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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious interference difficulty

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will deplete you ,” calls Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and supports, some tossing their fund offerings from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 religions 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 the population increases 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 stages after people grumbled. He belief those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who situates 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 .”

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

” Every single daytime somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her compute, about 65% of her era is expended 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 courtroom. One such subject involves a faith 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 fellowship of his family members and brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the neighbourhood meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint lawsuits over the past six years. On the working day he disagrees 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 religion has invested in brand-new gear and adapted 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 add-on, it is not uncommon for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss specimen from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must persist- 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 foremen in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood magnitude vigilantes to grab loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the position of noise in Accra is a public health concern, altering concerns straddling 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 learns beings are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over complaining because of suspicions 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 tagged 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 can even punished appropriately 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 peril 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 inspects churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t move excess racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t make us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive sets, 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 flock had complained about too-loud services, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good audio ,” he says.

When religions do not regulate their racket, going to court can take a lot of season and endeavor due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable hurting and woe” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded shatters in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a saga of complaints, words, convenes and failed region tribunal war, as well as a audaciou re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling experienced 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 happiness of their belongings “.

‘My fear 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 pastor who appears intent on retaining on with his preach irrespective of the complaints.

The noise builds Isaac feel like a bad father and spouse, he says in the living 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour has started bracing very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fear is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you deplore they “ve seen you” as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being elapsed between local and national business. 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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