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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 bite you. Satan will eat you ,” wails 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 enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and favors, some tossing their money gives 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 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 growths 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 ranks after beings grumbled. He believes those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who lists up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 noise objections are about churches. Authorities and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structure- as “the worlds biggest” offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-time 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-minded, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculate, about 65% of her experience is wasted dealing with noise complaints. Most often 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 speciman involves a church 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 belief. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint clients 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church 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 revile ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In add-on, “its not” peculiar for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss cases from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- 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 leaders in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local volume vigilantes to grab loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She notes beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining because of fears 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 labelled as evil or a sorceres 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 are able to even punished appropriately by culture .”

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 threat that interference poses, so now the 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 sees churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t realize excessive racket.” 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 faiths taking preemptive measures, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new material and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the congregation had complained about too-loud works, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good tone ,” he says.

When churches 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” indefinable ache and suffering” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairments in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid out a epic of complaints, words, finds and miscarried territory tribunal war, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling met both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet delight of their owneds “.

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his complaints to local authorities- about a pastor who appears intent on remaining on with his urge regardless of the complaints.

The noise manufactures Isaac feel like a bad leader and partner, 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has started deeming very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My suspicion is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you grumble they see 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 overtook 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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