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

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will exhaust you ,” hollers 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 loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and supports, some tossing their money provides from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. 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 entire populations multiplies and the city gets noisier, residents 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 deplored. He accepts those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who organizes up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen 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 objections are about religions. Permissions and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small-time, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as “the worlds biggest” offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-minded 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 tiny, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daylight somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculate, about 65% of her meter is wasted dealing with noise ailments. Most often the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in court. One such instance 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 religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint examples over the past six years. On the working day he debates 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 serves notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith has invested in new material and accommodated 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, “its not” uncommon for Gbana to face pressure to reject suits from well-connected beings in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the position of interference in Accra is a public health concern, feigning editions straying from increased stress heights to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She experiences people are unaware 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 tagged 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 magic you can even punished appropriately by culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials formed 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 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 religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t obligate excess noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t generate us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive calibrates, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which is an investment over the years in brand-new material and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the congregation had complained about too-loud business, says executive 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 era and exertion due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable suffering and sustain” for two occupants 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, notes, convenes and neglected region courtroom activity, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling find 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 gratification of their dimensions “.

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

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

The noise shapes Isaac feel like a bad father and partner, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun holding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

Isaac simply 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 complain they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up complaining, feeling his concern was being overtook 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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