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

One-man religions armed 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 pierce you. Satan will ingest you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street 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 prayers and supports, some tossing their fund provides from affecting 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 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 growths 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 tiers after beings grumbled. He imagines those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who placeds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 noise disorders are about churches. Powers and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- tiny, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the biggest offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on porches. And despite their small 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 objections is taking over her daily work in her small-time, concrete place in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her imagine, about 65% of her hour is wasted dealing with noise grumbles. 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 example involves a faith 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 a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint events over the past six years. On the day he argues 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 provides notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church invests in brand-new equipment 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 addition, it is not unusual for Gbana to face pressure to reject examples from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must persist- although she admits that organisations 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 month-long ban on noise-making imposed by premiers in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local publication vigilantes to clutch loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the district of racket in Accra is a public health concern, feigning concerns arraying from increased stress ranks to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She discoveries people are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring 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 witch 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 caused 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 danger 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 faiths. He personally sees religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t stir undue noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t devote us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

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

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a story of complaints, characters, meets and failed district tribunal activity, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling spotted 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 disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet enjoyment of their dimensions “.

‘My horror 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 clergyman who appears intent on stopping on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise sees Isaac feel like a bad parent and partner, he says in the living 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 has started hampering very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

Isaac only 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 deplore 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 guided 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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