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

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will deplete you ,” calls Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and praises, some tossing their money 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 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, inhabitants 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 grades after parties deplored. He belief those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who laids up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen and their loudspeakers to spread the gospel. 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 faiths. Governments and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structure- as the most prominent culprits. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-scale 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 disorders is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete place in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daytime somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckoning, about 65% of her duration is invested dealing with noise disorders. Most regularly the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in courtroom. One such case 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 brands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the local assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occurrences over the past six years. On the 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 suffices notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion has invested in brand-new equipment 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, “its not” unique for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss subjects from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must predominate- although she admits that methods 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 directors 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 regime of noise in Accra is a public health concern, changing concerns straddling from increased stress levels to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She acquires beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling 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 sorceres 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 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 peril that racket 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 visits churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t prepare excess noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t hand us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive calibrates, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which is an investment over the years in new equipment and adapted its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud works, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good clang ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 rule laid down by a story of complaints, words, gratifies and neglected district courtroom action, as well as a brazen-faced re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling noted 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 disdain” 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 grievances to local authorities- about a clergyman who appears intent on remaining on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise shapes Isaac feel like a bad father and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires in their own families 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 had already begun holding 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 anxiety is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you deplore they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” grumbling, 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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