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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will expend you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of speakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and praises, 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 churches per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of 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 raises and the city gets noisier, occupants 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 stages after people deplored. He imagines those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

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

” Not everyone is 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 faiths. Experts and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structure- as “the worlds biggest” sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on halls. 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 grumbles is taking over her daily work in her small, concrete role in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daytime somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her think, about 65% of her age is expended dealing with noise objections. Most frequently 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 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 fellowship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the local assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint specimen over the past six years. On the 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 provides 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, “its not” unusual for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss subjects from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must reign- although she admits that organisations 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 honchoes in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local capacity vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She locates people are not aware 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 labelled 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 magic you are able to even punished appropriately by civilization .”

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 aware of the danger 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 churches. He personally calls religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t draw excessive interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t dedicate 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 its first year in brand-new paraphernalium and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the parish had complained about too-loud business, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good phone ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their interference, going to court can take a lot of occasion and try due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable pain and suffering” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded injuries in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid down by a story of complaints, letters, rallies and neglected territory court act, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling ascertained both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disdain” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet enjoyment of their properties “.

‘My dread 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 obstructing on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise manufactures Isaac feel like a bad father-god and husband, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour has started harbouring 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 suspicion is that my babe 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 complaining, feeling his concern was being passed 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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