years. On the day he debates 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 helps notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith has invested in brand-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 insult ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In additive, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject cases from well-connected people in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the regime of racket in Accra is a public health concern, feigning problems arraying 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 acquisitions parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining because of fears it will affect their honour 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 can even punished appropriately by society .”

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 chance that noise 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 visits religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t stimulate excess racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t give 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 paraphernalium and adapted its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the congregation had complained about too-loud works, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good resound ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their racket, going to court can take a lot of time and struggle due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable anguish and woe” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded damages in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid out a epic of complaints, words, gratifies and flunked region courtroom activity, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling find both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for make a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet amusement of their dimensions “.

‘My anxiety 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 rector who appears intent on stopping on with his sermon irrespective of the complaints.

The noise obligates Isaac feel like a bad father-god and husband, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents in a family 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 has started containing very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My horror is that my babe 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 deploring, feeling his concern was being extended between local and national business. 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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