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‘ If you complain they “ve seen you” as evil ‘: Accra’s religious interference 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 talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and supports, some tossing their fund provides 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 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, occupants 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 stages after beings grumbled. He imagines those who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who lists 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 told me that he eventually wants to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of noise ailments are about religions. Sovereignties and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man faiths”- small-minded, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the most prominent sinners. They spring up in backyards, unfinished constructs, 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 grievances is taking over her daily work in her small-time, concrete office in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single era somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her calculation, about 65% of her day is wasted dealing with noise grievances. Most routinely the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in tribunal. One such event involves a religion that has clearly 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 local assemble, 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 helps notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The faith invests in brand-new paraphernalium and adapted 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 unusual for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss occurrences from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must reign- although she has acknowledged that organizations need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with each other better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the interference 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 local publication vigilantes to impound loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the government of interference in Accra is a public health concern, changing concerns straying 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 learns beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling because of frights 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 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 prosecuted and punished by culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials composed 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 understood the jeopardy that noise poses, 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 faiths within his organisation to ensure they don’t represent excessive racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t pay us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some religions taking preemptive measurements, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in brand-new equipment 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 audio ,” he says.

When faiths do not regulate their interference, going to court can take a lot of time and try due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable hurting and bear” for two residents in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded damages in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling to be laid down a epic of complaints, characters, fits and miscarried region tribunal act, as well as a impudent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church dimensions to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

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

‘My fear 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 hindering on with his urge regardless of the complaints.

The noise sees Isaac feel like a bad father and husband, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents in their own families house in Madina.

When he moved in, in mid-2 016, he saw no problem with the small prayer service held by his neighbour. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has started accommodating 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 anxiety is that my babe 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 gave up grumbling, feeling his concern was being elapsed between local and national business. 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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