A revival of spiritual movement in Uganda through accelerated, often noisy prayers including at night, has opened urban authorities to critical public scrutiny for failing on enforcing planning standards. We ask: How can city/town managers and environmental regulators be hard at work, but impotent to rein in the spreading noise pollution nuisance by open-air churches and bars?
Our view is that the essential purpose of town or physical planning is to generate space for competing urban activities and ensure harmony by separating incompatible land uses and juxtaposing compatible ones.
This is why urban governments, as local planning authorities, have laws and instruments to realise that desired spatial patterning and economic development objectives to deliver productive, livable and aesthetic towns and cities.
Uganda’s capital, municipal and town councils are obliged to generate and update outline schemes offering broad land uses, develop detailed plans that show specific uses and property boundaries and review/approve plans submitted by developers.
They conduct site inspection to enforce compliance, issue occupation permits, licence businesses and wield power to stop illegal developments or activities in their areas of jurisdiction.
This is precisely why we hold them at fault, and to a higher bar, when they cannot protect urban dwellers inconvenienced by noise polluters. We are aware that Article 29(c) of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom to practise any religion and manifest such practice, which shall include the right to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious body or organisation in a manner consistent with this Constitution”.
This, however, is not an absolute entitlement. The framers of our supreme law were alive to abuse of this provision and placed a caveat that such an enjoyment must be in tandem with “this Constitution”. We thus find the provision of Article 39 of the Constitution that “every Ugandan has a right to a clean and healthy environment” imperative.
Our position is that the right to worship should not be confused with a sense of entitlement to infringe on the constitutionally-protected rights of others. President Museveni has reservedly raised the matter by questioning if God is deaf that worshippers have to make deafening noise.
In Rwanda, the government a fortnight ago, shut down 700 illegal churches that, among other things, were noise polluters. Ugandan authorities do not know the number of churches in the country. The environmental watchdog blamed City Hall for authorising noisy activities without consultation.
Noise lowers property value, disrupts orderly family life and causes conflicts. Churches are good for spiritual nourishment and human development. Let them comply with laws for consonance in society.