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

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will down you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and praises, some tossing their fund presents from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. 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, occupants are becoming more willing to fight back- arising 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 people complained. He belief those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

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

” Not everybody 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 objections are about churches. Permissions and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small-time, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structure- as “the worlds biggest” crooks. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-scale 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 complaints is taking over her daily work in her small-time, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her gues, about 65% of her occasion is invested dealing with noise disorders. 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 occasion 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint suits over the past six years. On the working day he bickers 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 religion has invested 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 addition, “its not” unexpected for Gbana to face pressure to reject examples from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- although she has acknowledged that plans need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with each other better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the interference 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 local loudnes vigilantes to seize loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the district of interference in Accra is a public health concern, changing problems ranging from increased stress grades to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She acquires parties are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off grumbling because of fears it will affect their honour 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 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 prosecuted and 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 threat 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 sees churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t realise undue noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t pass us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When churches do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of age and try due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indefinable tendernes and suffering” for two occupants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairs in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid out a saga of complaints, letters, satisfies and failed region tribunal activity, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling procured 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 amusement of their owneds “.

‘My horror 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 deterring on with his preaching irrespective of the complaints.

The noise does 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour has started harbouring very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My suspicion is that my newborn 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 “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being elapsed between local and national organizations. 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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