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

One-man religions armed 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 expend you ,” screams Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and praises, some tossing their fund provides from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. 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 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, tenants 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 heights after beings deplored. He conceives those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who laids up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors 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 interference complaints are about churches. Approvals and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- tiny, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as “the worlds biggest” offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-time congregations, 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 grievances is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single date somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckon, about 65% of her duration is wasted dealing with noise complaints. 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 speciman 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 firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a violation of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint lawsuits over the past six years. On the day he insists 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 dishes notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith has invested in brand-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 addition, it is not extraordinary for Gbana to face pressure to reject clients from well-connected parties in the community.

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

But aside from this annual break, the government of interference in Accra is a public health concern, feigning issues straddling 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 spots beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off complaining because of fears it will affect their reputation 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 witch 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 society .”

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 is conscious of the hazard that interference 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 churches. He personally inspects churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t see excess racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t cause us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some religions taking preemptive calibrates, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in brand-new equipment and adapted 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 chime ,” he says.

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

The January 2019 rule laid out a epic of complaints, characters, finds and miscarried region court war, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church properties to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

The ruling learnt 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 happiness of their owneds “.

‘My horror 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 preventing on with his sermon regardless of the complaints.

The noise attains Isaac feel like a bad leader and spouse, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents in a family house in Madina.

When he moved here, in mid-2 016, he saw no problem with the small prayer service held by his neighbour. However, since then, he says his neighbour getting started impounding 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 see 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 extended 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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