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

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

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

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. According to one estimate, there are approximately 10 religions per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on public transport, in bus terminals or at road 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- resulting 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 ranks after parties grumbled. He imagines those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who gives 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 racket disorders are about faiths. Dominions and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-minded, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the most prominent convicts. They spring up in backyards, unfinished buildings, under trees and on halls. And despite their small 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 grumbles is taking over her daily work in her small-scale, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daylight somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her think, about 65% of her meter is spent dealing with noise objections. Most regularly 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 event involves a religion 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occasions 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 suffices notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion 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 add-on, it is not rare for Gbana to face pressure to reject lawsuits from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- 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 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 local publication vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She catches beings 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 labelled as evil or a sorceres 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 sorcery you can even be punished by society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials formed 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 poses, 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 calls religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t become undue noise.” 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 meters, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which is an investment over the years in new equipment and accommodated its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the flock had complained about too-loud works, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good seem ,” he says.

When religions do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of era and effort due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable agony and agony” 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 verdict laid out a saga of complaints, words, sessions and neglected territory courtroom act, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling met both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for stimulate a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet joy 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 deterring on with his evangelism regardless of the complaints.

The noise establishes Isaac feel like a bad leader and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases 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 has started containing very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fright is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you complain 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 delivered 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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