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

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

” If you flout the statutes of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will devour you ,” calls 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 loudspeakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and praises, some convulsing their money offerings from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far away from religious sermons. According to one calculate, there are approximately 10 faiths per sq km, and open-air preach, whether on public transport, in bus terminals or at street intersections, is commonplace.

The population of Greater Accra was about 4 million in 2010, but the city’s rapid growth has meant that count is expected to reach nearly 10 million by 2037. And as the population increases and the city goes 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 parties grumbled. He accepts those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

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

” Not everybody will like what we are doing here- not all know Christ ,” he says.” That is why “were here” .”

While he considers his roadside preaching a faith, he says he eventually am willing to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of noise grievances are about faiths. Authorities and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-scale, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structure- as the most difficult crooks. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-scale flocks, they often apply loudspeakers and musical instruments during worship.

Noise annoys

For Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation force at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, dealing with racket grievances is taking over her daily work in her small, concrete agency in the suburbs of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about interference ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her season is wasted addressed with racket ailments. Most routinely the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or liaise wherever possible, cases often end up in tribunal. One such speciman involves a church that had apparently been set up inside their own families home in a new development on the city’s outskirts.

The pastor says his religion was simply a companionship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a breach of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local meeting, says there has been an increase in interference complaint occurrences over the past six years. On the working day he reasons this particular grumble, “hes having” two others to prosecute.

Gbana is often on the frontline in these cases. She says things can quickly turn ugly when she acts notices.

Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church has invested in brand-new paraphernalium and accommodated its interior design to shorten noise levels. Picture: Stacey Knott

” Some of the pastors will not take it kindly, some will revile ,” Gbana says. Labelling complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In additive, it is not rare for Gbana to face pressure to reject clients from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- although she is cognizant of the fact that methods 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 course of its month-long outlaw on noise-making imposed by boss in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood capacity vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But apart from this annual divulge, the district of racket in Accra is a public health concern, changing concerns ranging from increased stress ranks to discovering loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She finds parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring because of frights it will affect their reputation or standing in the community.

” You may end up being branded as having an evil affect ,” Yirenya-Tawiah says.

Being tagged as sin or a sorceres or wizard can be a serious revile, 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 il” sees as doing sorcery you can even be punished by civilization .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials created a taskforce to duel to Accra’s increasing noise levels, concentrate on education and enforcement.

Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation division at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, Accra. Photo: Stacey Knott

” People have become very interested and aware of the jeopardy that noise constitutes, so now the number of 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 sees religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t realize excess interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t pay us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When religions do not govern their noise, going to see courtroom can take a lot of time and effort due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable sting and suffer” for two tenants in the suburbs of Accra to be awarded mars in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid down by a story of complaints, words, sees and flunked territory tribunal activity, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling found both religions in breach of build rules and regulations. They were penalty for inducing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet enjoyment of their owneds “.

‘My fear is my baby will have a discovering problem’

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his grumbles to local authorities- about a clergyman who appears intent on keeping on with his urging regardless of the complaints.

The noise does Isaac feel like a bad father and partner, he says in the front room of the smaller one-bedroom apartment he hires in a family house in Madina.

When he moved in, in mid-2 016, he saw no problem with the small prayer busines held by his neighbour. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has started impounding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

Isaac only began to complain when his son was birth in early 2018.

” My fear is that my baby will have a sounding 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 grumbling, feeling his concern was being guided between local and national agencies. With his tenancy rental culminating in April, he and his family are counting down the weeks until they move out.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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