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

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will burn you. Satan will expend you ,” hollers Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of speakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and blessings, some tossing their fund gives 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 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, inhabitants 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 levels after parties deplored. He conceives those who complain about the racket are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who locateds up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Not everyone 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 grievances are about faiths. Authorities and occupants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- tiny, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as the biggest delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-time gatherings, 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-scale, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single day somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her gues, about 65% of her time 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 court. One such suit involves a religion that would certainly 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 an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint examples over the past six years. On the working day he debates 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 acts notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith invests in brand-new gear and accommodated its interior design to reduce noise levels. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Some of the pastors will not take it kindly, some will revile ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In add-on, it is not unexpected for Gbana to face pressure to reject cases from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must dominate- 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 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 neighbourhood capacity vigilantes to impound loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the regime of racket in Accra is a public health concern, affecting problems arraying 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 off deploring because of fears it will affect their honour or stand in the community.

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

Being labelled as evil or a voodoo 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 civilization .”

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 is conscious of the peril 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 visits churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t build undue noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t open us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive evaluates, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new paraphernalium and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the flock had complained about too-loud assistances, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good resonate ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their noise, 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” indefinable sting and suffer” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded impairments in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a story of complaints, letters, meets and neglected region court action, as well as a brazen re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

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

‘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 clergyman who appears intent on hindering on with his proclaim regardless of the complaints.

The noise builds Isaac feel like a bad leader and partner, he says in the living 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 getting started supporting very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My panic is that my newborn 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” complaining, feeling his concern was being overtook 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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