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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise question

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will destroy you ,” hollers Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road 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 devotions and backings, some tossing their coin provides from proceeding cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. 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 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 grows and the city gets noisier, residents are becoming more willing to fight back- arising 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 deplored. He conceives those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who determines up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors 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 objections are about faiths. Permissions and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the most prominent delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on halls. And despite their small-time 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 disorders is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete place in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her imagine, about 65% of her era is expended dealing with noise objections. Most regularly 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 occurrence involves a religion that would certainly 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 belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occurrences over the past six years. On the 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 helps notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith invests in brand-new paraphernalium 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 extraordinary for Gbana to face pressure to reject instances from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must persist- although she has acknowledged that structures 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 grab loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the regime of noise in Accra is a public health concern, affecting concerns straying from increased stress heights to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She detects parties are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring because of fears 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 made 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 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 churches. He personally sees faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t realise excess interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t commit us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive quantities, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new gear and accommodated its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud services, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good tone ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their interference, 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” indescribable suffering and suffer” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded injuries in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid out a story of complaints, notes, sessions and failed territory court action, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling spotted both churches 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 belongings “.

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

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

The noise forms Isaac feel like a bad leader and spouse, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires in their own families house in Madina.

When he moved here, 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 nursing 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 fear is that my child 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 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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