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‘ If you deplore they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise difficulty

One-man churches 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 bite you. Satan will exhaust 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 speakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions 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 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- 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 stages after parties complained. He guesses those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who sets up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors and their loudspeakers to spread the gospel. 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 churches. Authorities and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical churches with no organisational structure- as the biggest crooks. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, under trees and on porches. And despite their tiny 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 grievances is taking over her daily work in her small-scale, concrete place in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her period is wasted dealing with noise objections. 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 occurrence 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 an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the local forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint actions over the past six years. On the working day he disagrees 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 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 addition, it is not rare for Gbana to face pressure to reject occasions from well-connected beings 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 racket comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by directors in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for neighbourhood loudnes vigilantes to seize loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

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

She notes people are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off deploring because of frights 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 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 prosecuted and 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 well known the hazard 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 inspects churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t induce excessive noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t contribute us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some religions taking preemptive sets, 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 parish had complained about too-loud assistances, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good reverberate ,” 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” indescribable pain and endure” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded damages in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid down by a story of complaints, words, gratifies and neglected territory courtroom act, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold business despite the complaints.

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

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

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

The noise sees Isaac feel like a bad papa and spouse, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases 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 getting started nursing 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 suspicion is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you complain 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 legislated 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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