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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will deplete 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 load of speakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and supports, some tossing their fund offerings 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 public transport, in bus terminals or at superhighway 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- ensuing 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 people deplored. He guesses 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 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 interference grievances are about religions. Experts and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structure- as the biggest offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on foyers. And despite their tiny 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 ailments is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single date somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her computation, about 65% of her season 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 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 companionship 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 neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint lawsuits over the past six years. On the day he quarrels 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 church has invested in brand-new gear 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” peculiar for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss examples from well-connected people in the community.

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

One yearly respite from the noise 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 hijack loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the government of interference in Accra is a public health concern, affecting editions ranging from increased stress stages to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She ascertains parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over deploring because of fears it will affect their honour or standing in the community.

” You may end up being branded as having an evil influence ,” Yirenya-Tawiah says.

Being labelled as evil or a sorceres or hotshot 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 composed 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 hazard 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 religions. He personally inspects faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t stir excess racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t afford us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive assess, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which is an investment over the years in brand-new material 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 resound ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 rule laid down by a story of complaints, notes, fulfills and neglected territory courtroom war, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling knew both faiths in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for cause a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless indifference” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet gratification of their properties “.

‘My fear 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 pastor who appears intent on remaining on with his sermon regardless of the complaints.

The noise prepares Isaac feel like a bad father and husband, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases 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. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour had already begun harbouring 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 child 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 deploring, feeling his concern was being overtook between local and national agencies. 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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