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

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will exhaust you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of speakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and blessings, some tossing their fund provides from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. 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 street 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 increases and the city gets noisier, inhabitants 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 people complained. He speculates those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

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

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

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 ailments are about faiths. Dominions and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structures- as the most prominent delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on foyers. And despite their tiny 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 grumbles is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete role in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckoning, about 65% of her age is invested dealing with noise ailments. Most routinely 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 lawsuit involves a religion that has clearly 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 assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint instances over the past six years. On the working day he reasons 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 acts notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church has invested in new paraphernalium and changed 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 odd for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss instances from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- although she admits that arrangements 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 managers 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 government of noise in Accra is a public health concern, altering problems arraying 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 catches people are not aware 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 influence ,” Yirenya-Tawiah says.

Being tagged as evil or a sorceres 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 can even punished appropriately by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials generated 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 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 inspects faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t reach 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 churches taking preemptive evaluates, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new material and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud assistances, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good racket ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 decree laid out a epic of complaints, notes, rallies and neglected district courtroom act, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling found both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for stimulate a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet delight of their properties “.

‘My dread 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 keeping on with his preaching irrespective of the complaints.

The noise establishes Isaac feel like a bad leader and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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 impounding very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My suspicion 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 grumbling, 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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