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

One-man faiths 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 pierce you. Satan will eat you ,” shouts 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 boons, some tossing their money offerings from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing 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 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 multiplies and the city gets noisier, residents 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 degrees after parties deplored. He belief those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who decides 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 interference objections are about faiths. Experts and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-time, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structure- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-minded 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 grumbles is taking over her daily work in her small, concrete part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her compute, about 65% of her experience is wasted dealing with noise grumbles. 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 suit 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 fellowship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint clients over the past six years. On the day he disagrees 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 new paraphernalium 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, “its not” uncommon for Gbana to face pressure to reject actions from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must reign- although she admits that plans 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 leaders in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood volume vigilantes to abduct loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She meets people 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 branded as having an evil influence ,” Yirenya-Tawiah says.

Being tagged 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 sorcery 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 are conscious of the peril that racket constitutes, 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 faiths. He personally calls faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t represent undue racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t hand us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive steps, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over its first year in brand-new equipment and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud assistances, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good audio ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of epoch and exertion due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable sorenes and torment” for two inhabitants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded injuries in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid down by a epic of complaints, characters, convenes and miscarried territory courtroom activity, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling found both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for cause a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet enjoyment 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 clergyman who appears intent on retaining on with his sermon regardless of the complaints.

The noise manufactures Isaac feel like a bad father and partner, he says in the front 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun regarding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My dread 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 deploring, feeling his concern was being delivered 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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