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‘ If you complain they “ve seen you” as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket problem

One-man faiths forearmed 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 burn you. Satan will eat you ,” screams Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street 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 prayers and praises, some tossing their money gives from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. According 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, 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 people deplored. He guesses those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who changes 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 racket disorders are about churches. Approvals and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-time, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structure- as the most prominent culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on porches. And despite their tiny parishes, 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, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daytime somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckon, about 65% of her hour is spent dealing with noise complaints. Most routinely 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 client 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 fellowship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint suits over the past six years. On the working 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 provides notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith invests in new paraphernalium 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 extraordinary for Gbana to face pressure to reject suits from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- although she admits that organisations 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 foremen in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood capacity vigilantes to impound loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the position of racket in Accra is a public health concern, altering issues 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 catches beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off deploring 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 labelled as evil or a voodoo or hotshot 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 magic you can even be punished by culture .”

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

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

When religions do not regulate their interference, going to court can take a lot of time and attempt due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable tendernes and sustain” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded damages in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 rule laid out a story of complaints, letters, fits and flunked district courtroom activity, as well as a audaciou re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling spotted both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet pleasure of their properties “.

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his grumbles to local authorities- about a rector who appears intent on continuing on with his evangelism regardless of the complaints.

The noise constructs Isaac feel like a bad father and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour had already begun comprising very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My anxiety is that my baby 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 grumbling, feeling his concern was being overtook 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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