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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will expend you ,” hollers Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and praises, some tossing their coin offerings from travelling cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 churches per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of 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, tenants are becoming more willing to fight back- ensuing 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 heights after beings complained. He speculates those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who laids up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors 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 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 faiths. Approvals and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small-scale, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the most prominent offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on foyers. And despite their tiny parishes, 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, concrete bureau in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her computation, about 65% of her experience is wasted dealing with noise complaints. Most often 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 church 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 labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the neighbourhood assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint suits 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 helps notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion has invested in new material and changed 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, “its not” peculiar for Gbana to face pressure to reject lawsuits from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- 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 noise comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by leaders in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood magnitude vigilantes to abduct loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She discovers people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off grumbling because of fears it will affect their honour or stand in the community.

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

Being tagged as evil or a witch or wizard 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 magic you can even punished appropriately by culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials developed 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 calls religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t represent excessive interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t contribute us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When faiths 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 anguish and woe” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded detriments in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid down by a tale of complaints, notes, fits and miscarried district tribunal act, as well as a shameles 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 faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for cause a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet pleasure of their belongings “.

‘My dread 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 preserving on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise stimulates Isaac feel like a bad father-god and spouse, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents 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 maintaining very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My dread 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” complaining, feeling his concern was being overtook 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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