In the commercial capital of Malawi, Pentecostal pastors and churches face fines or removal for making a joyful noise.
Loud Pentecostal worship is part of the soundtrack of Africa’s major cities. From Johannesburg, South Africa, to Lagos, Nigeria, booming preaching and boisterous worship rings through the alleys, apartments, and street corners.
But in Blantyre—the commercial capital of Malawi—church noise is conspicuously absent.
Though located in one of the poorest nations in Africa and the world, Blantyre’s central business district contains one of the largest concentrations of investment banks, hedge funds, insurance companies, and posh restaurants on the continent.
Banks like National Bank of Malawi tussle for space in the district with foreign behemoths like Standard Bank Group (Africa’s richest by assets) and the domineering skyscraper of the Reserve Bank of Malawi, the country’s equivalent of the Federal Reserve.
“It is a Wall Street of the Southern Africa region. The city is just artificially too clean, too smart, and designed for banks,” said Susan Mani, one of a few highly regulated mobile chefs who serve suited bankers and hedge fund managers rice and chicken during a two-hour lunch window.
“The thinking of the city fathers is, ‘Do you want some noisy, prayerful African church beating drums in the basement when hedge fund investors from Singapore or Dubai are meeting in the boardroom of a bank atop?’”
City officials have made it clear their answer is no. While quieter Anglican and Adventist congregations dot the streets of Blantyre, noisy African-initiated churches are unwanted. They face fines or possible removal from the district for their traditional style of worship.
“It’s costly to be caught leading a church where bass drums, loud prayers, and the …