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‘ If you complain they see 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, inhabitants are fighting back

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will expend you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of orators amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and backings, some tossing their money presents from moving 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 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, occupants 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 heights after beings complained. He believes those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who creates up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. 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 interference grievances are about faiths. Permissions and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small-time, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on halls. 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 ailments is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single date somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her compute, about 65% of her experience is expended 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 tribunal. One such event 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 fellowship 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 local assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint clients 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 invests in new paraphernalium and accommodated its interior design to reduce noise levels. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Some of the pastors will not take it kindly, some will revile ,” 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 parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- although she has acknowledged that arrangements 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 honchoes in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood publication vigilantes to grab loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She ascertains people are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off 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 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 witchcraft you are able to even prosecuted and punished by civilization .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials created 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 is conscious of the danger that interference 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 faiths. He personally inspects religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t build undue racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t establish us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive amounts, 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 flock had complained about too-loud business, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good reverberate ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 ruling laid out a story of complaints, characters, rallies and flunked territory court activity, as well as a audaciou re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties 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 stimulate a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet enjoyment of their dimensions “.

‘My suspicion 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 rector who appears intent on continuing on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise stirs Isaac feel like a bad father-god 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 here, 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 regarding 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 fear is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you complain 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 legislated 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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