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

One-man faiths armed 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 pierce you. Satan will consume 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 load of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and blessings, some tossing their coin offerings 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 modes of 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 growths 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 levels after beings deplored. He feels those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who starts up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 ailments are about churches. Experts and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-time, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structure- as “the worlds biggest” wrongdoers. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-time 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 ailments is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete bureau in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculate, about 65% of her age is spent dealing with noise grumbles. 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 occurrence 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 fellowship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint specimen over the past six years. On the working day he insists 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 invests in brand-new material 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, it is not rare for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss occasions from well-connected parties in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the regime of noise in Accra is a public health concern, feigning questions straddling 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 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 society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials developed 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 threat that racket 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 churches. He personally calls faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t establish undue interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t return 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 gear and accommodated its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the congregation had complained about too-loud works, says executive 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 experience and effort due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable agony and suffer” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded mars in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 rule laid down by a saga of complaints, letters, convenes and failed region courtroom war, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling located both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for make a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet amusement of their properties “.

‘My suspicion 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 obstructing on with his evangelism regardless of the complaints.

The noise manufactures Isaac feel like a bad parent and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents 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 evenings together with 10 worshippers.

Isaac only 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 grumble they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up grumbling, feeling his concern was being overtook between local and national organizations. 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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