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

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 burn you. Satan will ingest you ,” outcries Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of talkers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and bless, some tossing their money presents from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. According to one estimate, there are approximately 10 faiths 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- 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 degrees after parties deplored. He belief those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who starts 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 noise ailments are about religions. Powers and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structure- as the biggest offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on halls. And despite their small 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 disorders is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single date somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her imagine, about 65% of her duration 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 tribunal. One such lawsuit 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 companionship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint suits over the past six years. On the 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 faith has invested in new paraphernalium 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 addition, “its not” unique for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss clients from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- although she admits that structures 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 confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the district of racket in Accra is a public health concern, altering topics wandering 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 determines people are unaware 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 labelled 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 witchcraft you can even prosecuted and punished by civilization .”

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 is conscious of the peril 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 sees churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t induce undue 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 religions taking preemptive measures, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new paraphernalium and adapted its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud assistances, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good tone ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their racket, going to court can take a lot of hour and exertion due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable anguish and agony” for two inhabitants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded detriments in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a story of complaints, words, gratifies and neglected region court war, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling experienced both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for induce a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet delight of their owneds “.

‘My fear 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 rector who appears intent on keeping on with his advocate irrespective of the complaints.

The noise clears Isaac feel like a bad leader and partner, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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 containing very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

Isaac merely 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 deplore they “ve seen 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 extended 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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