For decades, young people have taken to the streets in cities across Sierra Leone to jog and exercise socially—some groups in silent focus, others singing and clapping along the way. But the cultural pastime is now banned, with authorities citing "with dismay" that these groups are joined by "unruly individuals" and that the joggers betray a "hint of menace" as they obstruct traffic, pound on vehicles, play loud music, and "rain insults." But as activists tell the New York Times, the ban is widely seen as an assault on free expression in the months leading up to next year's elections. "The right to peaceful protests has been under attack since this government came to power," one activist says. "We have to defend our right to freedom of assembly. This is unacceptable."
How could packs of joggers influence an election? A decade ago, the now ruling party All People's Congress led an opposition movement and was accused of giving young people cash and alcohol to sing hate songs and shout anti-government chants while running through the streets. Their leader Ernest Bai Koroma won, but can't run again due to term limits, and some think his party is trying to avoid the other side using the same tactics it used: Two of the current opposition candidates regularly jog in Freetown with supporters singing and chanting in tow. Even the armed forces have been hit by the ban, and any group wanting to jog in the streets needs to apply for permission first so police "know who to hold responsible in case of a public disorder." (Hundreds have died in recent floods in Sierra Leone.)