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

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will exhaust you ,” screams Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of speakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and favors, 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 religions per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on 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 entire populations raises and the city gets noisier, inhabitants are becoming more willing to fight back- arising 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 people deplored. He guesses those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

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

” Not everybody 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. Governments and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structure- as “the worlds biggest” crooks. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-scale 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 complaints is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete bureau in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daytime somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her gues, about 65% of her meter is spent dealing with noise grievances. Most routinely 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 suit involves a religion 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occasions 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 provides 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, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss clients from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- although she has acknowledged that structures need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with each other better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the interference comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by boss in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local volume vigilantes to seize loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the country of noise in Accra is a public health concern, altering issues arraying 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 detects beings 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 voodoo 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 sorcery you are able to even be punished by culture .”

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 hazard that noise 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 visits faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t draw excess racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t render us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some religions taking preemptive steps, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new paraphernalium and adapted its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the congregation had complained about too-loud business, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good voice ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 rule laid down by a story of complaints, notes, satisfies and flunked district tribunal activity, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling saw both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless dismis” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet delight of their belongings “.

‘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 pastor who appears intent on obstructing on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise becomes Isaac feel like a bad leader and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has started maintaining very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My dread is that my child will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you complain they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” complaining, feeling his concern was being overtook between local and national agencies. 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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