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‘ If you complain they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise trouble

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

” If you disobey the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will spend you ,” calls Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He proclaims for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of orators amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and boons, some tossing their coin presents 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 entire populations multiplies and the city gets noisier, residents are becoming more willing to fight back- arising 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 degrees after people grumbled. He conceives those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who prepares up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other clergymen 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 disorders are about faiths. Approvals and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small-time, independent evangelical churches with no organizational structure- as the biggest wrongdoers. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small parishes, 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 tiny, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her reckon, about 65% of her period is invested dealing with noise disorders. Most often 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 client 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 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 assembly, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occurrences over the past six years. On the day he reasons 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 faith invests in brand-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 insult ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In addition, it is not rare for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss events from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must reign- although she admits that structures 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 capacity vigilantes to hijack loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the country of racket in Accra is a public health concern, altering topics wandering 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 acquires beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off grumbling because of fears it will affect their reputation 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 voodoo 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 society .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials formed 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 well known the chance that noise constitutes, so now the 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 calls churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t clear undue interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t impart us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

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

When religions 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” indefinable sorenes and torment” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded damages in a high court ruling against two boisterous neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 decree laid out a epic of complaints, letters, gathers and failed territory courtroom activity, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold assistances despite the complaints.

The ruling met both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were fined for make a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disdain” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet happiness of their properties “.

‘My panic 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 pastor who appears intent on impeding on with his urge regardless of the complaints.

The noise obligates Isaac feel like a bad papa and husband, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he hires 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. However, since then, he says his neighbour has started comprising very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights together with 10 worshippers.

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

” My fright 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 “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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