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‘ If you deplore they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious racket problem

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

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will bite you. Satan will exhaust you ,” shouts Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major street intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and favors, some tossing their coin 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 modes of 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, inhabitants are becoming more willing to fight back- developing 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 complained. He belief 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 truth. 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 racket grumbles are about churches. Governments and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- tiny, independent evangelical religions with no organizational structure- as the biggest offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished structures, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-minded 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 objections is taking over her daily work in her small-scale, concrete agency in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single daylight somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her suppose, about 65% of her period is expended dealing with noise disorders. Most routinely 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 subject 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 companionship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, attorney for the local assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint instances over the past six years. On the working day he bickers 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 serves notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church 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 addition, “its not” odd for Gbana to face pressure to reject subjects from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must reign- although she has acknowledged 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 boss in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood publication vigilantes to impound loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the government of noise in Accra is a public health concern, feigning concerns straying 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 experiences people are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling 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 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 developed 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 threat 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 faiths. He personally calls faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t obligate undue interference.” 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 meters, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new paraphernalium and adapted its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the gathering had complained about too-loud business, says executive Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good phone ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their interference, 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 endure” for two inhabitants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded shatters in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid out a saga of complaints, characters, sees and flunked territory court action, as well as a blatant re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling observed both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for stimulate a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet joy of their owneds “.

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

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his complaints to local authorities- about a pastor who appears intent on keeping on with his advocate irrespective of the complaints.

The noise clears Isaac feel like a bad papa and partner, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires in a family 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 has started nursing 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 fear is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you deplore 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 delivered 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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