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Noise, religion and the state

BY: Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng

Anyone who is quite familiar with Accra would easily agree that it is quite a noisy place. Giant loudspeakers sit in drinking bars, blasting songs at volumes loud enough to wake the dead and probably tempt them to pop over for a quick, stiff drink before returning to their graves.

Street preachers commandeer pavements and loudly remind sinners of the wrath of God through creaky speakers.

Purveyors of various items from gospel CDs to rat poison to powders, creams and pills for all ailments and afflictions known to mankind, simply slam loudspeakers atop rickety vehicles and roam around town proclaiming their efficacy.

Taxi drivers hoot horns to attract potential ‘dropping’ customers, and sometimes out of sheer habit even when a passenger is already ensconced in the backseat.

Add this to heavy, crawling traffic, trotro drivers with their own set of traffic rules, the blazing, merciless sun, the aroma of various fried and roasted food items sold in the streets and you have quite a recipe for a boisterous city that is replicated across the African continent.

I have never been to Lagos, but I am told the city is in a class of its own when it comes to these things.

Last week, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) announced that this year's ban on drumming and noise-making in the Greater Accra Region was to last from Monday, May 9 to Thursday, June 9, 2022.

The ban, which is an annual traditional rite that precedes the celebration of the Homowo Festival referred to as "Odadaa" by the chiefs and people of Ga Mashie, requires silence and tranquillity for more than a month after the ritual planting of the crops.

According to the AMA’s website, “some communities the ban is expected to affect include, Ga Mashie, Korle Gonno, Dansoman, Sakaman, Malam, Gbawe, Bortianor, Ngleshie-Amanfro, Kokrobite, Oshiyie, Obaakrowa, Kofi Kwei, Ahida, Papase, Pokuase, Amasaman, Saapeman, Achimota, among others.”

The website quoted a statement signed by the Head of Public Affairs, Gilbert Nii Ankrah, that “during the period of the ban, the usual form of worship should be confined to the premises of the church and the mosque. Churches and mosques are expected to refrain from using loud musical instruments or organising events that are likely to bring about noise making."

Citifmonline.com quoted the AMA’s Public Relations Officer, Nii Lartey Anum, as saying a task force has been put together within the various metropolitan municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) to work with the police to monitor, ensure compliance and prosecute persons found to be defying the ban.

For many in the capital, including yours truly, this ban comes as a welcome relief. The simple reason is the refuge it offers away from the incessant and, in many cases, unnecessary noise that characterises the city.

Of course, it does cause some inconvenience to those whose livelihoods depend on noise, one way or the other.

A friend says his bar gets less patronage during the ban, while another, who is into the events and rental business, tells me this is his lean season, because naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals and other social events, which are by their nature quite boisterous, communal affairs, hardly take place while the ban is in force.

I am certain that street preachers too get fewer coins and notes in the box.

Nevertheless, there is some deep satisfaction in being able to hold a conversation, whether in person or on the mobile phone in a normal voice while sitting outside a bar or walking in the street and that counts for something. Honestly, I wish the ‘Odaadaa’ would last all year long.

Fragile state, irony

I am sure many residents of Accra and of other big cities in the country would allow themselves a wry smile if told there are actually laws against noise pollution in this country.

The AMA, for instance, has beautiful provisions in its Abatement of Noise Bye-Law (2017).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also provided directives for permissible ambient noise levels in residential, commercial, health and industrial facilities both during daytime and at night.

Of course, enforcement has been the bane, as in most cases with the application of the beautiful laws and regulations on our books, essentially because the state machinery, through its various agencies, has been a rather fragile enforcer and regulator. In many cases, the laws and regulations are merely cosmetic.

This fragility has been made worse over the past three decades in many instances by the fear of electoral consequences, with the result that overall, we have near-paralysis in several cases.

A cry of “we will not vote for you!” when one seeks to make the law work has often seen politicians retreating and then scurrying from sight.

Ironically, in the case of noisemaking in Accra, it has taken traditional authority, which does not have the state machinery at its disposal to police a noisemaking ban, to provide an impetus for a task force to be put together by relevant MMDAs and the police to enforce the ban.

What happens then, when the ban is lifted? A return to the status quo, never mind what the raft of relevant laws and regulations say?

Traditional power

This reality poses an interesting question. How is it that a capital city’s residents, many of who are non-Gas and, therefore, do not owe allegiance to the traditional rulers, still generally comply with such edicts? Is it a matter of utter respect for traditional beliefs?

How come Manhyia Palace, with no police force, was able to secure compliance with a curfew it issued for Kumasi on the passing of the immediate past Asantehemaaa, and yet the police and military had to be out in full force in the city to police the COVID-19 lockdown?

Was it a fear of spiritual things not supposed to be seen by ordinary people that night, lest Nananom became upset?

Sometimes, I allow idle thoughts to roam around in my head. It would be amusing if, for instance, in the matter of littering, the traditional authorities declared that it was unacceptable because the gods did like to stroll along clean streets.

Maybe that would solve the problem overnight.

The state should sit up, develop some muscle and crack the whip, armed with the laws of the land.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.