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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, inhabitants are fighting back

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will ingest you ,” screams Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and boons, some tossing their money gives 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 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 the population increases and the city gets noisier, tenants 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 parties complained. He speculates those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who mounts 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 ailments are about churches. Experts and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-minded, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structures- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-scale 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 grievances is taking over her daily work in her small, concrete role in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her think, about 65% of her day is wasted 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 instance 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the local assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint subjects over the past six years. On the 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 church invests in brand-new gear 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 add-on, it is not unexpected for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss specimen from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- although she admits that methods 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 foremen in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local magnitude vigilantes to hijack loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the government of interference in Accra is a public health concern, feigning topics straddling from increased stress grades to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She detects beings are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off complaining because of frights it will affect their reputation or standing in the community.

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

Being labelled 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 witchcraft you can even be punished by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials composed 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 individual 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 inspects faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t realize excessive noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t hold us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some religions taking preemptive steps, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in brand-new paraphernalium and changed 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 resonate ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their racket, going to court can take a lot of time and endeavour due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable sting and woe” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded mars in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid down by a tale of complaints, characters, convenes and miscarried district court act, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

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

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

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

The noise builds Isaac feel like a bad father-god and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour have also begun accommodating very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

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

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

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” complaining, feeling his concern was being legislated 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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