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

One-man religions forearmed 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 burn you. Satan will ingest you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of speakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and backings, some tossing their coin gives 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 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- 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 beings complained. He imagines those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who locateds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors 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 noise grumbles are about religions. Experts and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the biggest convicts. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on halls. And despite their tiny congregations, 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 small-scale, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her duration is wasted dealing with noise objections. 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 case involves a faith 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint suits over the past six years. On the working 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church invests in brand-new equipment 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 addition, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss actions from well-connected people in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the district of noise in Accra is a public health concern, affecting issues wandering 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 notes people are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off complaining because of fears it will affect their honour 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 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 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 inspects faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t make excess racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t demonstrate us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive evaluates, 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 flock had complained about too-loud business, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good clang ,” he says.

When religions do not regulate their racket, going to court can take a lot of time and attempt due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable ache and sustain” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded shatterings in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid down by a saga of complaints, letters, gratifies and failed district court action, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

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

‘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 pastor who appears intent on preserving on with his urge irrespective of the complaints.

The noise does Isaac feel like a bad parent 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 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 have also begun regarding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

Isaac exclusively 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 deplore they “ve seen you” as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being elapsed 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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