Accra is noisy.
I am talking of giant loudspeakers on pavements with street preachers thundering about the end time. I am talking about all-night services with congregants bellowing and shouting the name of the Lord as if he has just shown up in the clouds to announce Judgement Day.
I am talking of bars with loud music that makes it impossible to have a conversation while having a drink, of funerals and other social events that seem impossible without loud music. I could go on and on.
Capital city noise
Of course, capital cities across the world are much noisier and more vibrant than the countryside, for the simple reason that there are more people and more economic activities.
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But Accra’s decibel levels outstrip that of any capital city that I know of.
The noise here is unbridled, uncontrolled and unregulated, even though there are clear anti-noise pollution by-laws in place, which of course are not enforced. What irks me the most are the all-night services that simply rob one of any sleep whatsoever.
Of course, any complaints are met with withering comments suggesting that the complainant is Lucifer’s aide-de-camp.
Oasis of calm
Over the past few weeks, I have been enjoying parts of Accra, for the simple reason that there is a ban by the traditional authorities on noisemaking and drumming.
The gods need some rest, you see. Now, I can have a drink and a conversation in a public bar at the same time.
I can stroll down a major street and get lost in my own thoughts without my eardrums being assaulted violently.
And while I do not live within sleeping distance of a church, I am sure there are many who are relieved to enjoy a good night’s sleep these days, devoid of the singing and shouting and drumming and stomping of the feet characteristic of crusades and all-night services.
State vs Traditional Authority
While I celebrate the gods and traditional authorities of Accra for this reprieve, I cannot help but wonder what it is that makes citizens pay heed to traditional authorities’ edicts and ignore those issued by the more formal authorities belonging to the modern state, especially when the traditional authorities do not have the manpower to police such edicts while the state does to enforce its by-laws.
When the British introduced Indirect Rule in parts of their colonial empire, the thinking was that the people had more regard for their traditional rulers than they did for the colonial structures, which they considered alien and distant.
The British decided, therefore, that rather than impose regulations and orders on the people directly and risk rebellion, they would rather do so through the chiefs because the people were more likely to accept them without question, given the high reverence they had for those authorities. And it worked in many cases.
If the Asantehene orders that all shops in the Kumasi business district should close on a Saturday morning for a clean-up exercise, compliance is swift and absolute.
When he orders a ban on funerals in Asanteman for a stated period for one reason or the other, not a whimper of protest is heard. Dutifully it is obeyed.
If the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly made a similar order, there would probably be a court challenge, citing copious constitutional provisions.
I think the concept of state, in the ‘modern’ sense, has quite not set in many decades after its introduction by the colonial authorities, and we are still welded to our traditional systems in a big way.
Probably it is this disconnect that urges us to take more seriously fiats from traditional authorities than those from the state.
Perhaps the state ought to do more to earn the respect many seem to have in our traditional governance systems. Surely it can learn a thing or two and adapt them.
A special plea
I have a special plea for the Wulomei (traditional priests) of Accra. Could they kindly ask the revered gods to extend the ban on noise in the city to the end of the year? I am sure the gods could do with an extended siesta.
I certainly would not miss the roadside preachers, the all-night crusades and the noisy ‘outdooring’ ceremonies on literally every street corner in central Accra on weekends.