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

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

” If you flout the statutes of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will deplete you ,” outcries Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a load of talkers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive devotions and boons, some pitching their money presents from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far away from religious speeches. Harmonizing to one gues, 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 count is expected to reach nearly 10 million by 2037. And as local populations increases and the city get noisier, tenants are becoming more willing to fight back- developing in an increase in racket 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 people grumbled. He feels all the persons who complain about the interference are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who specifies up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other rectors 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 “were here” .”

While he considers his roadside preaching a faith, he says he eventually am willing to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of racket objections are about religions. Authorities and residents across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man religions”- small, independent evangelical faiths with no organisational structure- as the biggest crooks. They spring up in backyards, unfinished builds, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-minded flocks, they often application loudspeakers and musical instruments during worship.

Noise annoys

For Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation part at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, dealing with noise ailments is taking over her daily work in her small, concrete bureau in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about interference ,” says Gbana. By her reckoning, about 65% of her era is expended addressed with interference grievances. Most frequently the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or intercede wherever possible, cases often end up in court. One such instance involves a faith that had apparently been set up inside their own families home in a new development on the city’s outskirts.

The pastor says his faith was simply a fellowship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and a breach of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has increased during noise complaint suits over the past six years. On the day he insists this specific objection, 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 church has invested in new paraphernalium and accommodated its interior design to shorten noise levels. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Some of the pastors will not take it kindly, some will revile ,” Gbana says. Labelling complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In additive, it is not unique for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss occurrences from well-connected people in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must persist- although she is cognizant of the fact that methods 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 restriction on noise-making imposed by honchoes in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local magnitude vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual terminate, the position of interference in Accra is a public health concern, feigning issues arraying from increased stress stages to listening loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an environmental and public health study scientist at the University of Ghana.

She determines 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 tagged as sin or a witch 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 il” sees 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 engagement to Accra’s increasing noise levels, focused on education and enforcement.

Gifty
Gifty Gbana, zonal is chairman of the environmental health and sanitation force at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, Accra. Picture: Stacey Knott

” People have become very interested and aware of the danger that interference 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 visits churches within his organisation to ensure they don’t induce undue interference.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t render us the opportunity to misappropriation God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive bars, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over its first year in brand-new gear and adapted its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the flock had complained about too-loud works, says administrator Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good resound ,” he says.

When churches do not govern their interference, going to courtroom can take a lot of time and exertion due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” indescribable agony and endure” for two inhabitants in the suburbs of Accra to be awarded injuries in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 verdict laid out a saga of complaints, letters, satisfies and failed territory court act, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling obtained both churches in breach of house rules and regulations. They were penalty for generating a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was penalty” for negligent neglect” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet pleasure of their owneds “.

‘My fear is my baby will have a sounding problem’

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his grievances to local authorities- about a rector who appears intent on hindering on with his urging regardless of the complaints.

The noise induces Isaac feel like a bad leader and husband, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom plain he leases in a family house in Madina.

When he moved in, in mid-2 016, he saw no problem with the smaller prayer assistance 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 along with 10 worshippers.

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

” My panic is that my newborn will have a hearing trouble 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 gave up complaining, feeling its deep concern was being delivered between local and national organizations. With his tenancy rental culminating in April, he and his family are counting down the weeks until they move out.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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