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

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will ingest you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of talkers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and blessings, some tossing their coin presents 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 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, 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 ranks after beings deplored. He guesses those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who fixeds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen and their loudspeakers to spread the gospel. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Not everyone is 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 grievances are about churches. Dominions and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- tiny, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structure- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-minded gatherings, 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 day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckoning, about 65% of her duration is invested dealing with noise objections. Most often the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in tribunal. One such occasion 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint actions 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 suffices notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith 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 add-on, it is not odd for Gbana to face pressure to reject subjects from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- although she admits that plans 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 directors in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local capacity vigilantes to grab loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She detects people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling 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 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 magic you can even be punished by civilization .”

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 danger 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 inspects churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t realise undue racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t dedicate us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When faiths do not regulate their interference, going to court can take a lot of time and try due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable ache and suffer” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairs in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 rule laid down by a story of complaints, letters, rallies and flunked district tribunal war, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling felt both religions 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 enjoyment of their belongings “.

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his complaints to local authorities- about a pastor who appears intent on maintaining on with his sermon irrespective of the complaints.

The noise constructs Isaac feel like a bad papa and partner, 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour had already begun harbouring very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My horror is that my babe 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 “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being delivered between local and national agencies. 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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