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

One-man faiths 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 consume you ,” hollers Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of orators enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and blessings, some tossing their coin offerings from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing 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, tenants 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 guesses those who complain about the interference 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 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 grievances are about churches. Sovereignties and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-scale, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the biggest convicts. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-scale 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 ailments is taking over her daily work in her small-minded, concrete part in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daylight somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckon, about 65% of her experience is wasted dealing with noise ailments. Most often 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 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 religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the neighbourhood meeting, says there has been an increase in noise complaint cases over the past six years. On the day he indicates 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 faith invests in new gear and changed 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 additive, it is not rare for Gbana to face pressure to reject events from well-connected parties 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 noise comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by foremen in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local capacity vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the district of racket in Accra is a public health concern, feigning concerns ranging from increased stress tiers to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She learns parties are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling 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 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 witchcraft you can even be punished by culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials created 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 chance that racket 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 visits churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t shape excessive noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t sacrifice us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive measurings, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new gear and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the parish had complained about too-loud assistances, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good clang ,” 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 anguish and suffering” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded mars in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid out a saga of complaints, characters, satisfies and failed district tribunal act, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

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

‘My panic is my baby will have a hearing problem’

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his disorders to local authorities- about a clergyman who appears intent on continuing on with his preach regardless of the complaints.

The noise forms Isaac feel like a bad papa 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 harbouring very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fright is that my child will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you grumble they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” deploring, feeling his concern was being elapsed 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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