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

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will consume you ,” shouts Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and boons, some tossing their money gives from moving 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 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- 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 parties grumbled. He speculates those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who specifies up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors 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 interference grumbles are about religions. Governments and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small-minded, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structure- as “the worlds biggest” wrongdoers. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on halls. And despite their small-minded 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 tiny, concrete place in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her figuring, about 65% of her hour is wasted dealing with noise grievances. 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 subject 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 fellowship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint examples over the past six years. On the working day he quarrels 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church invests in new material and adapted 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 additive, “its not” peculiar for Gbana to face pressure to reject actions from well-connected people in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the commonwealth of interference in Accra is a public health concern, affecting editions straying from increased stress stages 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 complaining because of fears it will affect their reputation 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, secretaries general 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 culture .”

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 jeopardy 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 religions. He personally sees faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t induce undue noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t afford us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When faiths do not regulate their interference, going to court can take a lot of experience and exertion due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable agony and suffering” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded detriments in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid out a saga of complaints, letters, fulfills and failed region tribunal act, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling find both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for make a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless indifference” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet gratification of their properties “.

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

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

The noise does Isaac feel like a bad father-god 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 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 had already begun nursing very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My dread is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you grumble 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 transferred 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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